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If there’s one thing hitting hundreds of balls on the driving range doesn’t help you prepare for or adjust to, it is uneven lies. While there are courses that are entirely flat, most courses will have contours everywhere: the fairway, the rough, around the greens, etc. Whenever the ball is above or below your feet or on an uphill or downhill slope, all you need are some simple adjustments to make solid contact and control the shape of the shot. The key fundamental to any uneven lie is to work with what the slope gives you, not fight it. With that in mind, let’s check out how to play uneven lies.
Ball Above Your Feet
For right-handers, when the ball is above your feet, the ball is going to tend to move from right-to-left. How much it will want to curve will depend on the amount of slope: more slope, more curvature. The most common thought is to swing with the slope and aim right; however, that can cause trouble easily. For one, swinging with the slope on a hanging lie will change your posture, creating a flatter swing plane and can cause the face to shut down, which will send the ball farther left than desired.
It's much more consistent to setup so that the slope has minimal effect on the ball flight. For the following example, we will use a 150-yard shot with a center hole location. Use whatever club you use for 150 yards and choke down on the club. How much? Use your practice swings to determine where your swing bottoms out and just barely clips the grass. Now, you can make a normal, aggressive swing, adjusting slightly by aiming about 10-15 feet to the right of your target.
Ball Below Your Feet
When the ball is below your feet, it creates some other challenges which can cause more problems than when the ball is above your feet. Depending on the severity of the slope, gravity will want to pull your weight on your toes, which can make balance an even bigger challenge. This is one of those instances where conventional wisdom will tell you to increase and maintain your knee flex.
However, when gravity is pulling your weight forward, focusing on your knee bend, which will bring your knees past the middle of your feet, will only encourage your weight to your toes even more. The key for these types of lies is to push your rear end out slightly more, which will lower your center of gravity and help you maintain your balance.
For the same 150-yard shot, you’ll want to take one more club at least, making practice swings that allow you to clip the grass without losing your balance. While you want to make an aggressive swing with the hanging lie, you want to focus on keeping your balance and making a smooth swing with the ball below your feet. Aim a few feet left of the hole (if you’re right-handed) and expect the ball to curve. Even if it curves more than you expect, you should still be relatively close to the hole.
Uphill and downhill slopes also present some challenges. The key to handling these shots is to ensure your setup with the slope, and resist every urge to fight what the course gives you. For example, on a downhill slope, the tendency is to try and help the ball up. An average golfer will tilt his shoulders back and attempt to lift the ball in the air. More often than not, the club will bottom out well behind the golf ball. Or, if their timing is impeccable, the club will miss the slope and catch the ball thin, sending it screaming a few feet off the ground. Not exactly what we’re looking for.
The inverse is true for uphill lies. To compensate for your weight wanting to hang back, most golfers will lower their lead shoulder towards the ground. While making contact with the ball first is easier from this setup position, it’s also more likely for the leading edge to dig into the slope, killing the momentum of the club and popping the ball straight in the air. Neither of these outcomes is desirable and we want to set up in a way that allows the club to swing freely.
When you set up to the downhill lie it will feel like your lead shoulder is being pulled down the slope and that’s okay. The key is to trust that the loft on the club is sufficient enough to get the ball airborne without any manipulation. Taking less club is ideal, since the slope will decrease the effective loft. One drill that will help with downhill lies, even during a round of golf, is to start walking on the follow through. You want your kinetic energy moving with the slope, and having the sensation of walking once you’ve swung through the ball will keep everything flowing.
With an uphill lie, the tendency is for your weight to hang back and your trail shoulder to lower. From this position, you’ll want to take an extra club or two and swing with the slope, adjusting for the added effective loft from the lie. One swing thought that may help is if you find a piece of the sky above your target line and focus on that spot. This will encourage you to swing with the slope by moving your aim point in relation to the slope.
Uphill With Ball Above Feet/Downhill With Ball Below
Any golf course with a wide array of slopes will present an infinite number of shot combinations to deal with. Rather than detail all of them, it’s better to get out on the golf course and practice them. Go out on a quiet afternoon, take about half a dozen balls, and try various lies on every hole and see what your tendencies are. Take this feedback and adjust your setup and see what the differences are. Since most driving ranges are flat and you might get in trouble hitting range balls off hills nearby, this is your best option to practice various uneven lies.
If you can master the basic fundamentals of uneven lies, you’ll find your scores will improve dramatically! We hope this article has helped you get some insight on what to do, so get out there and practice, and as always, if you liked this post, please share!