Strike Down to Escape Hardpan and Divots, Golf Tip

Want to scare the knickers off an average golfer? Place his ball on a patch of hard, bare ground. Better yet, drop the ball into a divot.

While most golfers prefer to see the ball sitting up on a nice piece of turf, there's really nothing to fear from hardpan or divots. There's one simple key to playing from either: Hit down on the ball.

The lack of grass and extra-firm ground make it nearly impossible to slide the club under a ball on hardpan. Attempting to pick the ball clean brings the risk of a thin shot. Likewise, there's no getting under a ball in a divot.

Follow these steps to make solid contact from either spot:

1. Take one extra club than you normally would for the distance.

2. Play the ball toward the middle of your stance, with the hands ahead of the clubface.

3. Swing easy, making sure to stay down through impact.

For a shot from greenside hardpan, it's best to use a pitching wedge or lob wedge as the bounce on the bottom of a sand wedge will cause it to, yes, bounce off the ground and into the ball.

Why Strike Down to Escape Hardpan and Divots

Why Strike Down to Escape Hardpan and Divots

You never know what kind of lies you are going to encounter when you head out onto the golf course. In this case, we are not talking about your playing partners lying about their scores – rather, we are talking about the lie of the golf ball on the ground. While we would all love to play every one of our shots from a beautiful fairway lie, that simply isn't how this game works. You will have your fair share of good lies during any given round, but you are likely to find your ball in some tough spots along the way as well. It is your ability to deal with these difficult situations that will have a lot to say about whether or not you are able to finish up with a good score.

In this article, we are going to cover two specific types of bad lies which you are going to encounter from time to time on the course – hardpan and divots. When you have a hardpan lie, the ball is resting on ground where no grass is growing at all. Usually, this kind of lie is just bare dirt, and as the name would indicate, that dirt is quite hard. On a good golf course, you will only find these kinds of hardpan lies well off the beaten path, after you have hit a poor shot on your previous swing. Hardpan lies present some very specific challenges, so you can expect to have your work cut out for you when this situation comes up.

Divots, on the other hand, are a completely different story. Unfortunately, you are most likely to find your ball in a divot after you have hit a great drive down the middle of the fairway. Divots are most commonly found in the short grass, meaning you could get unlucky and find your ball sitting down in a divot even if you did your job perfectly on the tee. The rules of golf do not allow you to take the ball out of a divot before hitting your next shot. No matter how unfair it may seem, you are going to have to find a way to play a decent shot from this challenging situation. Playing from a divot is never going to be easy, but you can improve your skills in this circumstance with experience.

In both of these situations – playing from hardpan and playing from a divot – you will find that striking down on the ball is almost always the right decision. Hitting down allows you to take some of the elements of your poor lie out of the equation, as you should be able to catch the ball before the lie comes into play. Of course, that doesn't mean that these shots are going to be easy, but they can be manageable with the right technique. Use the advice offered throughout this article to do your best when presented with hardpan or divot lies.

All of the instruction offered below is written from the perspective of a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

The Advantage of Hitting Down

The Advantage of Hitting Down

Later in this article, we will look specifically at the challenges you will face when playing from hardpan lies and divot lies respectively. First, let's talk some about the general advantages of hitting down on the golf ball. Most amateur golfers fail to hit down properly, as they try to 'scoop' the ball off the turf instead. You might be able to get away with a scooping action from time to time, but such a move is never going to work in a consistent manner. Hitting down through the ball with your irons is the best bet, even if it may take some time and effort to learn how to do so effectively.

The following list includes some of the biggest benefits to be gained by hitting down on the golf ball. Some of these benefits are specific to the type of lie you are dealing with, while others apply across the board.

  • Add backspin to your shots. Most amateur golfers complain about their inability to spin the ball at the same level as the pros. While hitting down on your shots might not raise your spin to a professional level, it is certainly going to help. When you hit down, backspin is added to the ball at a higher rate than if you were to scoop the ball off the turf. When hitting short irons, this higher spin rate will help you to stop the ball quickly – hopefully within close range of the hole. On longer shots, you will still enjoy stopping power, but you will also benefit from the way the ball holds its line better in the air. Adding backspin to your iron shots is almost always going to be a good thing, and it can happen as soon as your next round if you are able to strike down on the ball effectively.
  • Achieve a clean hit. Anytime you have a less-than-perfect lie – even if it is not as bad as a hardpan or divot lie – hitting down will help you get to the back of the ball as cleanly as possible. The best example of this is when you are hitting the ball out of the rough. A shallow, flat swing is sure to get caught up in the long grass behind the ball, but that won't be a problem when you swing down aggressively. Your steep approach angle means the club head is going to miss most of the rough on the way in, and your contact will be improved. Overall, you will be a more versatile and more consistent player when you opt to use a downward angle of approach.
  • Create a penetrating ball flight. Hitting shots which hold their line is a serious challenge in golf. Even if you start the ball on the right line, it may drift off that line due to a number of factors. However, it will be far less likely to drift away when you hit down and create a penetrating launch angle. The ball will take off relatively low to the ground, holding its line thanks to the high spin rate. Eventually the ball will climb up into the sky – again, thanks to the spin rate – but by then it should be well on its way to the target. You won't be able to hit every single shot on line, but you should have a fairly high rate of success.
  • Hit the ball farther. Distance with your irons matters just as much as it matters with your driver. The biggest advantage to hitting the ball farther with your irons is being able to use shorter clubs on longer approach shots. For instance, instead of having to hit a 7-iron from 150-yards, maybe you will be able to use an 8-iron now that you are hitting down. Using one less club means your shot will come in higher, stop quicker, and be easier to control overall. The iron game should be about accuracy first and foremost, but adding some distance to this part of your game certainly isn't going to hurt.

As you can see, there is a lot to gain by learning how to hit down on the ball in general. Even when you have a great lie, you are going to benefit from using this technique. And, when you stray from the fairway and find yourself in some tough situations, that downward plane is going to be even more effective.

Overcoming a Hardpan Lie

Overcoming a Hardpan Lie

In most cases, you are going to have to hit a pretty bad shot to wind up with your ball on a hardpan lie. Maybe you hit the ball way off line from the tee, or maybe you hit a terrible iron shot from the fairway. No matter how your ball wound up in the situation where it is sitting on hardpan ground, the only thing to do now is figure out how to get back in position. Playing from a hardpan lie is not ideal, obviously, but this is a challenge which can be overcome.

The first thing to do when you encounter a hardpan lie is to check out the situation you are facing in general. Do you have a clear path to the target from where your ball is located? Do you think you can hit the ball far enough to actually reach the green, or will you be laying up? Are there any obstacles located behind your ball – such as small stones or clumps of dirt – that are going to make it difficult to hit the ball cleanly? Before going any further, you need to take an objective assessment of the overall predicament you are facing.

As you are taking an overview of the situation, be sure to think conservatively regarding your eventual plan for the shot. Even if you think you can hit a great shot from this spot, settle on a plan which is going to give you some margin for error. Hitting down is going to take some of the danger out of this shot, but remember that you are still playing from a poor lie. There are plenty of things which are out of your control in this situation, so don't bank on the ball coming out perfectly and heading straight for the target. Try to balance your aspirations of hitting a great shot with the reality of the situation. If you are willing to take the safe route toward the target, you should be able to steer clear of trouble more often than not.

When the time comes to actually hit the shot, be sure to play the ball in the middle of your stance to ensure a downward hit. If the ball gets too far forward in your stance, you may have to slide to the left in order to hit down properly – and you never want to encourage any sliding action in your swing. Play the ball right in the middle of your stance, stay nicely balanced, and hit down through the shot on your way to a full finish. It might be tempting to look up early in order to see where the ball is going, but that is only going to increase your odds of a poor shot. If you can have the discipline to keep your eyes and head down all the way through impact, there will be a better chance of getting out of this spot successfully.

One other point which needs to be made regarding hitting down on the ball from a hardpan lie – you need to avoid hitting down so aggressively that you damage the club or injure yourself in the process. The ground under your ball may not give much at all after you have made contact with the shot. If the ground is quite hard, hitting down too steeply will lead to a harsh collision between your club head and the ground. Get a feel for how firm the ground is as you walk up to the shot, and make sure you balance hitting down with taking a reasonable approach into the ball.

Conquering the Divot Lie

Conquering the Divot Lie

Finding your ball in a divot in the middle of the fairway is one of the most frustrating experiences in the game of golf. When you are standing on the tee, you don't know that the ball has come to rest in a hole – you just know you hit an excellent shot. As you get closer to the ball and notice that it is sitting below the level of the turf, you are likely to be quite annoyed. As you might expect, the first thing you need to do is let go of that frustration. It will do you no good to remain angry about this stroke of bad luck, so do your best to set your temper aside at this time. The only thing you can do is gather yourself, take a deep breath, and get down to work on the task of finishing the hole is as few strokes as possible.

When your ball is in a divot, you can pretty much forget about the idea of hitting a shot with a normal trajectory. You aren't going to be able to get enough club under the ball to hit your shot high in the air, so that idea is out. In almost all cases, you are going to need to play the ball relatively low to the ground. With this is mind, take a look at the path between your ball and the hole – is there room to play a low shot which will bounce up onto the green? If not, you may be looking at a layup as your best option.

Once you have taken a general look at the path you have available to the target, the next step is to get up close and personal with the lie. Bend down near your ball and have a good look at the way the ball is sitting in the divot. Specifically, you want to look at the back of the ball, as this is where you will be approaching with the club. Are you going to be able to make decent contact, or will you be lucky to get much club at all on the ball? Every divot lie is unique, so this up close assessment is absolutely critical to getting out of this situation cleanly.

If the lie is bad, your decision is going to be simple – punch the ball up the fairway and attack the target with your next shot. You don't want to force the action in this situation, as doing so is only going to lead to further trouble. Play it safe when you aren't sure about the lie and stay away from the huge mistake that is going to throw your entire round of track. Even if you layup and make a bogey as a result, that really isn't a big deal in the scheme of your 18-hole score.

Should you decide to go for the target, you will again want to do what you did from the hardpan lie – play the ball from the middle of your stance and stay balanced. You need to make your best swing to get as much club on the ball as possible, so this is not a time to allow your concentration to slip. Keep your eyes trained on the back of the ball as you swing the club, and do your best to drive the club head through impact with confidence. You will naturally be a little bit nervous when hitting this kind of shot, but those nerves can't be allowed to show in your swing execution.

Hopefully, you will not find yourself in this situation very often. Most golf courses do their best to keep up with the divots in their fairways, so it is likely that you will only run into this kind of bad luck from time to time. Of course, you can do your part to help the golfers behind you by always replacing your divots (or filling them with sand, depending on the preference of the golf course). If all golfers were more willing to take care of the course as they played, divot lies would largely become a thing of the past.

General Course Management Concepts

General Course Management Concepts

The discussion of playing from hardpan or divots naturally brings us to the topic of course management in general. As an amateur golfer, you probably concern yourself mostly with making the best swing possible. You spend most of your practice time trying to fine tune your mechanics, and you might even invest a bit of time in your short game as well. These are worthy investments, of course, but you should be working on improving your course management as well. Whether playing from a bad lie or perfect grass, you need the ability to make good decisions if you are going to improve your game over time.

One of the basic course management guidelines you should always keep in mind is the fact that conservative decision making is usually rewarded in this game. Golf is not an aggressive game by nature, and the player who is willing to be patient and take the safe route will typically be rewarded. You might be able to get away with an aggressive decision from time to time, but those decisions will always put you right on the edge of danger. If just one of these aggressive shots goes wrong during a round, your score may not be able to recover.

Sure, it might not seem as exciting to play conservatively as it is to go for the green at each and every opportunity. Playing an aggressive game might sound fun – until you have to go looking in the woods for your golf ball. If it is your goal to shoot the lowest score possible when out on the course, the best thing you can do is be a conservative player. Pick your spots to be aggressive from time to time, but use a conservative strategy as your default. Once you adjust to this type of golf, you will find that it can be just as fun as playing aggressively – and it can be even more rewarding since you will walk away with lower scores more times than not.

With any luck, you will be able to keep your golf ball away from situations like hardpan lies and divots. However, if your ball does find its way to these nasty spots, at least you will know how to get out of trouble and back on track. By hitting down through impact on these kinds of shots, you should be able to achieve relatively clean hit and the ball should get up off the ground successfully. With a combination of smart strategy and solid swing technique, poor lies don't have to mean a disaster on your scorecard. Good luck!