Out of all the different places you can find your ball on the course, I find downhill lies in golf to be amongst the most annoying. Playing with my feet above or below the ball can be tricky and I have hit my fair share of horror shots from this sort of position. However, I find that the downhill lie encourages a couple of different swing faults that make it tougher than you might think.
Downhill Lie Shouldn’t Matter
The thing is, hitting the ball off this sort of lie shouldn’t actually make a whole lot of difference. I don’t mean the extreme downhill lie which is obviously very different. If the lie is so uneven that balance is a problem, the best bet can often simply be to bunt it forwards with a mid-iron.
I am thinking of the gentle slope running forwards from the ball. This is probably only a few degrees off being flat and essentially isn’t going to make a huge difference to ball trajectory.
The problem is, I think, a mental one. When we as golfers set up to the ball on a downhill lie we start to think like beginners. Someone starting out in the game feels like they need to lift the ball into the air with the clubface. This seems logical to the non-golfer, but it is actually the opposite of solid swing mechanics. We hit down (at least with irons) in order to get the ball up in the air.
Beginner Mentality and Swing Faults
When a golfer starts to move from attempting to lift or hit up on the ball to hitting down and compressing, this is a huge step forward. It opens the door to playing some very good golf indeed (although doesn’t in itself make you a good golfer). It leads to all those things that are part for crisp ball-striking, whether it is hands forwards or being on top of the ball at impact.
A downhill lie, in my mind, pushes me back towards the idea of lifting the ball into the air. Discussions with other golfers tell me that this isn’t that uncommon. Often, as in my case, it isn’t even a conscious thought. We just notice that those downhill lies tend to be associated with ball contact that is less solid or even fat and/or thin.
I have had issues with flipping at the ball in the past and I will still be wary of flipping now. Generally I am fine as long as I concentrate on hands in front, hitting down etc. Unfortunately, the downhill lie just makes us want to lift the ball into the air.
The Downhill Lie Solution
As much as it sounds like a title for an e book, what is the downhill lie solution? Well, as you might have guessed, it is principally mental. The key is really to forget that it is a downhill lie at all. If you can do this, the rest takes care of itself. Unfortunately that probably isn’t going to make me a millionaire from book sales so Let’s see if we can find a few more practical tips.
The first one is probably to take a little bit more loft. Seeing a few more degrees of loft on the club can help with the notion that we need to lift the ball into the air. If the slope is downhill all the way to the green, you might actually need less club anyway. Using a rangefinder with slope will give you this sort of calculation of effective playing distance.
Weight Distribution and Ball Position
The second idea that can work is to really concentrate the weight on the front foot. Don’t sway off the ball and think about staying on top of it and really getting down and through as you strike. I would guess that anyone using a stack and tilt type of swing probably doesn’t have huge issues with the downhill lie.
The third thing I like isn’t actually specific to downhill lies but works well whenever I am worried about ball contact, especially because I’m not hitting it off the flat. This is to hit a punch shot. I am not really concerned about keeping the ball down in this case, but the feeling of a very controlled shot with perhaps a three-quarter swing works because it keeps me focused on something other than the lie and it also keeps me over the ball.
Ball position can also be a tool to play around with. I think that it might be worth moving the ball slightly further back. I am always wary of saying this because we are only really talking about a ball or at most two balls distance. Any more than this is probably going to miss up timing. Slightly further back just helps hit that ‘trappy’ shot when I can really feel like I am squeezing the ball forward.
Personally, I am a little bit careful of hitting an over-draw when I do this because both a punch shot and putting the ball further back both tend to accentuate my natural draw. It can lead to a low draw that rolls a long way. Allied to a downhill slop, this can be a potentially costly shot putting me in trouble.
Missing to the Right
A fair few golfers will actually have exactly the opposite miss to me from a downhill lie. They tend to leave the ball off to the right. This is often because the club face stays open as they extend towards the ball rather than releasing through it. This isn’t too complicated a fix though. Either Work on hitting that trap draw through ball position or probably even better, just play with the shot.
It almost certainly isn’t a big banana slice, simply the ball that might hang out to the right a little or perhaps have a gentle fade. Aiming down the left and letting the shot shape take care of the rest will usually be perfect.
Ultimately, the key is to work on the shot, not the slope. There is a natural tendency to want to put our shoulders level. We should just try to set up level to the ground and play with the slope rather than trying to fight it. A slightly wider stance for stability and a 75% swing and the downhill lie doesn’t’t need to be that difficult.