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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 ([email protected]) 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 [email protected]

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

What you can learn from Steve Elkington

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When you think of great golf swings from the past and present time, Steve Elkington’s golf swing instantly comes to mind. His playing career has included a PGA championship, two Players Championships and more than 50 weeks inside the top-10 world golf rankings. This article will examine not only key moves you can take from Elk’s swing but learning to take your swing to the golf course.

As opposed to looking at a swing frame by frame at key positions, viewing a swing at normal speed can be just as beneficial. This can give students a look at the sequence of the swing as one dynamic motion. Research also suggests learning a motion as one movement as opposed to part-training (stopping the swing at certain points) will enhancing learning.

When viewed at full speed, the simplicity of Elk’s swing is made clear. There is minimal motion as he gets more out of less. This swing pattern can correlate to a conversation he once had with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson.

When asking Thomson keys to his golf swing and it’s longevity, Thomson explained to Elk, “You have to have great hands and arms.” Thomson further elaborated on the arms and body relationship. “The older you get, you can’t move your body as well, but you can learn to swing your arms well.”

So what’s the best way to get the feel of this motion? Try practicing hitting drivers off your knees. This drill forces your upper body to coil in the proper direction and maintain your spine angle. If you have excess movement, tilt, or sway while doing this drill you will likely miss the ball. For more detail on this drill, read my Driver off the knees article.

Another key move you can take from Elk is in the set-up position. Note the structure of the trail arm. The arm is bent and tucked below his lead arm as well as his trail shoulder below the lead shoulder – he has angle in his trail wrist, a fixed impact position.

This position makes impact easier to find. From this position, Elk can use his right arm as a pushing motion though the ball.

A golf swing can look pretty, but it is of no use if you can’t perform when it matters, on the golf course. When Elk is playing his best, he never loses feel or awareness to the shaft or the clubface throughout the swing. This is critical to performing on the golf course. Using this awareness and a simple thought on the golf course will promote hitting shots on the course, rather than playing swing.

To enhance shaft and face awareness, next time you are on the range place an alignment stick 10 yards ahead of you down the target line. Practice shaping shots around the stick with different flights. Focus on the feel created by your hands through impact.

Twitter: @kkelley_golf

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Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf

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I have seen as much as 4-5 MPH increase in clubhead speed when my students hit form a tee compared to hitting off the turf. Why?  Fear of FAT shots.

First question: Are you better hitting off a tee than on the turf?

Next question: When you play in a scramble and you have the option of dropping in the fairway or slightly in the first cut, do you choose the rough-especially when hitting over water or sand?

The answer to all these the same: Because the vast majority of golfers do not have a bottom of the swing arc safely in front of the golf ball consistently.

Consider a PGA Tour event, Korn Ferry, Champions Tour, LPGA Tour, whatever…You might see missed fairways, missed greens, hooks, blocks, etc. but we rarely, if ever, see a FAT shot. They simply do not hit the ground before the golf ball. Of course, there are exceptions, into the grain on short pitches, for example, but they are just that-rare exceptions. On the other hand, go to any golf course and watch average golfers for a while. Fat shots are not uncommon. In fact, they, or the fear of them, dominate most golf games.

The number one mistake I have seen on the lesson tee for over 35 years is unquestionably a player’s inability to control the bottom of the golf swing. I have seen everything from hitting 4 inches behind the ball to never reaching the bottom at all It has been my experience that that hitting fat shots is the number one flaw in most golf swings.

Let’s start with this fact: elite level players consistently reach a swing bottom (low point) some 3-4 inches in front of the golf ball-time after time after time. This happens for a variety of reasons, but the one I’d like to look at today is the position of the golf club at impact with the golf ball.

The club is leaning forward, toward the target, the hands are ahead of the club head, never straight up over it, never behind it-always, always leaning forward is the only way to consistently bottom out in front of the golf ball.   

A player cannot hit a ball consistently from the turf until he/she learns this and how to accomplish it. For every golfer I teach who gets into this position, I might teach 50 who do not. In fact, if players did not learn how to “save” a shot by bailing out on the downswing (chicken wing, pull up, raise the handle, or come over the top, (yes over the top is a fat shot avoidance technique) they would hit the ground behind the golf ball almost every time!  Hitting better shots from the fairways, particularly from tight lies, can be learned, but I’m going to be honest: The change required will NOT be easy. And to make matters worse, you can never play significantly better until you overcome the fear of hitting it fat.. Until you learn a pattern where the bottom of the swing is consistently in front of the ball, the turf game will always be an iffy proposition for you.

This starts with a perception. When first confronted with hitting a golf ball, it seems only natural that an “up” swing is the way to get the ball in the air-help it, if you will. The act of a descending blow is not, in any way, natural to the new player. In fact, it is totally counterintuitive. So the first instincts are to throw the club head at the ball and swing up to get the ball in the air; in other words, it makes perfect sense. And once that “method” is ingrained, it is very difficult to change. But change if you must, if your goal is to be a better ball striker.

The position to strive for is one where the left wrist (for a right-hander) is flat, the right is slightly dorsiflexed, and the handle of the golf club is ahead of the grip end. Do your level best to pay attention to the look and feel of what you’re doing as opposed to the flight of the golf ball. FEEL that trail wrist bent slightly back, the lead wrist flat and the hands ahead. It will seem strange at first, but it’s the very small first step in learning to hit down on your tight lies. If some degree of that is not ultimately accomplished, you will likely always be executing “fit in” moves to make up for it. It is worth the time and effort to create this habit.

My suggestion is to get on a Trackman if possible to see where you’re low point actually is, or perhaps you may just want to start paying close attention to your divots-particularly the deepest part of them. I’m sure you will get into a pattern of bottoming out consistently in front of the ball when you begin to learn to get the hands ahead and the club head behind. And best of all, when this becomes your swing, you will lose the fear of hitting the turf first and be free to go down after the ball as aggressively as you like.

Ok, so how is this accomplished? While many players are looking for a magic bullet or a training aid which might help one miraculously get into a good impact position, I dare say there is not one. It is a trial and error proposition, a learn-from-the-mistakes kind of thing achieved only through repetition with a thorough understanding of what needs to be done. The hardest thing to do is IGNORE the outcome when learning a new motor skill, but you must do it. A couple of things you might try:

  • Start with 30-50 yard pitch shots, paying close attention to the hands leading at impact. Again ignore the outcome, look only at the divot.
  • Hit a TON of fairway bunker shots. Draw a line in the sand 3-4″ in front of the ball and try to hit it.
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What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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