Getting up and down from a tough spot is one of the best feelings in golf.

Chipping Sidehill Lie Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

As you walk up toward the green, you see that your ball has come to rest in a difficult position – and you immediately start thinking about the bogey (or worse) that may be added to your scorecard. Then, after a great chip and solid putt, you walk away with a par and a confidence boost that can carry you for several holes to come.

Of course, such difficult up and downs don’t happen on their own. You’ll need solid technique and plenty of practice in order to hit good chip shots from tricky spots. In this article, we are going to talk specifically about how to play chip shots from sidehill lies. There are two types of sidehill lies you’ll need to contend with on the course – the ball above your feet, and the ball below your feet. While these are challenging shots, there is no reason to just throw up your hands and get frustrated at the bad luck involved with drawing such a lie. Instead, you should get down to work and figure out a way to play a good shot.

As is usually the case in golf, it’s necessary to dial in the physical and mental side of these shots. You need the right technique, which we will talk about in a moment, and you also need to have your mind in the right place. You need to make good decisions throughout your rounds of golf, and that is particularly true when facing a tough shot like a chip from a sidehill lie.

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

Ball Above Your Feet Technique

Chipping Sidehill Lie Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

To get started, we are going to discuss the technique adjustments you can make to successfully play chip shots when the ball is above your feet. As you read through the tips in this section (and the next section), remember that everything is in relation to your standard chipping technique. So, you should already have a reliable chipping technique in place that you use for shots from flat ground. With that as your starting point, you can then make alterations to have success when the ball is above (or below, for the next section) your feet.

  • Choke down on the shaft of the club. This is where everything starts when the ball is above your feet for a chip shot. Since the ball is effectively sitting up higher than it would be on a flat lie, you don’t need the full length of your club – so choke down a bit to even things out. The amount you choke down should be roughly equivalent to how high the ball is sitting up above your feet. On a gentle slope, you might only choke down by an inch or two. However, if the slope is steep, you could end up with your hands down near the bottom of the grip. During practice, try to find a variety of uneven lies and experiment with how much you need to choke down in order to get comfortable.
  • Stand farther from the ball. You’ll also want to stand a little bit farther away from the ball when you have this kind of lie. That adjustment will make it easier to produce a flatter swing, which is what you need here to avoid hitting the shot fat. If you were to swing down into the ball steeply, you may catch the ground before hitting the ball, leading to a disappointing result. This adjustment shouldn’t be a dramatic one – even backing up an inch or two from your normal position may be enough to put you in a good spot. Again, as with the previous adjustment, the key here is to experiment during practice, so you can get comfortable before trying this shot on the course.
  • Square up your stance. If you are like most golfers, you stand with your feet open to the target line when playing a standard chip shot. That’s a good idea, as it helps the club move across the ball slightly from outside-in, making it easier to get your chip up into the air. However, when you find yourself with the ball above your feet, it’s best to square your stance up and swing directly down the target line into the back of the ball. The issue here is the need to avoid hitting the shot fat. Since the slope of the ground is moving down toward you, the far side of the ball is going to have more turf in the way than the inside. So, if you try to hit the shot from outside-in, you might hit it fat. Or, at the least, you may catch a little grass on the way into impact, making it harder to control your distance. By squaring your stance and attempting to swing down the line, you can avoid such an outcome and hopefully strike the ball cleanly on the center of your wedge time after time.
  • Upright posture. The last point on our list has to do with the position of your upper body as you hit this shot. To keep from hitting the ball fat, pay attention to the posture of your upper body – specifically, you want to remain rather upright and avoid hunching over the ball with your shoulders rolled down toward the ground. Perhaps surprisingly, one of the keys to this kind of solid posture is using plenty of knee flex. If you flex your knees and ‘sit’ down into the stance a bit, you can support an upright upper body while feeling quite balanced and athletic. If you get lazy, on the other hand, your legs will be straight up and down, and your upper body will hunch over. Master solid posture and it will be easier to clip the ball cleanly time after time.

Hitting chip shots with the ball above your feet is not the hardest thing you will have to do on the golf course, but it’s not simple, either. You will need to make a number of adjustments as compared to your normal chipping technique in order to have the success necessary to get up and down at a high rate. Use the list above to guide your practice and you should start to see positive results sooner rather than later.

Ball Below Your Feet Technique

Chipping Sidehill Lie Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

As you might imagine, much of what you find below is going to be the opposite of what is seen in the previous section. That makes sense, of course – if you need to make one adjustment when the ball is above your feet, you will often need to make the opposite adjustment to play a shot from below your feet. It is still worth going through this section, however, as there are details below that should help you get on track when practicing this tricky shot.

  • Use the whole club. Most golfers make a habit of choking down on the grip when hitting chip shots, and that’s fine most of the time. For chip shots with the ball below your feet, however, you will want to use the whole club to make it easier to reach the ball. Keep your hands all the way up at the top of the grip and maintain relatively light grip pressure so you can feel the club head as it swings. If you tend to hit these kinds of shots thin, the solution might be as simple as just moving your hands up to the top of the grip.
  • Stand a bit closer. Earlier, we said that you need to stand a little farther from the ball when hitting a chip shot where the ball is above your feet. So, when the ball is below your feet, it is smart to stand a little closer. This is another tip, just like the previous point, that will make it easier to reach the ball at impact. However, you do need to be careful not to go too far with this adjustment. If you get too close to the ball, it may be difficult to swing the club freely through impact. Get close enough to reach the ball with ease, but don’t crowd yourself to the point where it becomes a problem.
  • Find a stance that works. You may need to be a little creative when it comes to building a stance on a shot where the ball is below your feet. In some cases, it will work well to use a significant amount of knee flex to get down to the level of the ball. Unfortunately, on particularly steep slopes, that might not be enough, and it could actually cause problems. If you have to bend your knees deeply at address, they may stick out and get in the way of your hands as they try to swing the club. So, sometimes, you might find the best stance is to use moderate knee flex while also bending over from the waist. The key here is to adapt to the situation at hand each time you face one of these shots. As you prepare to hit the shot, experiment quickly with different stance positions until something feels balanced, comfortable, and capable of producing good results. With practice, you’ll get better and better at creating the right address position for the lie you are facing.
  • Keep your head down. Okay – so this is advice that applies to pretty much every shot you hit in the game of golf. It still needs to be highlighted here, however, as keeping your head down is particularly important when the ball is so far below your feet. If you look up prematurely – even a little bit – you are almost certain to hit the ball thin. Pick a spot on your golf ball and watch that spot intently all the way through impact. Not only will this focus help you achieve better results from tough lies, but it may carry over and help you keep your head down when dealing with standard chip shots.

Just as is the case with any kind of shot in golf, you aren’t going to get better at chipping with the ball below your feet unless you practice. Take time during your regular practice sessions to seek out some tricky lies around the chipping green. While it’s tempting to just work on your shots from clean, flat lies, that isn’t going to do you a lot of good on the course. Give yourself some challenges in the practice area and those you face on the course suddenly won’t seem so bad.

Key Strategic Points

Chipping Sidehill Lie Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

So far, we have addressed some technical elements of hitting chip shots with the ball above and below your feet. Now, it’s time to move on to the strategic piece of the puzzle. You need to make good decisions in these situations, in addition to making good swings. The points below outline some keys to keep in mind as you decide how to play this type of shot.

  • Play with more margin. Even with plenty of practice and a good technical approach, you simply aren’t going to be as accurate from a sidehill lie as you will be from a flat lie. Knowing that is the case, give yourself more margin for error as you pick out a landing spot. For instance, if you are short-sided on one of these chip shots, don’t try to land the ball perfectly over the edge of the green – play it a little safe and accept the fact that your ball may roll a few feet past the hole. You are already in some trouble by placing your ball on a sidehill lie, so don’t make things worse by trying to pull off the perfect shot. Play it a little safe, give yourself a putt to save the up and down, and keep your round on track.
  • Expect plenty of run out. As a golfer, you can place significant backspin on a chip shot when you have a clean lie on fairway length grass and are able to pinch the ball between your club and the turf. Such a scenario is unlikely, however when dealing with a sidehill lie. First of all, if you had a clean lie, the ball probably would have rolled down to the bottom of the slope, rather than hanging where it is. Also, it’s tough to pinch the ball cleanly from a sidehill lie, so even if you are on the short grass, producing a high rate of spin will be a challenge. All that is to say that you shouldn’t expect to stop these kinds of chip shots quickly. Instead, plan on some bounce and roll before your ball comes to rest. Of course, the amount of bounce and roll will depend on many factors, including the firmness and speed of the greens.
  • Ball will tend to move in the direction of the slope. This is something you may already know from your experience hitting full shots off of sidehill lies. Generally speaking, the ball is going to move in the direction of the slope. That means, for a right-handed golfer, the ball will usually push to the right when it is below your feet and pull to the left when it is above your feet. Making the necessary adjustment to your aim can be tricky, which is why practice is so important. The more you practice, the better you will get at dialing in exactly how much you are going to push or pull the shot at hand.
  • Resist the urge to play a high shot. While some highly-talented players will be able to hit high shots from these kinds of lies, that is an advanced skill. For the average player who is just learning how to chip from a sidehill lie, it’s best to stick with ‘standard’ chipping trajectories. Opening up the face of your wedge in order to hit a high shot is only going to make things more difficult, and you will open up the possibility of some ugly outcomes.

The main lesson from this section is to be smart and not play these shots too aggressively. Anytime you have a tough shot, you want to give yourself as much margin for error as possible. It’s not a big deal to just make a bogey, but you can turn one mistake into a big number of if you don’t make smart decisions.

Staying Out of Trouble

Chipping Sidehill Lie Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

To wrap up this article, we’d like to talk for a moment about keeping your ball in the right parts of the golf course as often as possible. You’ll have to play from uneven lies from time to time but staying out of these kinds of situations is best if you are going to lower your scores.

Some amateur golfers make the mistake of thinking that their swing is not consistent enough to worry about strategy on long shots. That simply isn’t true – the ball might not go where you want it to all the time, but you can still think strategically and give yourself the best possible chance at a positive outcome. Consider putting the tips below into play during your next round.

  • Aim for the middle of the green. Many players have trouble embracing this conservative strategy, but it really can work wonders. During an upcoming round, try aiming for the middle of the green on every approach shot – no matter where the hole happens to be located. Simply get a yardage for the middle of the green, use that spot as your target, and make your best swing. It’s likely that your number of greens hit will go up significantly when you employ this technique, and you may be surprised to find that a few of your birdie putts are within a makeable range. Hitting fairways and greens is the name of the game and playing it safe on approach shots is a great way to improve your overall level of play.
  • Take note of severe slopes. When planning approach shots, take note of any severe slopes around the green, and treat those areas the same way you would treat a water hazard. It’s easy to ignore the potential penalty that you’ll incur if you leave your ball on a big slope, but the result can easily be the same as hitting a shot into the water. Good golf course management is about identifying the areas of the course that you need to avoid, and some of those areas are more obvious than others. Play away from big slopes and enjoy a smoother trip around the course.
  • Use enough club. It’s extremely common for amateur golfers to come up short with their approach shots. This is because many players pick the club they are going to used based on a best-case scenario – the yardage they could potentially hit the club if they catch the shot perfectly. Of course, in golf, perfect shots are not all that common. You aren’t going to flush it every time, so use a club that you know will give you a little margin for error from a distance perspective. Not only will this method help you hit more greens, but it might improve your swing technique, as well. Without feeling the need to hit the shot as hard as you can, you’ll be free to relax and make a comfortable move through the ball.

We hope the advice provided in this article will help you achieve better results when faced with tricky sidehill chip shots. Remember, challenging shots are what make golf so much fun to play, so don’t run and hide when things get tough on the course. Embrace the challenge and look forward to the thrill that comes with pulling off a great shot under pressure. Good luck and have fun!