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Clark: Head for the hills
Golf is a game of the earth. It is played on fields that were there long before any architect laid a golf course on them. It is, of all games, the one that uses that very feature as one of its primary challenges. The golf ball bounces, rolls and much of time comes to rest on slopes that are not exactly level with where we’re standing (at least for me it does).
The ball always seems to be below our feet, above them, or on a downhill or uphill lie — everywhere but on level ground. That’s golf, and of course,we play the ball as it lies. But if we want to learn to play the game, we have to learn to play from these hills. In doing so, we can also learn a lot about our swing and even come to appreciate the fact that practicing from uneven lies can actually help us. Almost any swing problem you’re having. Whether you’re struggling with plane, path, or swing shape, hitting balls on certain moguls can help you work it out.
There are four uneven lies: sidehill above the feet, sidehill below the feet, uphill and downhill. Every one of them requires a distinct posture and dictates a different swing plane and shape to play them; so we can and should train on these slopes. Here’s how to do it:
Uphill: Let’s start with the easy one, uphill. Uphill lies are a great place for new players to begin golf for one simple reason: they make it easier to get the golf ball airborne. Additionally, anyone who is too steep coming into the ball can benefit from practicing on this lie. The shot requires a stance where the shoulders have to be parallel to the slope, so the right shoulder is significantly lower than the left allowing the player to swing more up, which creates a more shallow angle into impact. It also helps those of you getting well ahead of the ball to feel what’s its like to stay behind the ball with your upper body. So if you’re just starting out, or you’re really steep, try hitting some balls on an uphill lie. Swing down the hill going back and up the hill coming through to get more shallow. Always allow for this shot to go a club or so less because of the highest trajectory uphill lies create.
Downhill: Downhill lies are the most difficult lie of all, and just the opposite of the uphill lies. To play these shots you have to set your shoulders with the slope, so the left shoulder is lower. It’s hard to imagine this lie actually helping anyone, but it can. If you are really shallow into impact, or early with your release, this lie can be a great help. I have worked with some really high level players on this slope. It helps you learn to lag the club, delay your release a bit and hit DOWN with a steeper angle. Swing up the hill going back, and down the hill coming down to get steeper. Allow for this shot to come out low and “hot” because of the lower trajectory downhill lies create. If there is nothing in front of you or the green, no problem. By the way, don’t practice off of downhill lies if you’re new at the game!
Sidehill above the feet: I use this a lot in teaching average golfers. If your swing plane is too upright or if your transition is too steep, this lie can really help. It helps flatten the plane, and can help you swing more from the inside on the downswing if you have a tendency to come over the top. Remember to keep your posture more upright with a lot less bend at the waist. You will feel taller which helps your shoulder turn and can flatten your downswing. Allow for this shot to go left because of the lie angle of the golf club coming into impact more upright, and the flatter plane which will cause the face to close more closing coming into impact.
Sidehill below the feet: A sidehill lie is another difficult shot for most golfers. You have to bend more at the waist so balance is an issue, but it can help you feel more upright and it creates a steeper downswing. It is also a great trainer for those who tend to “chicken wing” or shorten their left arm radius on the downswing. You have to completely extend your arms to reach the golf ball, so a downhill helps you feel this. Allow for this shot to go right because of the lie angle of the golf club coming in flatter and the upright plane that will open the face coming into impact.
The best part of using moguls as training aids is they’re free and readily available. Your swing has a shape and a plane, and if you want to change it, head for the hills!
Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pa., and Marriott Marco Island Resort in Naples, Fla. He has been a professional for over 25 years. You can learn more about Dennis on his website, http://www.dennisclarkgolf.com