It is often said the hardest walk in golf is from the practice range to the first tee. One of the reasons that this is true is because on the practice range we are always hitting from a perfectly flat lie. This is great for grooving your setup and your golf swing, but during a round of golf you will always be faced with the non-perfect lie. Even on the flattest courses you will still have lies that are uneven and for a number of holes here at St. Davids Golf Club, uneven lies are simply unavoidable.
You have basically four types of lies besides a flat one: uphill, downhill, ball above feet, and ball below feet. Then, there are varying degrees of slope to make it more or less difficult. The one constant that most players forget to adjust for in the setup of these shots is spine tilt. The most important thing is to try and get your body feeling like you are on a flat lie (even though its not). You want to get your shoulders as parallel to the ground as possible. Now, not only will the setup have to change, but we also need to be aware of changes in the shape of your swing, ball flight, curve, and trajectory of the golf ball.
Here are a few things you need to know and do when playing from different lies (we will assume a right handed player):
1. Ball Above Feet: Stand taller at address with a little less knee flex and less tilt from the waist. Choke up on the grip to make the club shorter. Your swing should feel flatter or more around (like a baseball swing). Remember to make a three-quarter backswing for control, and aim to the right because the ball will tend to go left.
2. Ball Below Feet: Bend more from the hips and try to feel more weight back on your heels to maintain balance. Aim a little to the left because the ball will tend to go right. Your swing should feel more upright in order to help you hit down.
3. Uphill Lie: Your shoulders should be parallel to the slope (tilt your spine back to the right). Aim further right because the ball will tend to go left, and swing along the slope. Play the ball slightly more forward than normal, and be sure to take one more club because the ball will tend to go higher and a little shorter.
4. Downhill Lie: Your shoulders should be parallel to the slope, feel like your left shoulder is lower than your right. Move ball position slightly back of center and aim a little to the left because the ball will tend to go right. Take one less club because the hill de-lofts the club face. Make a three-quarter backswing for balance and control; chase the ball down the slope with your club.
Notice how Dustin Johnson is swinging the club down along the slope and actually has his hands ahead of his left thigh just after impact.
So to recap, we need to setup properly in order to hit better shots off of these challenging uneven lies. Always make sure to get your shoulders as even with the slope as possible and swing along the slope. Rather than fighting the difficult downhill lie and falling back on your trail leg, make sure to go with it and stay down through impact.
"Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots – but you have to play the ball where it lies."
~ Bobby Jones