Beat Uneven Lies
Four Shots For Beating The Slope
To make solid contact from uneven ground, the big thing is taking what the slope gives you. In other words, don't fight the slope; adjust your setup and swing to accommodate it. Here are three changes you should make for every uneven lie you face:
(1) Stand wider for extra stability.
(2) Lean into the slope; gravity will pull you downhill during the swing.
(3) Don't swing hard: Go at 70 or 80 percent to keep your balance.
Now here are specific adjustments for the four most common uneven lies.
On an upslope, take a longer club because the upward angle of the hill tilts the clubface back, adding loft (see photos above). Play the ball slightly more forward than normal, and try to get your shoulders parallel to the hill. If your shoulders are too level, you'll stick the clubhead steeply into the ground at impact. As I like to say to our golf-school students, set up with the slope, and then swing up the slope.
You should also adjust your aim at address. Going uphill, you tend to hit the ball left because your hands and arms are releasing upward through impact, and that causes the clubface to rotate closed. So aim your body and club right of where you normally would.
Take less club, and play the ball back a little.
When playing from a downslope, take less club because the hill delofts the clubface. Position the ball back a little and, as with the uphill lie, feel as if you set your shoulders parallel to the slope. (You might not actually be able to do this on a downslope, but that's the feel you want.) If you don't angle your shoulders, your body will be tilted back relative to the hill, and you'll likely hit behind the ball.
Shots from downhill lies tend to go to the right because you're extending your arms down the slope. In effect, you're holding off clubface rotation, which can leave the face open at impact. But don't worry about releasing through the ball; just aim a little left to compensate.
3. BALL BELOW
The big challenge from this lie is getting down to the ball and staying there through impact. The tendency is to pull up or move onto your toes, both of which lead to poor contact. You really have to squat down and lean your rear end into the slope to lower your center of gravity; your weight should be on your heels (see photos below).
Because of this awkward squat position, body turn during the swing is restricted, so it's more of a hands-and-arms motion. The key swing thought is, maintain the flex in your knees; that will help you stay in your posture. Still, your swing will tend to be more up and down, which means less clubface rotation, so aim left to guard against missing to the right.
4. BALL ABOVE
This lie brings the ball closer to you, so you naturally stand a little taller. Grip down an inch or two to accommodate the shorter reach to the ball (see photos below). Set your weight a little more in your toes; remember, gravity will pull you downhill—in this case, onto your heels.
From this upright posture, the swing will be flatter or more around the body, like a baseball swing. That creates more hand and arm rotation through the shot, with the clubface closing at a faster rate on the downswing. So the tendency with the ball above your feet is to hit it to the left. Aim right to allow for that.
Butch Harmon, No. 1 among Golf Digest's 50 Best Teachers, runs the Butch Harmon School of Golf, Rio Secco G.C., Henderson, Nev. He works with Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney, Stewart Cink and Natalie Gulbis.