Tips For Handling Uphill Golf Lies

Golfers learn to swing on level ground and practice from flat lies, too. But uneven lies are the norm once we reach the course, presenting a specific set of challenges.

When the level of your feet and the ball change, so do your swing's plane and path. Therefore, adjustments are called for. For instance, playing uphill -- with your left (or lead) foot higher than your right -- requires that you:

  • Take one more club (i.e. 7-iron instead of 8); the ball will carry higher and slightly shorter than normal.
  • Aim slightly right of the target as the ball will tend to fly left.
  • Address the ball with your shoulder and knees level with the slope. In other words, don't lean into the hill.
  • Maintain this tilt throughout the swing.
  • Dial back to about 80-percent effort to ensure good balance.

As you'd expect, shots from downhill lies react in the opposite manner, flying low and right of the target.

The uphill lie is one of the trickiest situations to find yourself in on the golf course.

Tips for Handling Uphill Golf Lies

When the ground under your feet is sloped up toward the target, you are said to have an uphill lie. This is a challenging position because your normal balance during the swing will be disrupted, and the ball flights you produce will be altered as well. Adding to the challenge is the fact that you are unlikely to find a driving range which offers uphill lies, meaning you can't practice in this situation away from the course.

If you are going to reach your potential on the course, you are going to need to find a way to deal with these kinds of shots successfully. In this article, we are going to provide you with some advice on how you can manage the challenge of a shot played from an uphill lie. Hitting a shot from an uphill lie will never be as straightforward as playing from a flat lie, but it is part of the game nonetheless. We hope the tips offered below will enable you to improve your performance in this part of the game right away.

Before we dive into the conversation on how to handle uphill golf lies, we should mention that avoiding uneven lies is always something you should strive to do. When you stand on the tee of any given hole – par fours and par fives specifically – you should be looking for the flattest landing spots available. If you can manage to hit your target and place the ball on a flat spot, you will make your second shot significantly easier. You are going to have to deal with uneven lies from time to time, of course, but minimizing the frequency of these situations will benefit you 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.

Some Obvious Issues

Some Obvious Issues

It isn't hard to figure out what makes playing from an uphill lie so challenging. In fact, if you play even one single shot in this situation, you will immediately notice that there are some issues you have to overcome. That isn't to say that these kinds of shots are impossible, because of course they are not. They are challenging, however, and it will help you to have a healthy respect for the difficulty of playing from an uphill lie.

Let's take a quick look at some of the issues you are going to face when playing a shot in this type of position.

  • A high launch. The first thing that you'll notice is the ball is going to leave on a higher trajectory than it will when playing off of flat ground. In addition to the loft of the club that you are using, you will have the added loft of the slope of the ground. When you add those two tighter, you get a higher-than-normal flight for the club you are holding. So, if you are hitting a five iron, it may take the trajectory of a six iron or seven iron, depending on the severity of the slope. This higher launch means a couple of things for your game. First, it means that you can stop the ball quicker when it lands, which is often a good thing. Assuming we are talking about an approach shot into the green, this higher launch is going to help you bring the ball to rest without as much bounce and roll as it might have had otherwise. On the other side of the coin, a higher flight will almost certainly lead to a shorter overall shot. You may need to use an extra club to two in order to cover the necessary distance to the target. There is one other thing to think about when dealing with a high launch – the wind. If you are playing on a windy day, that breeze is going to have more to say about the final outcome of the shot than it would have otherwise.
  • Struggling to get into position. As you swing down toward impact, you are going to be fighting against the slope to get into a position to strike the ball. You'll be moving into the hill, making it harder to turn into your left side as you would do on flat ground. If you aren't quite able to get into your normal position, the results can be ugly. You may hit the ball fat, or you may hit a nasty hook to the left. On a subtle slope, this issue might be just enough to cause you to miss your target by a small margin. When the slope is more severe, you could hit a terrible shot and wind up in big trouble. Learning how to get yourself into position at impact when playing on an upslope is a significant challenge, but one you'll need to find a way to handle.
  • Seeing your target. This last point doesn't actually have anything to do with the swing itself, but it is still important to keep in mind. When you are standing on an upslope, there is a good chance you won't be able to see your target clearly from the address position. This will not always be the case, of course, but it will be true on many occasions. Hitting a 'blind' golf shot doesn't have to be a problem, but it does complicate things a bit. You'll have to make a bit of a guess as to the target line you should be using for the shot, meaning you may not feel as confident as you would like while standing over the ball. The use of an intermediate target – something close in front of your ball that you believe is on the right target line – is a good way to deal with this issue.

Playing shots on an upslope is a significant challenge mostly because of the problems you are going to have getting your body into the right position. This is hard enough to do well on flat ground, and it gets even harder when you add in this type of slope. The ground is almost forcing you to stay on your back foot during the downswing, and every golfer knows that is not the place to be. You want to be balanced as you approach impact, with your weight heading toward your lead foot. That is hard to do when on an upslope, but you'll need to find a way to pull it off.

Fighting Back With Solutions

Fighting Back With Solutions

So, at this point, we have laid out the challenge of an uphill lie, but we really haven't provided you with any solutions. That is going to change in this section. Below, we are going to offer a number of tips which should help you achieve better results when you draw this kind of lie. We aren't saying these tips will make this shot easy – nothing will make this shot easy – but they should help you manage the situation more successfully.

  • Stay slightly left during the backswing. This might be the best single tip you can receive on this topic. While swinging the club back, do your best to stay slightly left of center with your balance. You will feel like you are leaning slightly onto your left foot. This is a good thing when playing up a slope, because you'll have a better chance to get into the right position at impact. Often, when playing on an uphill lie, golfers will let their center of gravity drift to the right and off of the ball. This mistake is going to make it extremely difficult to recover and find a good impact position in time. It would be hard enough to recover from this mistake on flat ground – it's nearly impossible to get back into position while fighting your way up a slope. Avoid getting yourself into trouble during the backswing by remaining just left of center as you swing the club away from the ball. Then, when you transition into the downswing, you will be in prime position to achieve a clean strike.
  • Make a shorter swing. This is a tip which you can apply any time you are playing from an awkward lie. It works when you are swinging on an upslope, and it works on a downslope as well. By shortening your swing, you basically improve your odds of staying balanced. You won't be as likely to drift off of the ball to the right, since your backswing is going to stop before it begins to pull you away. Also, it is just easier to strike the ball cleanly when you shorten up your swing, no matter what kind of slope might be involved. Tightening up your swing is going to cost you a bit of swing speed, but you should be willing to make that trade if it means you can strike cleaner shots.
  • Narrow your stance. Usually, when you have to deal with some kind of an awkward lie, you will want to widen your stance for balance. However, when it comes to an uphill lie, we are actually going to recommend that you narrow your stance a bit. This is because you want to make it as easy as possible to rotate your body through the shot while swinging up the hill. If your stance were to be too wide, you might feel 'stuck' during your rotation, unable to make it up the hill before the club gets to the bottom of the swing. Rotation will come easier with a narrow stance, so you might not feel like the slope is in your way quite as much as it would be otherwise. However, this tip comes with a caveat – you need to pay extra-close attention to your balance while using a narrower-than-normal stance. If you do let yourself drift a bit right during the backswing, you won't be able to recover. In almost every case, the shot will be hit fat and the ball will come up well short of the target.
  • Play the ball toward the front of your stance. This may be a surprising tip, as many golfers seem to think that the ball should go toward the back of the stance when playing on an uphill lie. Often in golf, when dealing with a tough lie, you do want to move the ball back in your stance. That is not the case here, however. You'll be better served to move the ball up in your stance for a couple of reasons. First, this is going to help you shallow out the angle of your downswing before impact. Moving the ball back in your stance will make your swing steeper, and that is the last thing you want when swinging into an upslope. The combination of a rear ball position and an upslope could lead you to take an extremely large divot. The other reason to play the ball forward in your stance is to lessen the chance of a hook. With the ball back, you could wind up imparting too much right-to-left spin, leading to a quick hook and an ugly result. Playing the ball up in your stance will somewhat mitigate that risk.

As was stated above, nothing is going to make this shot easy. Playing from an uphill lie will always be one of the trickiest tasks in golf, just because there is so much that can go wrong. Making even a slight mistake with your balance can lead to a negative outcome, and it seems that all of your errors are magnified when an uphill lie is present. We hope the tips in this section help you come away with reasonable results during upcoming rounds.