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One of the fascinating elements of golf is that conditions are constantly changing, from one course to the next, one day to the next and one hour to the next.  The terrain, the grasses, sand texture, course layout, wind, temperature fluctuations, rain, ground firmness, growing trees and foliage all contribute toward making the playing of golf a continually changing and challenging experience.  Learning to handle a variety of conditions is a requisite for being a competent player.  Knowing how to teach someone how to overcome unusual conditions with special shots is a requisite for being a competent teacher.



Uneven Lies


Most golf is practiced on “flat as a pancake” terrain, but hardly any of it is played there.  The four most frequently encountered uneven lies are uphill, downhill and the two sidehill (ball above the feet and below the feet).  Here are the basic considerations and adjustments for these four:


Sidehill – Ball Above The Feet


All uneven lies create a tendency for the player to err, resulting in incorrect distance, faulty direction or both.  When the ball is above the player’s feet, on the side of the hill, the three most frequent errors are chunking, pulling and hooking.  The chunk is easy to understand.  The ball is elevated and closer to the player.  This requires the player to either assume a different body tilt than that to which he is accustomed and/or to shorten his hand position on the grip.  If neither is done the club will hit the ground first rather than the ball.


The other two errors that are frequently made when the ball is above the feet are pulling and hooking.  A simple but graphic illustration the professional can give to his students is to take a putter and sole it so there is literally zero degrees of loft in the face and so that it is “looking” or facing at right angles to the target.  Ask the student where the ball will go if it is struck with the face in this position.  “To the target,” is the answer.  Now elevate the putter 1 ½ to 2 feet in the air keeping zero degrees of loft in the face.  Ask where the ball will go if struck now.  The answer again is, “to the target.”  Next take a lofted iron, like a #9, and repeat the previous routine.  With the #9 soled normally, the answer to where the ball will go is, “to the target.”  But when it is elevated, the pupil can readily see that the loft in the face when tilted upward is now directed to the left.  The ball will not go to the target, but to a spot quite a bit to the left of it.  With the ball higher than the feet, a more horizontal swing plane is created promoting more hand and forearm rotation.  With an inside swing path added to a clubface “looking” left it is easy to see why a pull or pull hook from this lie is a common tendency.  Another factor which encourages a pull to accompany the hook is gravity.  Whenever a player is on uneven terrain, gravity will try to pull him toward the lower point of the slope.  In this case, the low point is behind him so the pull is backwards.  Because of the backward pull of gravity, the swing path can travel several degrees to the left, resulting in a pulled shot.  Here are some solutions the teacher can use the offset these three negative tendencies when the ball is positioned above the feet:


1.                    Stand as perpendicular to the lie as possible so the body position in relation to the ground approximates a normal lie, yet the weight favors the balls of the feet.


2.                    Choke down on the club so the club can clear the ground.


3.                    Position the ball near the middle of the stance since weight transfer won’t be as strong.


4.                    Keep the suspension point (the distance from the ground to the base of the neck) constant to maintain balance.


5.                    Take a couple of practice swings to get the feeling of clearing the ground at the right height.


6.                    Allow for the pull or hook by aiming to the right.  The steeper the ball lies, the more the player must compensate.


7.                    The player should swing within himself.  Trying to hit hard from an awkard lie is difficult.  Always swing with less than full effort.  This may require using a stronger club to provide the added distance needed.


Uneven Lies – Ball Below the Feet


Playing a shot when the ball is lying lower than the feet is one of the harder shots in golf and it’s easy to understand why.  Beginning golfers find it easier to contact the ball if it’s raised in the air on a tee, more difficult when it’s on the ground.  Now, in the ball below the feet lie, it’s actually lower than ground level.  The tendency is for the ball to be topped, pushed or push-sliced.  A face position demonstration similar to the one given with the ball above the feet can be shown to the student.  The procedure is the same, but the result reversed.  Show the putter first where the face remains square when tilted, then tilt the toe of the #9 iron downward and the loft in the face will “look” to the right.  To make the proper compensations for a ball positioned below the feet the player should:


1.                    Go to the full length on the grip.


2.                    Stand close enough to the ball to easily reach it with the clubhead.


3.                    Angle the body close to perpendicular with the ground, but sit deeper in the knees at address and let the weight feel more on the heels.


4.                    Keep the suspension radius constant.  Don’t pull up or fall forward.


5.                    Aim to the left an amount relative to the tilt of the clubface and allow the ball to go to the right.


How much should a player aim right or left on these shots?  The answer will come from practice, but here is a way that may help.  After he has selected a club, let the student mimic with the palm of his hand in the air the club’s loft and the soling of it on uneven terrain.  Have him carefully note the amount of deflection the face presents from the target line.  let him compensate that amount plus a bit more for the curve, then swing naturally.


Uphill Lies


The most common tendencies from the uphill lie are pulling, chunking and underclubbing.  This is due primarily to the force of gravity attracting the player toward the low ground or the player’s right.  It is difficult from the uphill lie for the golfer to transfer his weight to the front foot as he normally would.  When the weight stays back, the swing path travels left, causing a pulled shot.  In addition, the natural slope of the terrain tilts the golfer’s stance upward, adding loft to the face of the club.  This causes the ball to go a higher and a shorter distance.  Increasing this tendency even further is the reluctance of the weight to transfer left, allowing the head end of the club to pass the grip end too soon.  To neutralize these tendencies when faced with an uphill lie the player should:


1.                    Set-up basically perpendicular to the ground level but with a bit more focus of weight to the left.  Resist gravity’s pull by seeing the weight transfer up the slope with the swing.


2.                    Play the ball near the middle of the stance to make it easier to contact.


3.                    Take a stronger club to reach the target. 


4.                    Choke down on the club for better control.


5.                    Aim to the right an amount sufficient to compensate for the slope.


6.                    Take a couple of practice swings to adjust to the different condition, then make a comfortable, controlled swing,


Downhill Lie


The downhill lie shot is difficult because the ball is below the normal stance level.  This shot requires more concentration than any of the others.  The tendencies are a push or push-fade and the topped shot.  A push or push-fade is largely the result of not squaring the clubface.  It is difficult to produce clubface rotation and not top the shot while trying to follow the slope of the terrain.  Further adding to this tendency to push or slice is gravity pulling the player’s swing center ahead of the ball.  Some solutions (used in combination) that the teacher can offer his players are:


1.                    Play the ball slightly back of the middle of the stance.


2.                    Set-up perpendicular to the ground, but resist being pulled down the hill past the ball.


3.                    Tilt the shoulders as much as possible to match the slope of the ground to make it easier to stay with the shot.  (It helps to sit more in the right knee.)


4.                    Allow for the club being somewhat delofted which will cause the ball to go lower, hotter, and roll farther.  A ¾ controlled swing from a downhill lie may send the ball the same distance as a full swing with the same club for a normal lie.


5.                    Aim to the left an amount commensurate with the slope.


6.                    Take some practice swings until there is a comfortable feel, then make a controlled swing following the level of the ground.


Uneven Lies – Short Shots


Be sure the student realizes that the same ball flight tendencies will also apply to the short pitch, chip and bunker shots.  In fact, it is quite important to learn how to adjust to server slopes around the green where a lofted club is frequently used.  In these situations the face angle will be even more misdirected in relation to the leading edge than on longer shots.  Here are some general guidelines for pitches, chips and bunker shots from uneven lies:



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