On golf courses that don't overseed their fairways in the winter, you'll often face tight lies shots with very little grass beneath the ball. The same goes for courses that are baked by summer heat or drought. Other times, you may draw a tight lie on bare patches off the fairway.
While many golfers shudder at the sight of such a lie, it can actually be a good thing if you know how to deal with it. Without grass getting between clubface and ball, a well-struck shot will generate lots of spin.
Whether you're hitting an iron, hybrid club or fairway wood, the key to hitting off a tight lie is to play the ball slightly back in your stance (to the right, for a right-handed golfer) and strike it with a descending blow.
A few keys to keep in mind when you find a bare lie:
- On iron and hybrid shots, play the ball approximately in the center of your stance. For clubs with less loft, like a 5-iron or 3-hybrid, move it just forward (left) of center.
- With fairway woods, the ball should be between center stance and your left foot.
- Grip down slightly to aid your control of the clubhead. Good contact is critical.
- If the ground is completely grass-free, stand slightly wider to avoid slipping.
- At address, place slightly more weight on your left (lead) foot – about 55-60%.
- Focus on hitting down on the back of the ball, and rotate your body through to the finish.
Once you've nailed a couple of shots off tight lies, your fear will dissolve. In fact, you may come to relish these opportunities.
Tight Lie Basics
Elevate your golf game by taking time to use the lie of your ball as an advantage. Lower your scores by simply inspecting the lie of your ball and making subtle adjustments with your set up and swing.
In any situation the way the ball sits should determine the type of shot you are going to hit. If you have to alter your normal (driving range) shot in any way you will have to adjust your strategy and shot selection. Hitting balls on a flat range with a lot of grass is great when you are working on mechanics, but as far as preparing for the golf course it lacks practicality.
Having a layer of soft, fluffy grass beneath the golf ball is an ideal situation for amateur golfers.
The grass gives a player confidence that even if they don't make a great swing there is a chance that the shot will come off well anyway. Take away the fluffy layer of grass and doubt creeps in. Tight lies demand that you pay special attention to your shot. If the ball sits on dirt and you hit the ground first the club can bounce into the ball. If the ground is soft then there is a good chance you may hit the shot fat.
What defines a tight lie? Typically there is little or no grass below the ball and the lie forces you to hit the ball first in order to hit a good shot.
Here are some examples of tight lies:
- No grass/hardpan
- Hard packed sand not in a bunker
- Mud or wet, grassless ground
- Dormant grass
- Grass cut very tight around the greens
- Waste bunkers/hardpan bunkers
- Cart path or extended cart path areas
The common element in executing all of these shots is that you need to hit the ball first. For
professionals these shots are a bit easier just because they normally do hit the ball first. They are able
to take a fairly normal stance and “pick” the ball off of the ground. Since shots from a tight lie typically
produce more spin their greatest concern is to make sure the shot stays on the green once it gets there.
For the average golfer the greatest concern is hitting a clean shot. To do so it's important to
take these precautions to ensure you hit the ball first:
- Place the ball further back in your stance.
Take a few practice swings next to the ball to determine where the club is contacting the
ground in relation to ball position. You should place the ball about one ball-roll further back from the contact point.
- Ensure that your club shaft is leaning forward at impact.
You want your hands to be slightly in front of the club head and the ball.
- Take a shorter swing so that you can maintain balance and restrict movement.
Select a longer club then choke down. You should swing back shorter than
normal and take care that your legs have less movement than usual.
Excessive movement can cause the club's impact point with the ground to shift
during the swing resulting in a thin or fat shot.
- Think “thin.”
Stand a little bit taller at address to make sure your arms are hanging down.
Arms that are bent at address tend to straighten out during the downswing.
This can result in early contact with the ground preventing you from hitting the ball first.
- Don't rush the transition-make sure you hit down on the ball.
Control is important with this type of shot. Take special care that you allow your backswing
to finish before you start the downswing. A transition made too fast can cause excessive
movement and an early release.
- Swing with equal effort back and through.
Gravity will help to speed up the club on the way back down. Slowing down before impact causes the arms to stop and hands to flip which could
Tight lies don't have to be an obstacle. Take precautions to set up correctly so that you can ensure the club hits the ball before the ground. In addition, taking measures to control excessive movement will help you maintain a consistent impact point and prevent you from hitting fat and thin shots. Most importantly, don't take the lie of your ball for granted. The fun part of golf is learning how to adjust to different shots. Doing so will result in fewer wasted
strokes and a lower score.
Tight Lie Wedges
Hitting a wedge off of a tight lie can be a challenge. Most wedges have bounce. A club has bounce
when the back edge of the sole is lower than the front edge. It affords forgiveness and can prevent the
club from digging. Bounce on a tight will make the club rebound off of the ground and hit into the top
half of the golf ball. The result is a very thin shot.
Bounce is great if you are hitting out of thick grass or out of a greenside bunker. But using bounce when
hitting a shot from a tight lie can produce some pretty awful shots. There are ways to eliminate bounce
when you need to. Knowing how to do this will help you hit better shots and shoot lower scores.
Your first option to negate bounce on a wedge shot is to hit a punch or knock-down shot. Moving the
ball further back in your stance with your hands forward of the ball will help you create a more
descending blow and allow you to hit the ball before you hit the ground.
This option is safe and often lets the golfer feel more confident about the outcome. If you decide to go
this route just remember that the trajectory will be lower than normal. If you hit a punch shot the ball
will roll out a little bit. If you hit a knock down the ball should check nicely.
Your second option is to raise your hand position slightly at address. By raising your hands the heel of
the club will come off of the ground. This will reduce the amount of bounce on the club. This shot is
very effective out of hard packed sand.
A couple of key thoughts to remember if you decide to use this shot are that first, you have to try and
return your hands at impact to the position you started them in at address. Setting up with the hands
high and then returning them lower will bring the bounce back into play. Second, because you are lifting
the heel slightly your club face will make contact a little more towards the toe of the club.
If you are in a position where you need to get a little loft from your wedge shot off of a tight lie then
set up like you will be hitting a normal wedge shot. Move the ball back one roll from where you
would normally position it. Tilt your upper body left slightly so that your shoulders are either
level or your right shoulder is just a little higher than your left.
Keep in mind that you should make your entire swing with the shoulders in the same place your
started your swing. Stay centered and don't change your spine angle. Also, it's important with this shot
that you don't try to add loft by either leaning back on the downswing or by flipping your hands.
A final thought would be to consider having your wedges custom fit. Custom fit wedges can be
very advantageous. You can mix the amount of bounce up and have some with more bounce and
some with less. Or, if you play most of your golf in a particular region then you know what types
of shots you will need. For instance, if you play on Bermuda fairways in the southeast or on
dry courses in the southwest then you won't need much bounce on your wedges. You will probably
face more tight lies versus fluffy lies in these areas.
The main thing to remember when hitting wedges off of tight lies is that if you reduce your bounce then
you will reduce the amount of miss-hits. Experiment with these shots to find out which
method works best for you.
Tight Lie Irons
If you were asked to play a round of golf with only one club, which one would you choose? It's a good
bet you would select your favorite iron. Irons are versatile and they are pretty easy to manipulate.
You can hit them off of the tee, on approach shots, hit chips and you can even putt with them.
Therefore, irons are the most popular choice when hitting from a tight lie.
Approach shots can be a bit scary when you are playing from a tight lie. The perception is that the
ball will come out fast and low and therefore difficult to hold on the green. In some situations,
such as when you need to carry bunkers or a water hazard for instance, the fear of blading a shot is real.
As with other tight lie situations, you will need to contact the ball before you contact the ground. You
should play the ball a little further back in the stance and take a controlled swing. The tendency in
a situation like this, where you need some air time while hitting from a tight lie, is for a player to
rush his/her downswing. Increasing force on the downswing can cause an early release or excessive
body movement. It could also cause the player to slow down near impact. It's important that
you keep your rhythm as smooth as you can. It's imperative that you keep the lower body more
stable than you normally do.
Whether you need some air time or not, when hitting from a tight lie with an iron it's good to have
a fixed position to swing around. Mike Hebron, a top 100 instructor, used the example of tying a
string to the end of a pencil and then tying a small rock to the other end. If you were to twirl the
pencil vertically in your hands the rock would orbit around the pencil. If the pencil remained in one
spot and turned with consistent speed then the rock would stay on line. Move the pencil and the
the rock loses energy and falls off line.
When taking a full swing from a tight lie you need to feel as though your spine is the pencil and your
club is the rock. If you keep a consistent spine angle the club will contact the ground in the right spot.
Move your spine and you change the point of impact. Keeping your spine angle will also help to restrict
the length of your backswing.
When you have to hit a recovery with an iron you use a little different technique. Think of it as a
chipping motion with a turn. When you make a commitment to hitting a recovery shot from a tight lie
set up with the ball in the middle of your stance and pull your left foot back. Pull it back a couple of
inches if you are taking a fuller swing and more if the shot is shorter.
Let the club swing inside on your shoulder line and keep the club fairly low. Wait for the club to
get down to the right leg on the downswing and then turn your body and the club through together.
Your club will be leaning forward at impact. This is a very safe shot to hit off of a tight lie. The ball
will come out lower but is controllable.
Around the green you can hit a couple of different iron shots off of a tight lie. The first is a standard chip that will help you hit the ball instead of the ground first. Play the ball back in the stance and pull your left foot back. Lean forward slightly and move your hands in front of the ball. Use your putting stroke to get the ball going and restrict your wrist movement.
An alternative is to set the club up on its toe. For very short shots set the club up so that the shaft angle is the same as your putter. Get right over the ball and let your arms hang further down the grip. The only difference between setting up with your putter is at address is to lean your hands forward slightly. Use your putting motion for a clean hit. Even your misses will turn out decent.
Don't be afraid to use your favorite iron when faced with any type of tight lie. Your irons
can be easily adapted to whatever situation you encounter. Remember that one of the keys to
hitting a ball off of a tight lie is to hit the ball first and there is no easier club to accomplish this with
than an iron.
Tight Lie Hybrids
While watching the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 2005 I saw the professionals struggling with the aprons around the greens. The grass was cut exceptionally tight and the summer weather hadn't provided much rain to the area. While watching the professionals practice I was amazed to see quite a few hitting hybrids and woods up to the greens from 10-20-30 yards out. At the time hybrids were just emerging in popularity and some of the players even had their new hybrids custom fit for hitting these shots.
As popular as hybrids became in the 2005 US Open, golfers have still not completely embraced the method of hitting shots around the green off of tight lies with a hybrid. It is a bit awkward holding such a long club for such a short shot. But the low lofts of the clubs along with the its steadiness like an iron make them perfect for tight lies around the greens.
If you have tried tight lie shots around the green with a fairway wood you might have found that the ball comes off of the club hot. You really need to concentrate on hitting it like a putt. With hybrids you can still hit the shot like you were putting or you can hit it like a chip. Take for instance a 4 hybrid. It has 21 degrees of loft, a small head and a light shaft. For a 10-20 yard shot up to the green you can set up like you are hitting a chip. Choke down on the club, open your stance and lean left a little. Use your chipping motion which will result in a ball that runs up to the green like a putt. Take care to keep the hands quiet and the arms moving.
The percentage of hitting a good shot with the hybrid off of a tight lie around the green is much higher than if you use a wedge. With a wedge the ball will be in the air for part of the shot. It's sometimes difficult to gauge what the ball will do when it lands because of the lie that you hit it from. Using a hybrid takes the guessing out of the equation. Now you can read the shot like a putt and concentrate on distance control, just as you would with a putter in your hands.
For those of you that prefer hybrids to irons for full shots, you can make the hybrid work off of a tight lie. You cannot be afraid of straightening your arms on the downswing. When hitting from a tight lie you still need to contact the ground at some point, just not 3 inches behind the ball. Your set up is important when hitting this shot.
It's imperative you take practice swings next to the ball to gauge where the club is hitting the ground consistently. Arrange the ball position one ball width back from the point you are hitting the ground. By taking practice swings you will have confidence that you can take a smooth swing and let your arms extend down to the ball. By moving the ball position back you make sure you hit the ball before the ground. Too many times players are afraid to hit the ground when faced with a tight lie. Practice instills confidence and using the correct technique for the club you use will enforce your
Hybrids can be extremely useful clubs. Just having one hybrid in your bag can give you 3-4 different shots to use. The more shots you have in your bag the less strokes you have to count. Practice these hybrid shots and add more choices to your shot selection.
Tight Lie Fairway Woods
You are standing on a par five and hit your drive to the right. Your ball ends up on the right
side of the rough on hardpan. In order to advance the ball and not just hit a recovery
shot you really need to hit a fairway wood.
On the next hole you pull your drive left and end up with a tree between you and
the green. You will need to keep the ball under the branches and also hit the ball hard
and long enough for it to roll up onto the green. Once again you might need your fairway
Finally, say you are playing a course with very fast greens. You miss the green right on the approach
and have 10 yards to the green. The grass is extremely tight and you have a small hill running up to the
green you must navigate. Believe it or not your fairway wood may be just what you are looking for.
These are three scenarios where many amateur golfers wouldn't think of using their fairway woods.
In the first situation using a fairway wood for distance from a simple hard pan lie is a very good option.
The ball should be positioned in your stance about one ball width back from your point of contact
from the ground. Take a few practice swings next to the ball to help you determine where your
club is consistently hitting the ground.
You may want to choke down on the club to make the club shorter and easier to control. If you can
control the club it can help you stabilize your body and help you avoid excess movement.
Don't feel as though you need to over swing in order to hit the ball far. Simply having more centered
contact on the club face will be beneficial as opposed to whacking it off the bottom of the face.
If the lie itself scares you, try hitting some balls off of the center of the broad side of a 2'x4'. It's perfectly safe for your club. Make sure you have the ball either towards the center or forward on the board so
you don't clip the back end of it coming down. The objective would be to nip the ball off of the board. If you are hitting the board a little heavy choke down on the club a bit and level out your shoulders.
For the second scenario you need to have some distance but you also have to navigate tree branches.
Hit a punch shot with your fairway wood to get extra roll. The lack of loft on the club will help you
keep the trajectory low. To hit this shot move the ball slightly further back than you would to hit a
normal shot. Pull your left foot back a little and lean your hands forward a small amount.
Choke down and take a ¾ swing. Don't guide the shot, just make sure your follow through matches the shorter length of your backswing. The ball should run a lot so consider that before you hit it. The final situation refers to using a fairway wood around the green. Since fairway woods have very little loft you can use them as a surrogate putter. When the apron around the green is cut very tight or has bald spots it can be tough to get a wedge on the ball. And when you do it rolls out once it hits. Using a fairway wood with a putting stroke keeps the ball on the ground and makes distance control easier.
In order to hit this shot you will need to choke down on the club. Open your stance by pulling the left foot back. The ball should be positioned just ahead of center. The motion is a pure putting stroke. Using the wrists will add a lot more distance to the shot. When you take your practice strokes you should be reading the green as if you are putting the ball and the stroke itself should be equal to the stroke you would take if you had a putter in your hands. Trust it and this shot will save you a lot of strokes.
Fairway woods are very good for tight lie situations. The biggest consideration should be the lower loft of the club and the extra distance it will add. Try it. You'll like it!