We all want that perfect lie in the middle of the fairway so we can attack the green with our approach shot. Unfortunately, golf doesn’t always work like that.
We usually have to encounter a few shots during our 18 holes out on the golf course that require more care and attention than others. Uphill and downhill lies, and playing the ball above or below our feet certainly fall into that category. These are by no means impossible shots, but a lack of concentration or failing to put into practise some simple tips can have bad results. A promising position on a hole can be ruined because we don’t approach the shot in the right way. We have all played on hilly golf courses, where the ball is often above or below our feet. And let’s be honest, even the flattest tracks have a few humps and hollows which can cause the same effect.
That’s why at American golf, we have lined up a few tips to help golfers conquer any problems they may have in tackling uphill and downhill shots and those shots from uneven lies.
Before we line up:
Given that practise grounds and bays at the driving range are usually pretty flat, it makes practising shots from unusual lies very difficult. It is not always easy to throw a couple of spare balls down when we are out on the course, so therefore that makes it essential that we are sure in our minds of what we have to do when we get one of these lies.
It is vital to understand that these shots do not require us to change our swing. That only overcomplicates matters and gets us in a mess. There are two things we have to assess immediately. One, what type of lie we are facing, whether that is uphill or downhill or with the ball above or below our feet. And secondly, what the ball is likely to do upon impact. Another basic of rule that we can try to imprint in our minds for both uphill and downhill lies is that the ball should be closer to our higher foot but our weight should be favouring our lower foot.
How to play from an uphill lie:
One of the key decisions when facing a shot from an uphill lie is golf club selection. If the yardage is normally a six-iron, take one more club and go for a five-iron or if normally an eight-iron, take a seven-iron and so on. Getting the right distance is crucial. We want to make sure the shot goes the same distance as if we were playing from a flat lie. Having an uphill lie adds more loft to our club and helps get the ball up in the air but takes away some of our distance.
As we are playing the ball above our feet, the weight distribution in our set-up is very important. On this occasion, we need to adjust our weight as we have more transferred onto our back foot at set-up. If we don’t, it’s likely that our club will dig into the ground and the ball won’t travel anywhere near as far as we would like.
We need to lean into our back side and get into a position where our body position is parallel with the slope we are playing on. The greater the slope, the further we have to lean to get into that perpendicular position. Once we have achieved that, it will enable us to maintain the same type of swing as if we were on a flat lie. From there we can go about approaching the shot with more confidence.
And a word of optimism – we are not going to have too many shots like the one Jordan Spieth had at the 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits when he was faced with chipping up a sheer slope. The escapology required on that one was probably beyond the skills of handicap golfers like us!
How to play from a downhill lie:
Similarly to playing a shot from an uphill lie, when faced with a shot from a downhill lie, our weight distribution at the address position is of paramount importance. We cannot approach this as if we were playing a shot from a completely flat lie.
Again, club selection is vital. The downhill lie decreases the loft on the club and means the ball will not go as high in the air upon impact and will run more when it lands. Therefore, we need to take less club than normal. If it’s a seven-iron distance, go for an eight-iron or if normally an eight-iron, choose a nine-iron and so on.
Our weight then needs to be shifted more towards our front side, maybe in a 60-40 split. We can lean towards the slope to create the right perpendicular position. We are looking to get into a solid position with the right weight distribution, otherwise we will not get a consistent strike. We will be liable to either thin or top the ball if we are not careful.
Then with our weight shifted on to our front side, it’s important to aim slightly right of our intended target (or left for left-handers), as the ball will draw naturally from the angle we create with our body position and swing. And hopefully it will lead to us sending the ball more or less where we are intending.
How to play the ball above our feet:
Seeing the ball above our feet is not something that should cause us to panic. But it requires our due care and attention and some clear thinking before we hit the shot.
We have to understand what effect playing the ball above our feet has on the shot. Gravity and the natural angle at which we strike the ball is going to us to pull the ball to a greater or lesser extent. And the more loft we have on the club, the more we will pull the ball. So a nine-iron will cause a bigger pull than an eight-iron and a pitching wedge will pull it more than a nine-iron.
At set-up, we must make sure that we stand nice and tall and are more upright when stood over the ball. We must not get too crouched. Then we need to grip down the club to adapt to the slope that we are facing. Knowing that we are going to pull the ball means we have to adjust our aim. So aim to the right-hand side of the target if we are right-handed and to the left-hand side of the target for lefties. Then with the swing, we must make sure we turn our body as we would for a shot on a flat lie. We do not just want to swing with our arms, as that can result in turning the club head over and pulling the ball into trouble – the result we do not want.
How to play the ball below our feet:
Playing the ball below our feet presents more of a challenge than a shot with the ball above our feet. That is because it upsets our natural balance more.
It is something we have to focus on in our address position. We need to get a lower centre of gravity in our body to give us a solid base. That means we have to get lower in our body. Therefore, it requires us to bend our knees more and stick our bum out and to have the sensation that our upper body is leaning over the ball a bit more. This should guarantee us creating a rock-solid foundation.
Our weight needs to be transferred more towards our front foot and we need to aim slightly left of the target (or to the right of the target for left-handers). Our swing will be steeper and so the ball will automatically fade and we need to compensate for that. Again, as with shots above our feet, we must make sure we turn our whole body through the shot, and not just make it a hands-and-arms shot. We want to finish in a similar follow-through position from how we would from a flat lie.
How to hit out of a divot mark:
We have hit what we think is the perfect drive. It has come flush out of the middle of the club and it has run and run down the fairway. We are admiring it as we stride up to it, making sure our friends and playing partners know just what a good drive we’ve hit. But as we approach, we realise there is a problem, the ball has run into an old divot mark!
First of all, we have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves. We are not the unluckiest person to ever pick up a golf club. It is a bad break and every golfer has a few bad breaks. So it is important to put that to one side and concentrate on what we have to do.
As the ball is slightly buried, we have to take a more lofted club because that will help generate more height to get it out of the divot. So pick a seven-iron instead of a six-iron, for example. Then we need to get into a position where we strike the ball first. If we catch the ground first, the shot will not be successful. Therefore, we need to get the ball slightly towards our back foot in our stance but transfer our body weight slightly towards our front foot. That should allow us to get that strike first and generate the power required to propel the ball forwards. And we should not be worried about making an even bigger divot after the golf ball. Remember, divots can and should be replaced!
About the Author
Adam Lanigan - Golf Writer
Adam is a freelance news and sports journalist who has written for the BBC, The Sunday Post, The I, The Times, The Telegraph and more. He has been writing about golf for nearly two decades and has covered 13 Open Championships and two Ryder Cups. Not only does Adam cover golf, but he has played golf for as long as he can remember. He was a member at Northenden Golf Club for around 25 years until his children arrived and his last official handicap was 11, although on any given day his form fluctuates anywhere between eight and 18.