The Truth About Downhill Lies

Published 18/09/2013 06:50:00

Finding your ball on an extreme downhill lie doesn't have to translate to disaster on your scorecard. With a basic understanding of how to properly set up to these shots and with some practice, you can routinely hit good shots from this once-awkward position.

After observing thousands of professional and amateur golfers play shots from downhill lies, I've noticed most of us have a natural tendency to lean or tilt back (away from the target) on downhill lies. There's a logical reason for this. Your head is heavy and your instinct for balance naturally influences you to keep your spine vertically under your head, and balanced above your feet.

Sometimes, however, you can't hit good golf shots from a "good-balance position." For example, when your ball lies on a downhill slope, to keep your head in good balance, you instinctively stand vertically (as Eddie tries in the picture below left). This positions your spine away from being perpendicular to the ground, making it more likely you'll hit the ground behind the ball.

The proper set-up for downhill slopes is to spread your stance (feet) more than normal to provide a wider base, then lean forward to get your spine closer to perpendicular to the sloping ground. This will also place a disproportionate and unusual loading on your forward leg, knee, and ankle, and make keeping your balance as you swing a real challenge.

Because this forward weight distribution is unusual doesn't mean it's wrong. In fact, for downhill trouble lies, it's exactly what you need to maintain through impact to execute a successful and powerful escape shot from this lie.

Setting your spine perpendicular to the ground is not always necessary. For gentle slopes and the small swings used for short pitch or chip shots, it may be more comfortable to use a normal (vertical spine) stance. In this case, you must play the ball back in your stance to avoid hitting the shot fat. You should be able to make clean contact with the ball before hitting turf if you practice this set-up and shot.
Practice at Home

Now stand up, get a club (any club), and get in front of a mirror. You need to make some swings to see, feel, and internalize how your adjustments to downhill lies affect your swing mechanics.

Spine tilt inhibits lower body rotation. First make a few of your normal swings from a level lie. Close your eyes and swing, focusing on the feel of your swings. Next, tilt your spine forward and swing, then tilt it back and swing again. Feel the decreasing swing power you can produce as your spine tilt angle increases in either direction.

Now, get some object about six inches high (like the large brick Eddie is using, picture below right) and imagine you are going to hit a shot from a downhill lie. Place your back foot on the six-inch object, keep your spine vertical for good balance, and imagine a ball in the middle of your stance on the severe downhill slope and swing. Notice that you would have hit six inches to a foot behind the ball with that swing.

Next, widen your stance and lean toward the target to remove any spine tilt angle. This gets your spine perpendicular to the ground you're hitting from. Now swing again. See how bad this balance feels, but also feel how you would have hit the downhill shot solidly, without hitting the ground behind the ball. The key here is to get your spine as near to perpendicular to the ground (your shoulders will be parallel to the ground) as possible.

Practicing this in the mirror is a great way to internalize the adjustments and the feel of swinging form the proper position. Now you're getting the feel of putting your body into position (wide stance and minimum spine tilt or lean) to make good solid escape swings from sloping lies, and you've become aware of another important fundamental of what Dave Pelz calls "Set-up-ology" in his book Dave Pelz's Damage Control .

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