Iron PlayMay 15, 2018

How to Hit Irons off of Downhill Lies

Kingsmill - Round Two
Hunter MartinWILLIAMSBURG, VA - MAY 19: Shanshan Feng of China during the second round of the Kingsmill Championship presented by JTBC on the River Course at Kingsmill Resort on May 19, 2017 in Williamsburg, Virginia. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

We all practice on ranges where our feet and ball are on flat lies. But on the course, things aren’t always so friendly. A lot of times you’ll find your ball in a spot where you can’t stand and swing like you do on the practice tee. A common lie I see amateurs really struggle with is when the ball is below your feet like I’m dealing with here. This shot is unnerving for amateurs, because they play it like it’s on a flat lie. The result is typically hitting it fat or thin. Ideally, you should spend some time practicing shots from different lies, but until that happens, here’s some advice to help you make better contact.

When I’m on any uneven lie, I usually select one club longer than normal. It’s so easy to lose your balance when the ground beneath your feet isn’t flat, so the extra club allows me to make an easier, more controlled swing, increasing the chance I hit it solid and get the ball to the green. Next, I adjust my spine angle to the slope. That means tilting my shoulders to match the slant of the lie. Once I do that, I take some practice swings feeling like my club is moving along the slope—not against it. I suggest you do the same.

On this shot, my left shoulder at address was a little lower than my right to match the angle of the hill. If my left shoulder was level with my right, I’d probably hit the ground behind the ball and chunk the shot. Even with my shoulders and spine angled to match the slope, I know my swing is going to bottom out a little earlier than it would from a flat lie. So when I set up, I play the ball slightly farther back in my stance than I normally would. Also, to help make solid contact, I favor my front foot a little more. That last adjustment steepens the angle of attack, which helps ensure I hit the ball before the ground.

Want more tips on how to hit irons? Check out our video lesson series: The Butch Harmon Swing Clinic.

Remember those practice swings I recommended, feeling like you’re swinging along the slope? Now’s the time to put that feel into action. When you swing, make sure your clubhead traces the ground. It’s like the club is chasing after the ball down the hill. You can see that’s what I did, because my right shoulder is way lower than my left in the through-swing.

One way to get better at hitting on downhill lies is with a drill that helps improve contact. Next time you’re at the range, hit a shot and then step toward the target with your trail foot (right for right-handers). This will get you to shift your weight into your lead foot in the downswing, a necessary element of hitting the ball solidly. It also will make you more comfortable hitting shots while not being completely in balance, and that’s a big part of success on any golf course.

—with Keely Levins

Feng is the first golfer to reach World No. 1 from China, male or female. She held the No. 1 ranking for five months until she was overtaken in April, 2018 by Inbee Park.