How Senior Golfers Can Play Their Best Downhill Chip Shots

The short game is where you make or break your score during each round.

Chipping Downhill Lie Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

Hitting quality full shots is obviously important, but those shots will only lead to good scores if your short game is able to hold up its end of the bargain. With so many different types of short game shots required to make your way around the course, plenty of practice in this area is a good idea.

In this article, we’d like to narrow our focus on one specific part of the short game – chipping from a downhill lie. This can be a challenging type of short game shot, but there are steps you can take to handle it more successfully. The key with this shot, and any other kind of short game shot for that matter, is to adapt properly to the situation at hand. In other words, you need to make the right adjustments to both your technique and your game plan in order to come away with the best possible outcome.

Before we get started, it’s important to state that practicing chipping properly is not hitting the same shot over and over again from the same lie. You are going to face plenty of variety on the course, so be sure to include plenty of variety in your practice routine, as well. If possible, find a short game practice area that will allow you to work on playing shots from different lies such as downslopes, upslope, sidehill lies, short grass, long grass, and more. The more thoroughly you can prepare your short game for the variety of challenges it will face on the course, the better off you will be in the long run.

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.

Why It’s a Challenge

Chipping Downhill Lie Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

Let’s take a moment here in the first section of the article to talk about why chipping from a downhill lie is going to be a challenging proposition. We don’t want to talk about this to scare you into thinking these shots are impossible – because they aren’t. However, it’s important to understand the inherent challenge so you can adjust your technique and approach as necessary in order to achieve good results. Knowledge is power in the game of golf, so knowing what you are up against is the first step to dealing with these types of short game shots successfully.

  • Hard to make clean contact. One of the inherent challenges when chipping from a downhill lie is trying to make clean contact with the ball. On a flat lie, you are probably pretty comfortable with the task of swinging the club cleanly into the ball – although this can be tough for some players, even when the lie is perfect. When you move onto a downslope, you will need to adjust your technique to swing down the hill and contact the ball on the center of the face (more on this later). Also, it is often the case that the ball will be sitting in some longer grass when on a downslope, since the ball would probably just roll down the hill if the grass was shorter. Combining the longer grass with the downslope makes for a situation that demands plenty of skill in order to make good contact.
  • Difficult to get the ball high in the air. Basically, playing from a downslope is going to take loft off of your shot. So, for example, let’s say you are hitting the chip shot with a 60 degrees wedge. You’re starting with a lot of loft on the club, but since you have to swing down the slope to hit the ball, some of that loft will be lost. In the end, you might be effectively using something like 45 degrees or 50 degrees of loft, which will obviously cause the ball to come out much flatter. This isn’t a problem when you have plenty of green to work with, but it can make things difficult if you are short sided. You can attempt to open up the club face at address to regain some of the loft you’ll lose by swinging down the slope, but that type of shot is very difficult to execute. Most of the time, you will simply need to accept the fact that this shot is going to come out lower than usual as a result of the downhill lie.
  • A lack of practice. For many golfers, one of the challenges with this kind of shot is nothing more than a lack of practice. You probably practice your regular chip shots from flat ground fairly frequently, but how often do you work on chipping from a downhill lie? If you never bother to work on this part of your game, you can’t reasonably expect to perform well when it comes up on the course. We mentioned this in the introduction, but it bears repeating – practicing your short game shots from as many different types of lies as possible is a smart move.
  • Judging a different bounce. One of the biggest pieces of any chip shot is judging the bounce that the ball will take when it lands on the green. Is it going to take a big jump forward, or just a little hop before it stops? You have to guess right with regard to the bounce if you are going to leave the ball close to the hole in the end. As you rack up experience chipping from flat lies, you should get pretty good at judging this initial bounce. However, you might have a harder time from a downhill lie, since this is not a situation you will deal with as frequently. There are plenty of variables at play here, but you can usually count on a chip shot coming from a downhill lie to take a bigger, flatter bounce. That means it will jump forward more than a similar chip played from a flat lie, and the spin you put on the ball will probably have less effect.

We don’t want you to come away from this section thinking it’s impossible to hit good chip shots from downhill lies. That simply isn’t true, as combining good technique with a smart plan should lead to your ball coming to rest close to the hole. While you shouldn’t be afraid of the shot, you should have a healthy respect for the challenge at hand. Now that you know what you are facing, let’s get to work on putting together a plan to conquer this shot.

Swinging Down the Hill

Chipping Downhill Lie Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

If you are actually going to hit good chip shots on downhill lies, you need to successfully swing the club down the slope. When you fail to move the club head down the slope properly, it will be impossible to make clean contact. You’ll probably hit the shot thin and it will struggle to get off the ground. On a severe lie, it’s even possible that you will miss the ball entirely. In this section, we are going to provide some simple tips to help you swing down the hill in a way that will lead to solid contact again and again.

  • Set your shoulders. You might not think about your shoulders much when hitting a normal chip shot, since you don’t need to make the same kind of big turn that is required when making a full swing. However, on a downslope, your shoulders will actually play a key role. The idea here is to set your shoulders at an angle that matches the downhill slope of the lie. Most amateur players fail on this setup point, and the results of the ensuing chip shot speak for themselves. To encourage the club to move down the slope, you need to find a way to set your shoulders at a similar angle to the slope, meaning your left shoulder will be lower than your right at address. To accomplish this, you’ll need to put the majority of your weight on your lead foot, and you might need to use a wide stance to maintain your balance. This setup position will feel a bit awkward at first but keep working on it until you get comfortable with hitting chip shots with this kind of stance. Even if you are uncomfortable at first, you should quickly see how it will be easier to hit a good shot by setting your shoulders to match the slope.
  • Handle in front of the ball. Along with matching the angle of your shoulders to the angle of the slope, you also need to make sure your hands are at least even with the ball at address, if not a little bit in front. The trick here is not falling for the optical illusion that you’ll be seeing at address. When you look down, it might seem like your hands are in a good position, but they are likely behind the ball when you consider the fact that you will be swinging down the slope. Starting with your hands in the right spot is one of the keys you need to check off if you are going to make good contact. In fact, if you combine a good hand position with proper shoulder position, you’ll be well on your way toward positive results.
  • Keep your head down. Our last point in this section is a piece of golf advice that you have probably received from many different people over the years. As you make your swing, be sure to keep your head down and your eyes on the ball. Yes – this is an important tip for all of your shots, but it’s particularly crucial here because you are trying to move the club down the slope effectively. If your head comes up during the swing, even just a little bit, you’ll struggle to make clean contact. Try to make it a rule that you won’t pick your head up to look where the ball is going until you have stopped moving the club. In other words, your head stays down until the club comes to rest and the swing is finished. Thinking about it this way, rather than just trying to keep your head down until you make contact, will help you stick with the shot and get all the way down through it nicely.

In general, you are going to stick with the same chipping technique that you use for your other short game shots. The key adjustment that you’ll need to make is matching your shoulders up to the slope of the ground, with your left shoulder lower than your right. Hit on that point, and make sure to keep your hands in a good address position and your head down during the swing, and better results will be right around the corner.

Pick a Club and Make a Plan

Chipping Downhill Lie Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

Now that you understand how to physically adjust for a chip shot that will be played from a downhill lie, the next step is to make your mental adjustments. The process here is the same as always – you are going to make a plan for your shot, including picking a landing spot and a club, and then you’ll go about the task of executing that plan. However, since you have the downhill lie to consider, some things about your plan will be a little different than normal.

  • Allow for more roll out. We touched on this earlier, but it needs more discussion here. Since the ball is going to come out lower off a downhill lie than it would otherwise, you need to plan for more bounce and roll distance than when playing from a flat lie. In other words, you’ll need to land the ball farther away from the hole, so it has space to slow down and come to a stop – hopefully near the cup. Of course, it needs to be said that you won’t always have the space you need to play for more roll out. If you are short sided and only have a few yards between the edge of the green and the location of the hole, you simply might not be able to stop the ball in time to leave yourself with a tap in. When this situation comes up, the best thing you can do is ‘take your medicine’ and just play the shot to finish a little bit past the cup. If you try to do too much with the shot in order to stop it quick, you might make a big mistake and make your problems worse than they need to be. By playing it safe and just letting the shot roll a bit past the cup, you will still have a chance to make a putt to save your up and down. And, even if you don’t make that putt, you should be able to two putt and move on to the next hole without having done too much damage.
  • Read the lie. There is a good chance that your ball will be in the rough when you are playing from a downhill lie. However, it’s possible that your ball will have come to rest even though it is one fairway length grass, so it’s important to take a moment to read the lie and think about how that lie is going to impact the shot you are hitting. When playing from the rough, you’ll get little to no spin on the shot, so plenty of roll out should be expected. On the other hand, if you do draw a clean lie on short grass, spinning the ball is possible. The shot still won’t stop as quickly as it would from a level lie, since it will come out low, but you can plan on using spin to provide at least some stopping power. You should read the lie of the ball before every shot you play, and this situation is no different.
  • Use maximum loft. With very few exceptions, you’ll want to use the most-lofted club in your bag for these kinds of chip shots. The ball is already going to come out lower than usual, so using a club with less loft is going to lead to a particularly low shot that is hard to control. For some golfers, a 56 degrees or 58 degrees wedge will be the most loft they have available, while other golfers will have access to a 60 degrees wedge. Whatever you happen to carry, turn first to your highest-lofted club and only move down from there as necessary.
  • Only the landing spot matters. When all of your planning is done, there is only one thing that should be left in your mind – the landing spot you have selected. Your sole focus at this point should be executing your swing and hitting the landing spot you’ve picked out. If you allow your mind to linger on all the decisions you’ve made, you are bound to second guess yourself and lack the focus you need to execute the shot. Don’t let that happen. It’s best to simplify things by forgetting about everything else and thinking only about landing the ball on the spot you’ve picked.

Planning golf shots is important, as you need to know what you are trying to do before you can actually do it. In the case of chipping on a downslope, your plan is important because it can take some of the fear out of the situation and help you have confidence in your approach. Work on planning your shots in practice so it will become natural on the course.


Chipping Downhill Lie Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

Even with your best efforts and plenty of practice, it’s still likely that you will run into some issues along the way. Below we’ve highlighted some commonly seen issues and their potential solutions.

  • Hitting shots thin. This is the most likely issue that you’ll run into when chipping off of a downhill lie. If you don’t do a good job of swinging down the slope – either because your shoulders aren’t set in the right position, or your head is coming up early – you may make contact too low on the face. To address this problem, ask a friend to take a video of you hitting a few practice chips on a downslope. With the video in hand, you can carefully review to see what the problem may be. If your shoulders are in the wrong position, or if your head is coming up early, it should be easy to spot the error when watching the video.
  • Hitting the ball too far. If you are making contact nicely and the ball is still going too far, you haven’t adjusted enough for the flatter trajectory of these chip shots. The ball is going to come out low, so it should be expected to run out quite a bit. Keep working on this type of shot in practice so you can get better at predicting the distance that the ball will run before coming to rest.
  • Hitting the ball fat. For some players, the problem won’t be hitting the ball thin, but rather hitting it fat. This is most likely to occur when you place the ball too far back in your stance at address. You might feel like this is the right thing to do at the time, but it will come back to bite you in the end. Try to keep your ball position consistent with what it would be when chipping from flat ground. As long as you stay down through the shot properly, a standard ball position should work just fine.

Having your ball come to rest on a downhill lie somewhere near the green might not be the result you had in mind for the previous shot, but it doesn’t have to destine you for a bogey. With an appropriate combination of technique and practice, you should be able to play the ball up close to the hole more times than not. Good luck!