Difficult Golf Lies
Experts’ top secrets for getting out of uneven situations on the course
BY TOM MACKIN / ILLUSTRATIONS BY RON THOMAS — Fall 2018
ll lies are not created equal, especially on the golf course. Some are perfectly reasonable — others, not so much. The ball could be above or below your feet. Or it could be sitting on a downhill or uphill lie. These situations affect the stance you take and the swing you make. If not handled properly, each lie can also adversely impact the shot’s result. “No matter what level of golf, when you walk up to a lie, you need to have a checklist of what to do,” says instructor Allen Terrell, who works with World No. 1 golfer Dustin Johnson. “You shouldn’t be trying to figure it out for the first time when you have that situation. Executing the shot is a different matter. But having that checklist in mind will make you much more successful.”
On the next pages, Terrell and other golf professionals share their secrets for handling specific lies so you can devise your own checklist and better prepare yourself for each circumstance.
Instructor Laird Small: Director of instruction at Pebble Beach Golf Academy in Pebble Beach, Calif., Small has been on Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers list since 1996. His students have included professional golfers Tom Kite and Kirk Triplett, as well as A-listers Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Steve Young.
“With this lie you have to realize the ground comes sooner during the swing. To execute the shot, tilt your shoulders to match the ground’s downhill slope. For a right-handed golfer, the left shoulder should be lower than the right shoulder. That creates a new ‘bottom’ to the swing. Take some practice swings to see where the club touches the ground — that is your new low point for this lie. Most amateurs don’t position the ball in that spot; they mistakenly place it in their normal ball position. The ball tends to fly lower and farther from this lie due to a flatter trajectory. So a 7-iron acts more like a 6-iron. A hybrid can add elevation and work well from this lie. Aim more to the left because the clubface will likely stay open in this swing.”
Key tip: “Place more weight on your lead leg. Doing so will feel awkward, but that’s OK. Take a three-quarter swing and try to remain in balance.”
Instructor David Champagne: Named 2017 Golf Professional of the Year for the Northern Ohio PGA Section, Champagne is director of golf at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. He has qualified for six PGA Professional Championships.
“Play the ball more forward in your stance than normal. Position your shoulders parallel to the slope of the ground. I see a lot of amateurs make the mistake of taking their normal stance, which creates a digging motion that you do not want. With an uphill lie, it’s harder for your weight to transfer to the front side due to gravity, which often results in swinging more with just your hands and arms. That means the clubface will close at a faster rate, usually making the ball move to the left. To help prevent that, align yourself slightly right of your target. The uphill lie will also produce a higher ball flight taking more club, and a less-than-full swing will reduce that height to a degree. The trajectory and spin of the ball is reduced if you have this lie in the rough, but having your stance and shoulders parallel to the slope of the ground will promote cleaner contact in that situation.”
Key tip: “Take a little more club because an uphill lie adds loft to any club you choose.”
BALL BELOW YOUR FEET
Instructor Allen Terrell: Director of coaching at the Dustin Johnson Golf School at the Tournament Players Club in Murrells Inlet, S.C., Terrell works with Johnson, whom he recruited and coached at Coastal Carolina University. Terrell has coached more than a dozen players on the PGA and European Tours to more than 15 victories.
“This is a difficult shot for pros and amateurs alike. Don’t try to fight this lie. Amateurs get into trouble when they try to hit it straight from this lie. The ball will likely come out low and to the right. Aim a bit left of the target and move the ball slightly back of middle in your stance. Doing those two things gives you a better chance of a proper strike if you lose your posture during the swing. Also, get lower in your stance at address by bending your knees and/or hips. Taller players like Dustin Johnson may have to bend more than shorter players. Because you really need to control your balance from this lie, take a three-quarter swing and use more club since the ball won’t stay in the air as long as usual. If you have this lie in the rough, shift more weight to your front foot to create a steeper angle of attack. Doing so helps you hit more ball first rather than grass.”
Key tip: “No matter your height, your weight should be balanced midfoot.”
BALL ABOVE YOUR FEET
Player Amy Olson: A member of the LPGA Tour since 2013, Olson has earned two top-10 finishes this year. As an amateur, she won the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior and played on the 2012 USA Curtis Cup team. She is also the winningest female golfer in NCAA history, capturing 20 titles while playing for North Dakota State University.
“I always choke down on the club, sometimes all the way to the shaft, depending upon the severity of this lie. People usually grab the club first, use their normal grip, and then set up to the ball. Instead, you should set the club down, get into your stance, and then grip the club. I leave the ball in the middle of my stance. Bend your knees and feel your weight between midfoot and the balls of your feet and keep it there. Do not go back onto your heels. Work with the slope of the ground by swinging in-to-out. With this lie, hitting from the rough will turn over the clubface and make the ball go even more left, so adjust by aiming farther right.”
Key tip: “You really need to limit your lateral motion with this lie, so don’t shift way back on to your right side during the swing. Stay over the ball.”
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