Tips for Handling Downhill Golf Lies

Uneven golf lies are pretty simple once you know how to handle them. Perhaps the most difficult, though, is the downhill lie.

When the left side of your body (for right-handers) is lower than your right, the golf ball will tend to fly to the right of target on a low trajectory. Keeping these factors in mind, here's how to play from a downhill stance:

1. Choose the same club you normally would based on the distance.

2. Tilt your body to match the slope, with the shoulders parallel to the ground.

3. Aim slightly left of target.

4. Swing at 80 percent of your normal pace, with a smooth tempo to ensure good balance.

5. Maintain your body's tilt relative to the ground throughout the swing.

6. Take extra care to stay down past impact; it's easy to lift the left side too early when playing downhill.

Since the golf ball will fly lower than usual, it's a good idea to plan for additional roll after it lands. In fact, consider playing a run-up shot that hits short of the green if no hazards lie in your path.

One of the inherent challenges that comes with playing golf is the fact that golf courses are not flat.

Tips for Handling Downhill Golf Lies

Sure, some courses are pretty flat, but most have at least some degree of undulation in the fairways and greens. The uneven lies that you will often find in golf make the game far more challenging than it would be otherwise. If you have ever complained that you don't play as well on the course as you do on the range, stop for a moment and think about the differences between those two environments. Not only is there pressure on the course, but you will find all kinds of different lies, as well. The shots you hit on the range are usually played from clean, flat lies, making them much easier.

In this article, we are going to talk about one specific kind of uneven lie – the downhill lie. This is a lie where the ground is sloped down toward the target. For instance, if you are playing a par four which is downhill from tee to green, it is likely that your approach shot will be played from a downhill lie. Most golfers would consider these kinds of lies a little easier than playing from an uphill lie, but they are still not simple. Hopefully, the tips we provide in this article will help you handle this circumstance a little more successfully.

Before we get started, it should be mentioned that you can take steps to avoid finding this situation by thinking carefully about your course management plan. If possible, play to flat areas of the course so you can make the game a little bit easier on yourself. Finding uneven lies is inevitable from time to time, but you'd be wise to reduce the number of these shots you need to play during each round.

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.

Three Specific Problems

It is easy to take for granted just how simple it is to play from a flat lie. It's not easy – nothing in golf is easy – but it is simple. You don't have to adjust for the impact of the slope of the ground under your feet, so you can predict a few things pretty accurately. You have a good idea of the trajectory that your ball will take on the way to the target, and you should be able to predict the total distance of the shot with confidence.

Of course, things change quickly when there is a slope involved. In this case, when the ground is sloped down toward the target, there are some adjustments you'll need to make before you can decide how to proceed with the shot. Let's take a look at three specific problems that you'll run into when playing from this kind of lie.

  • A low ball flight. The biggest difference when playing from a downslope is the fact that the ball is almost certainly going to come out lower than normal. Basically, the slope of the ground is going to reduce the amount of effective loft that you have on your club. So, a seven iron is going to play more like a six iron, or even a five iron, depending on the severity of the slope. Since the ball will be flying lower, it will probably take longer to stop after it lands. Also, it might not carry as far as it would have on a higher trajectory, making it more difficult to get over hazards or other obstacles between you and the green. Of course, there can be some advantages to a lower flight, such as the ability to keep the ball down out of the wind. You also might find it easier to access a rear hole location when hitting a lower ball, since the first bounce or two should help you get closer to the back of the green. We will talk later in the article about how you can adjust for this lower flight to come away with a positive result.
  • Difficulty hitting your target line. The issue of a lower ball flight is easy enough to understand. With the ground running down toward the target, you can see why the ball would not launch as high as it does when played off of flat ground. This point is a little harder to grasp, however. Why would a downhill lie make it harder to hit your intended target line? It comes down to balance and body position. Since you will be making your swing while standing on a slope, you might not be able to keep your body in the right position over the ball successfully. Often, you will slide past the ball to the left, leaving the club stuck behind you. Usually, this will cause you to miss to the right of the target. Or, you may wind up staying on your back foot while trying to lift the ball up into the air. This will have the opposite effect, letting the club close early and leading the ball to miss left. It takes skill and plenty of practice to manage to hit your intended line while standing on any kind of uneven lie, and that includes downslopes.
  • Trying to make solid contact. Finally, just achieving solid contact when in this situation can be a challenge in and of itself. To strike the ball cleanly, you need to keep the club moving down the slope, just as it would move along the ground when playing from a flat lie. It is quite common to come up and out of this kind of shot, leading to thin contact and a shot that comes up short of the target. Or, if you lean back far enough, you might wind up hitting the ground before the ball, leading to a fat shot that also comes up short. One of the best ways to judge the skill of a golfer is to watch how he or she strikes the ball on uneven ground. If the player is able to strike the ball cleanly even in awkward situations, you are looking at a golfer who knows what they are doing on the course.

It is going to take some effort to overcome all three of these issues. Of course, it is possible to hit good shots from downhill lies, even if it isn't easy. Now that you understand some of the problems that you will encounter when your ball comes to rest on a downslope, let's get to work on overcoming these challenges to come away with a positive outcome.

Basic Adjustments

Basic Adjustments

You can probably tell already that this topic can get a bit complicated. It will be necessary to adjust your club selection due to the change in your trajectory, and you are going to have to find a way to get the ball on target. However, before you even get into these issues, it is best to deal with the biggest problem of all – making solid contact and getting the ball up in the air. If you can strike the ball cleanly, you should at least come away with a decent result, even if the shot doesn't end up exactly where you would like it.

In this section, we are going to provide you with a list of basic adjustments you can make to improve your ball striking when playing from a downhill lie. These adjustments are simple for a reason – you aren't going to be able to practice this shot very often, so you don't want to make things any more complicated than they need to be. Keep it simple, focus on a clean strike, and avoid making a big mistake that will damage you on the scorecard.

The list below features the adjustments we recommend when playing from a downslope.

  • Set your shoulders to match the slope. Anytime you play from an awkward lie, the first thing you want to do is 'normalize' the situation to the greatest extent possible. When playing from flat ground, you will set your shoulders in a level position, so they essentially match up with the turf. You want them to match with the turf in this situation as well, so set your left shoulder lower than your right when you take your stance. Tilting your shoulders to match the slope in this way will make it easier for you to swing down the hill and hitting the ball fat will quickly become less of a concern. Of course, there is still the possibility that you will tilt your shoulders back to the right during the swing, so the work is not done when you take your stance. Focus on maintaining that same angle during the swing by turning your left should under your chin nicely. This kind of setup might feel a little strange at first, but you will soon discover just how helpful it can be when trying to strike a solid shot off of a downhill lie.
  • Make a smaller swing. Your balance is already at risk when playing from a downslope. If you make a big swing in this situation, you are going to make it nearly impossible to stay balanced properly. To avoid losing your balance, try making a smaller, controlled swing. Sure, you won't produce as much speed this way, but that's okay. You shouldn't be focused on raw distance in this kind of scenario, anyway. The key here is to strike the ball cleanly, and that will be much easier to do when you make a small swing. Once you commit to making a small, balanced swing, you can then pick a club that is going to be appropriate for the swing you plan to use. It might take an extra club or two to reach the target – depending on the other variables involved in the swing – but that trade will be worth it if you manage to make clean contact. This tip doesn't just apply to playing from a downslope, but rather to all situations where you don't have a level lie. Try swinging softer anytime you are on uneven ground and your results should quickly improve.
  • Consider choking down on the club. We used the word 'consider' in this tip because it is not an adjustment that will work for all golfers. You'll need to experiment with this one for yourself to see if it makes sense for your swing. When you choke down on the grip at address, you reduce the likelihood of one problem while perhaps increasing the chances that you will run into another. Basically, choking down will make it less likely that you will hit the ball fat, but more likely that you will hit it thin. When you choke down, there is less club between your hands and the ground. That means you should be able to miss the turf behind the ball on the way down – but you may not have enough club to get all the way down to the ball at impact. Only use this tip is you are comfortable with staying down through the shot as your swing moves down the slope. If you've had trouble in the past with fat shots from downhill lies, choking down might be the right adjustment to make. If you usually hit the ball thin in this scenario, however, choking down may only make your problem worse.

You certainly don't want to alter your entire swing just because your ball has come to rest on a downhill lie. Most of what you do in the swing is going to remain exactly the same as it is when you are on flat ground. As long as you set your shoulders to match the slope, commit to making a small swing, and think about choking down on the grip, you should be in a position to succeed.