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How to hit shots from uneven lies

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If you’ve ever been to the Augusta National Golf Club, you can appreciate the severity of the hills players have to deal with there. The property has something like 15 stories of elevation change on it. The par-3, 12th hole is some 150 feet lower than where the club house sits. If you have walked it, you’d know what I mean. While watching the broadcast, it occurred to me that a lot of my students struggle with hilly lies. If you do, here are some thoughts that might help.

The key to playing from uneven lies is posture. We need to establish a position from where we can get the golf club to bottom out slightly in front of the golf ball more consistently. To do so, you cannot address the golf ball the same way you would on a level lie.

Sidehill lie with the ball above your feet

SideHillLie

The idea is to stand a little taller and swing a little flatter. Bend less from the hips, and swing the club more around than up. Allow for the ball to curve left from this lie due to the flatter plane and more upright lie angle at impact. Stand slightly farther from the ball with a neutral ball position, regular grip and aim slightly right of the target. I do not recommend choking up on the club, as this might require standing a little closer and it could force the club on a more upright plane.

Sidehill lie with the ball below your feet

Garry21

The exact opposite of above. Stand a little closer, bend more from the hips and swing more up and down. The key here is a steeper attack angle, so the posture and distance from the ball need to facilitate that. Allow for the ball to curve slightly right due to the more vertical swing plane and flatter lie angle at impact. Grip and ball position are neutral.

Uphill lie

UpslopeGolfLie

This shot requires a level attack angle, with your shoulders parallel and spine perpendicular to the slope — think of more rear side bend, or tilt to the spine. Imagine swinging down the slope and up the slope, and allow for the ball to fly considerably higher, which in most cases will require you to use less loft to hit the shot the correct distance. For example, a 7 iron may come off like a 9 iron. It’s easy to come up short.

Downhill lie

Garry21

This is the toughest lie in golf. To play from this unwanted situation, change your posture exactly the opposite of the uphill lie. Your shoulders should be parallel and spine perpendicular to slope with help you swing more “down the hill.” The spine will be tilted forward and the weight will be on your lead foot. Swing “up the hill and down the hill” at the ball and allow for the flight to be much lower than normal trajectory. If you are faced with this shot to an unprotected green, it is not a problem. If the green is uphill or protected, it might be best to simply lay up in front. The biggest problem I see here is when players try to help this shot in the air and hit it fat.

Balance

The most difficult part of playing from hills is balance. It’s essential to keep what’s called your “swing center” over the ball. You cannot let the body sway too far off the ball, as the hill will not allow you to get back to impact in balance. I recommend using one more club in most instances, as the shot becomes more of an “armsy” one. You can learn to play from slopes if you change your posture and DO NOT try to fight the hill or the flight that ensues. Sometimes the golf course has us beat, and it’s usually best to take our medicine and go on from there.

If you’d like me to analyze your swing, go to my Facebook page or contact me (dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com) about my online swing analysis program.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Mike

    Apr 19, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    Very hard shots

  2. Dennis Clark

    Apr 18, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    Well you have to remember that the reason the golf ball tends to curve off these slopes is the plane of the arc, and the lie angle effect. If that happens regularly yes you could be “hanging on” to the above feet lie and flipping the below feet lie…ball position is another check point…

    • Happyday_J

      Apr 19, 2015 at 12:09 pm

      I’m confused, the arc makes sense, but the lie angle doesnt for me. Wouldn’t the ball above your feet encourage more of an entry with the toe through the turf, opening the face, thus causing the ball to push, and the opposite with below your feet? Wouldn’t the heel catch first causing it to turn over, encouraging a pull?

  3. Happyday_J

    Apr 18, 2015 at 12:18 am

    I have a question. I have the opposite tendency, meaning the ball above my feet I tend to hang it out to the left (im a lefty) and ball below my feet I tend to pull it. It tends to be a cause of concern b.c the last thing a player wants is to double cross a shot, which that tends to cause. People often tell me that this is “the better players fault due to over correcting”. Thoughts and suggestions?

  4. marcel

    Apr 17, 2015 at 12:39 am

    simple mechanics of a swing. any shot is clean only if you return in same distance when hitting shot as when setting up before the shot. strong legs and lower back help to keep this intact so you can swing thru the ball.

  5. James

    Apr 16, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    What about a downhill side-hill lie with the ball below your feet?

    • Dennis Clark

      Apr 16, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      Pray ????

    • Dennis Clark

      Apr 16, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      Seriously a combo of above but more difficult. When that lie is severe I recommend chopping it out. Shanking a real danger on that one.

    • Jafar

      Apr 17, 2015 at 9:46 am

      You gotta add that, the ball has to be hit back up another hill.

  6. Dennis Clark

    Apr 16, 2015 at 10:12 am

    I see your point. It’s a tossup probably. But if you are fairly adept at hitting off of a downhill lie that you probably have a fairly steep attack angle in your swing. Thanks

    • TR1PTIK

      Apr 16, 2015 at 1:41 pm

      Good point. Now, do you recommend keeping the ball position neutral for both uphill and downhill lies? I usually play the ball a touch further back for downhill lies, but probably stay neutral for uphill lies unless it’s a severe slope or close to the green – then I move the ball forward in my stance.

    • Dennis Clark

      Apr 16, 2015 at 1:51 pm

      Sure you can. The problem sometimes with ball cak for downhill is its already coming off quite low.

  7. TR1PTIK

    Apr 16, 2015 at 9:31 am

    Funny to me that you consider the downhill lie to be “the toughest lie in golf” because I usually do quite well from that position. I think having the ball below my feet is considerably more difficult. To each their own of course. I appreciate the tips though and will try to implement them next time I find myself with an awkward lie.

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Instruction

The Big Shift: How to master pressure and the golf transition using prior sports training

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If you’re an #AverageJoeGolfer, work a day job, and don’t spend countless hours practicing, you might be interested in knowing that sports you played growing up, and even beer league softball skills, can be used to help you play better golf. We’re sure you’ve heard hockey players tend to hit the ball a mile, make the “best golfers”, while pitchers and quarterbacks have solid games, but baseball/softball hitters struggle with consistency. Did you know that a killer tennis backhand might help your golf game if you play from the opposite side? Dancers are way ahead of other athletes making a switch to golf because they understand that centeredness creates power and consistency much more efficiently than shifting all around, unnecessary swaying, or “happy feet.”

Lurking beneath fat shots, worm burners, and occasional shanks, are skillsets and motions you can pull from the old memory bank to apply on the golf course. Yes, you heard us right; your high school letterman jacket can finally be put to good use and help you improve your move. You just need to understand some simple adjustments different sports athletes need to make to be successful golfers.

In golf, shifting from your trailside into your lead side is what we’ll call the TRANSITION. Old School teachers refer to this motion, or shift, as “Foot Work”, New-Fangled-Techno-Jargon-Packed-Instruction uses “Ground Pressure/Force” to refer to the same concept. Don’t worry about the nomenclature; just know, as many GolfWRXers already do, that you must get your weight to your lead side if you want any chance at making solid and consistent contact. TRANSITION might be THE toughest motion in golf to master.

The good news for you is that TRANSITION happens in all other sports but in slightly different ways, depending on the sport. Golfers can more quickly learn TRANSITION, and speed up their swing learning process by understanding how prior sport experience can be applied to the golf swing.

[The basics of a solid golf move are; 1) you should have a SETUP that is centered and balanced, 2) you move your weight/pressure into your trail side during the TAKEAWAY and BACKSWING, 3) TRANSITION moves your weight/pressure back into your lead side, and 4) you FINISH with the club smashing the ball down the fairway. Okay, it’s not quite as easy as I make it sound, but hopefully our discussion today can relieve some stress when it comes time for you to start training your game.]

Baseball/Softball Hitters

Hitting coaches don’t like their hitters playing golf during the season, that’s a fact. The TRANSITIONS are too different, and if they play too much golf, they can lose the ability to hit off-speed pitches because their swing can become too upright. Golf requires an orbital hand path (around an angled plane) with an upright-stacked finish, while hitting requires batters to have a straight-line (more horizontal) hand path and to “stay back or on top of” the ball.

Now we apologize for the lack of intricate knowledge and terminology around hitting a baseball, we only played up through high school. What we know for sure is that guys/gals who have played a lot of ball growing up, and who aren’t pitchers struggle with golf’s TRANSITION. Hitters tend to hang back and do a poor job of transferring weight properly. When they get the timing right, they can make contact, but consistency is a struggle with fat shots and scooping being the biggest issues that come to mind.

So how can you use your star baseball/softball hitting skills with some adjustments for golf? Load, Stride, Swing is what all-good hitters do, in that order. Hitters’ issues revolve around the Stride, when it comes to golf. They just don’t get into their lead sides fast enough. As a golfer, hitters can still take the same approach, with one big adjustment; move more pressure to your lead side during your stride, AND move it sooner. We’ve had plenty of ‘a ha’ moments when we put Hitters on balance boards or have them repeat step drills hundreds of times; “oh, that’s what I need to do”…BINGO…Pound Town, Baby!

Softball/Baseball Pitchers, Quarterbacks, & Kickers

There’s a reason that kickers, pitchers, and quarterbacks are constantly ranked as the top athlete golfers and it’s not because they have a ton of downtime between starts and play a lot of golf. Their ‘day jobs’ throwing/kicking motions have a much greater impact on how they approach sending a golf ball down the fairway. It’s apparent that each of these sports TRAINS and INGRAINS golf’s TRANSITION motion very well. They tend to load properly into their trailside while staying centered (TAKEAWAY/BACKSWING), and they transfer pressure into their lead side, thus creating effortless speed and power. Now there are nuances for how to make adjustments for golf, but the feeling of a pitching or kicking motion is a great training move for golf.

If this was your sport growing up, how can you improve your consistency? Work on staying centered and minimizing “happy feet” because golf is not a sport where you want to move too much or get past your lead side.


Dance

My wife was captain of her high school dance team, has practiced ballet since she was in junior high, and is our resident expert on Ground Pressure forces relating to dance. She has such a firm grasp on these forces that she is able to transfer her prior sports skill to play golf once or twice a year and still hit the ball past me and shoot in the low 100s; what can I say, she has a good coach. More importantly, she understands that staying centered and a proper TRANSITION, just like in Dance, are requirements that create stability, speed, and consistent motions for golf. Christo Garcia is a great example of a Ballerina turned scratch golfer who uses the movement of a plié (below left) to power his Hogan-esque golf move. There is no possible way Misty Copeland would be able to powerfully propel herself into the air without a proper TRANSITION (right).

Being centered is critical to consistently hitting the golf ball. So, in the same way that dancers stay centered and shift their weight/pressure to propel themselves through the air, they can stay on the ground and instead create a golf swing. Dancers tend to struggle with the timing of the hands and arms in the golf swing. We train them a little differently by training their timing just like a dance routine; 1 and 2 and 3 and…. Dancers learn small motions independently and stack each micro-movement on top of one another, with proper timing, to create a dance move (golf swing) more like musicians learn, but that article is for another time.

Hockey

Hockey is a great example of the golf TRANSITION because it mimics golf’s motions almost perfectly. Even a subtlety like the direction in which the feet apply pressure is the same in Hockey as in Golf, but that’s getting in the weeds a bit. Hockey players load up on their trailside, and then perform the TRANSITION well; they shift into their lead sides and then rotate into the puck with the puck getting in the way of the stick…this is the golf swing, just on skates and ice…my ankles hurt just writing that.

If you played hockey growing up, you have the skillsets for a proper golf TRANSITION, and you’ll improve much faster if you spend your time training a full FINISH which involves staying centered and balanced.

Now we didn’t get into nuances of each and every sport, but we tried to cover most popular athletic motions we thought you might have experience in in the following table. The key for your Big Shift, is using what you’ve already learned in other sports and understanding how you might need to change existing and known motions to adapt them to golf. If you played another sport, and are struggling, it doesn’t mean you need to give up golf because your motion is flawed…you just need to know how to train aspects of your golf move a little differently than someone who comes from a different sport might.

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Clement: Effortless power for senior golfers

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Are you struggling with range of motion? Want more EFFORTLESS POWER? We are truly the experts at this having taught these methods for 25 plus years, while others were teaching resistance, breaking everyone’s backs and screwing up their minds with endless positions to hit and defects to fix. Welcome home to Wisdom in Golf!

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Clement: How to turbo charge your swing

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The shift in golf instruction continues and Wisdom in Golf and GolfWRX are right out there blazing a trail of fantastic content and techniques to get you to feel the most blissful, rhythmic golf shots you can strike! This here is the humdinger that keeps on giving and is now used by a plethora of tour players who are benefitting greatly and moving up the world rankings because of it.

The new trend (ours is about 25 years young) is the antithesis of the “be careful, don’t move too much, don’t make a mistake” approach we have endured for the last 30 years plus. Time to break free of the shackles that hold you back and experience the greatness that is already right there inside that gorgeous human machine you have that is so far from being defective! Enjoy!

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