handle tight lies on green

Professional golfers love to find the ball perched neatly on firm, closely shaved turf when facing a chip or pitch shot. The rest of us generally dread such situations.

In fact, few scenarios scare amateurs more than a short shot off a tight lie. Where pros see the opportunity to impart lots of backspin for added control, casual golfers envision a thin or bladed chip that skitters across the green to who-knows-where.

The key to success from bare lies is simple: You must strike down on the ball and hit it before the ground. Ensuring this requires one minor adjustment: moving the ball back in your stance.

If you play a normal chip with the ball in the center of your stance, you'll want to move it closer to the right foot (left foot for lefties) from a tight lie. As a general rule, the tighter your lie, the farther right you should play the ball. You should also consider using a shorter club – a pitching wedge instead of a 9-iron, for example – because playing the ball back decreases loft.

Otherwise, no adjustments are needed. Just make sure the shaft is leaning toward the target at address, with a touch more weight on your lead foot, and make your standard chipping motion. As long as you hit the ball first, it will come out low with plenty of spin.

How to Handle Tight Lies Around the Green

How to Handle Tight Lies Around the Green

Normally, drawing a clean lie on the golf course is good news. A clean lie will allow you to place the club face on the back of the ball directly, which is ideal in terms of both power and control. You will have all options at your disposal when the ball is sitting cleanly on the fairway, which is not something you can say when your shot finds a patch of rough. Given the option, nearly every golfer would prefer to have his or her golf ball come to rest on the fairway cut as opposed to anywhere else.

This story changes a bit around the greens, however. Sure, it is still nice to have your ball on the fairway cut around the greens in some situations, but that is not always true. On some occasions, you may be better served to have your ball in the rough as opposed to on the fairway. That is especially true if you are playing a course with only light rough. Most golf courses these days keep their rough mown relatively short, meaning the rough is not the same penalty that it would have been in years gone by.

So why would you rather have your ball in the rough when playing a short game shot? It comes down to the ability to get the ball up into the air. From a tight fairway lie, you might struggle to get your wedge cleanly under the ball at impact. There is almost no margin for error on this kind of shot – hitting the ball just a bit thin or fat will result in a disastrous outcome. When you are in the rough, there is more forgiveness to be enjoyed. You can get away with minor mistakes from most lies in the rough without too much impact on the shot at hand. The rough comes with its own challenges, to be sure, but at least it is not as demanding as the intimidating tight lie.

In this article, we are going to provide advice which we hope will help you perform at a high level when playing from a tight lie. You are certain to draw tight lies around the greens from time to time, so every golfer needs to know how to handle this type of shot. Everything from technique to equipment is going to affect the outcomes of your chips and pitches from tight lies. By the end of this article, we hope you will have a complete understanding of this topic. At that point, the only thing left to do will be to get out and work on this skill for yourself.

All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

Understanding the Problem

Understanding the Problem

As mentioned in the introduction, drawing a clean lie in the fairway is usually seen as a good thing in golf. When you hit a tee shot, for example, you are probably hoping that it will settle in the fairway as opposed to drifting off into the rough. Playing an approach shot from the fairway is desirable because you will be able to put plenty of spin on the ball, and you should be able to predict the distance of your shot accurately.

Around the green, finding this same kind of fairway lie can present some challenges. Specifically, there are two problems you may find – it can be hard to get the ball off the ground, and it can be difficult to make clean contact. Let's take a closer look at each of those two potential problems.

  • Getting the ball off the ground. Often, when playing pitch and chip shots, you need to be able to elevate the ball in order to stop it in a timely manner after it lands. Or, you might need to get the ball up in the air to avoid obstacles which are in your way, such as bunkers or steep slopes. When playing from a tight lie, you will have to slide your lofted wedge (sand wedge, lob wedge) under the ball perfectly. These clubs are easier to use from the sand or the rough, and they can be intimidating to use off of a thin lie. Many amateur golfers tighten up when facing this kind of shot, and they wind up making a mistake as a result. Only when you have the right technique in place will you be able to overcome this challenge with ease.
  • Making clean contact. There is simply very little margin for error when chipping off of a tight lie. If the club comes into the ball slightly too high, you will hit the shot thin and the ball will scurry off the other side of the green. On the other hand, you could hit it fat and the club may bounce into the back of the ball. When that happens, the shot may be thin again – or it may just sit there, only a few inches in front of where it started. To make solid contact from a tight lie, your technique has to be precise. There cannot be any extra moving parts, and you can't flinch at the last moment before impact. One of the best ways to test the overall skill of a golfer is to watch him or her play short game shots from a tight lie. If the player can catch the ball cleanly time after time, they know what they are doing on the course.

With the difficulties of this shot highlighted, it should be mentioned that there are some advantages to having a clean, tight lie around the green. First and foremost, you will be able to put plenty of spin on the shot. If you are hoping to stop the ball quickly through the use of spin, you will be able to do just that from this kind of lie. The same type of shot is not possible out of the rough. Also, you won't have to guess with regard to how fast the ball is going to come out after impact. Some chip shots from the rough shoot quickly past the target, but that is unlikely to happen from the short grass (unless you miss-hit the shot, of course).

In the end, this is just another type of shot that you are going to need to learn as you work toward a better golf game. It can be a tricky one, but it can be fun to play as well. In the next section, we will lay out some of the basic fundamentals you will need in order to master this shot.

Striving for a Clean Strike

Striving for a Clean Strike

The techniques described in this section are all working toward the same goal – allowing you to make clean contact with the ball as frequently as possible from a tight lie. Hitting the ball solidly around the greens is not about luck. Rather, it is about reliable technique and a steady nerve. We will talk later about how to hold your nerves together when playing these tricky shots. For now, we are going to focus solely on the technical side of the equation.

Please review the tips listed below for a better understanding of how you can create a reliable chipping technique to deal with even the trickiest tight lie.

  • Set your weight on your left side. At address, you should be in a comfortable stance with your weight just slightly leaning to the left. You shouldn't be leaning so far left that you feel like you are going to fall over, but you also shouldn't be balanced in the middle of your stance (and you definitely should not be leaning to the right). By setting up with your weight slightly to the left, you will be promoting the downward hit which is going to be essential in this process. Once your weight is set on the left side, do everything you can to keep it there throughout the swing. You are only hitting the ball a short distance, so there is no need to move your weight around as the club swings back and through. Hold yourself steady and let the club swing around you smoothly.
  • Set your hands over the ball. At the same time you are setting your weight into your left side, you should also be setting up with your hands directly over the golf ball. This means that your hand will be slightly in front of the club head at address, which is another point that will help you hit down on the ball. It should be your goal to return your hands at impact to the same position they were in at address. When you combine a forward hand position with a left-lean, you should have no trouble hitting down on the ball cleanly.
  • Keep your left wrist firm. This just might be the most important technical point we offer in the entire article. Throughout the swing, you should be focused on keeping your left wrist flat and firm. This technique stands in contrast to the method you use from the rough, where it is okay to let your left wrist cup through the hitting area. You need to hit down on the ball in this situation, and that means maintaining a flat left wrist all the way through the hit. To practice this technique, you may want to make some one-handed practice swings with your right hand removed from the club. This will help you feel the way the left hand can control the club when the left wrist stays flat.

No head movement – at all. As you swing the club, your head should be perfectly still. There should be no up-and-down movement in your head position, and your eyes should be trained on the ball from start to finish. When your head moves, the rest of your body moves along with it. And when that happens, it will be nearly impossible to achieve the clean strike you need to deal with this kind of lie. This shot is all about precision, and it is hard to be precise when you let your head move all around.

Achieving a clean strike when hitting a short game shot from a tight lie is all about getting back to basics. None of the points we listed above are particularly complicated, and you have probably heard them all before in one form or fashion. You shouldn't be trying to reinvent the wheel with your chipping technique – you should just focus in on the basics and learn how to execute time after time.

The Right Mental Approach

The Right Mental Approach

Even excellent technique is not going to get you anywhere if you don't have the right mental approach to match. You need to be thinking particularly clearly on these kinds of shots, since they can go wrong so quickly. Even a short-term lapse in focus could be enough to lead to an ugly result. Teach yourself to narrow your focus when playing a short game shot from a tight lie to avoid wasting any unnecessary strokes.

Again in this section, we are going to offer up a list of tips to help you stay in the right frame of mind for this type of shot. As you practice, work on not only refining your physical technique, but your thought patterns as well.

  • Pick a landing spot. The best thing you can do for your mental approach is to have a specific landing spot in mind before you swing the club. Note: a landing spot is not the same thing as a target. Your target is almost certainly going to be the hole itself for a short game shot. That is not where you want to land the ball, however, as the ball is going to bounce and roll at least a little bit before it stops. To give your ball a good chance of coming to rest near the cup, you will want to pick a landing spot somewhere on the green between yourself and the hole. The landing spot you select is going to be based on a number of factors, including the club you are going to use, the slope between you and the hole, the condition of the course, and more. With experience, you will get better and better at picking accurate landing spots.
  • Trust your technique. Confidence plays a big role in this equation. You need to believe that you can strike the ball cleanly in order to actually pull it off. If there are any doubts in the back of your mind, the club will likely decelerate into the ball – which is a sure sign of trouble. Keep the club moving all the way through impact, believe in the technique you have built, and look forward to a positive outcome. There is no point in practicing your technique ahead of time only to give up on it when you get onto the course.
  • Take time to prepare. There is a popular habit among amateur golfers to rush through short game shots. This is odd, as these same golfers will take a considerable amount of time to hit a full swing shot. If anything, you should be playing the game with the reverse of this plan. There is a lot to think about and prepare for with regard to a short game shot, so make sure you take a moment or two to think things through before firing away. You don't want to slow up play for those around you, of course, but you don't need to rush either. Take your time, get ready from a mental perspective, and then step in and hit the shot.
  • Think ahead. One key to success when playing from a tight lie is thinking about the next shot you are going to hit once this one is complete. Hopefully, that will be a putt, as you should be able to at least hit the putting surface with your chip or pitch. But where would you like to putt from? It is almost always better to be putting uphill as opposed to downhill, so keep that in mind as you plan your shot. If you can leave the ball under the hole more often than not, you will have plenty of makeable putts to save your up and downs.

It's important to think clearly at all times on the golf course. However, there are some shots where you can afford to let your mind wander a bit without getting into too much trouble. This is not one of those times. You need to be tightly focused when chipping or pitching from a tight lie if you are going to place the ball near the hole time after time. Use the tips above to dial in your performance in this key area of the game.

Equipment Issues

Equipment Issues

Before we wrap things up, there are a few points which need to be made about equipment and how it affects what you can do from a tight lie. Having the right wedge in your hands is not as important as having the right technique – but it's close. With the right club for the job, you can make playing from a tight lie quite a bit easier.

The first thing to understand about playing from a tight lie is that you always want to use as little loft as possible. When you use less loft, you take some of the risk out of the equation. The shot is going to be easier to hit cleanly when played with a lower lofted club, meaning there is more margin for error involved. It is those lob wedge shots from a tight lie that you should really be trying to avoid if at all possible.

Of course, it is the lay of the land which will dictate the club you need to use. If there is nothing between you and the hole other than short grass and a gentle slope, you can use nearly any club in the bag to handle the challenge. On the other hand, if you have to play over a bunker and then stop the ball quickly, a great deal of loft will be required. Take a look at the circumstance you are facing and then pick the club with the least loft that is still capable of leaving the ball close to the hole.

Another topic to consider here is bounce angle. The bounce angle on your irons refers to the shape of the sole. When the club is sitting down on the ground at address, you will notice that the leading edge is not perfectly down on the turf. That is due to the bounce angle. A club with low bounce will barely have the leading edge off the ground, while a high-bounce wedge will leave plenty of clearance between the leading edge and the grass.

To make sure that you can handle these tight lie shots when they do come up, you should have at least one low-bounce wedge in your bag. If you aren't sure how to find one, ask for help in your local pro shop. They should have a selection of bounce angles for you to pick from, so you can find one which meets your needs perfectly. If you play most of your golf where tight lies are common – such as a desert location – you will probably want to make sure all of your wedges have a low bounce angle.

Playing short game shots from a tight lie is a bit of a give and take. There are many different shots which are possible from this kind of lie, but those shots can be tough to pull off consistently. We hope the information offered in this article will help you improve this area of your game in the weeks and months to come. Once you are comfortable with chipping and pitching the ball from a tight lie, you will be able to check one more thing off of your golf to-do list. Good luck!