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Clark: Head for the hills

by   (Senior Writer I)   |   August 6, 2012
corey_sidehill_lie_sanc1

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!

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum.

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

About

Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional, a distinction held by less than 1 percent of all PGA Professionals. He is recognized as one of the top instructors in the country, and holds no less than seven PGA awards including "Teacher of the Year" and "Golf Professional of the Year."

Dennis holds two degrees in education and has worked with golfers of all levels for over 30 years. A native of Philadelphia, Dennis currently directs the Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.

GolfWRX Writer of the Month: April 2014, May 2014


5 Comments

  1. Denny

    October 19, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Remember this shot will curve in the direction of the down slope so aim to compensate. Then be aggressive through the shot for best results.

  2. James Lythgoe

    August 28, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    You have written a very good article here. As a teenager, I used to practice in a cow pasture. This is a perfect place to play or practice golf – the cows chew the grass to a very good length from which to hit golf shots from.

    Downhill lies are very strange. You don’t want to spend much time practising from a downhill. It can be extremely destructive to your golf swing. You also don’t want to practice with a tail wind either.

    Practicing from a level or slightly uphill lie is best with a slight head breeze is perfect.

  3. dennis clark

    August 14, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    If you can’t find hills, try tees. You can simulate a sidehill lie above your feet but getting some really tall tees and addressing the golf ball with the club in the air, as high as the ball. This will help you swing flatter and learn what a more horizontal shaft plane into the golf ball will feel like.

  4. Vincent Dice

    August 13, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    I tried it! I’ve been a golfer for 15 years and more of a weekend warrior than a true golfer but passionate nonetheless. I tend to get fast and release too soon but working the hills today and then heading out to golf immediately afterwards shaved 4 strokes off my 9 hole round. My swing just made sense afterwards. Thank you, Dennis! Great post.

  5. Troy Vayanos

    August 9, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Nice Post,

    That’s the problem with practicing a lot at the golf driving range. The area is flat and you are hitting of a hard lying artificial grass area.

    The biggest challenge with this type of practice is finding the right area to be able to do it in.

    Cheers

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