As we continue on this journey of skill development, Part IV and beyond will discuss the different variables we encounter on the course, how we adjust, and how we prepare for them.
A simple truth known to all golfers is that there are very few flat lies on any golf course. In reality, course layouts are replete with sloped terrain of all kinds — which is one of the main reasons golfers hit much better and more consistently off flat lies on the range tee than on the course. To improve our games we know we have to practice on different slope variables that we might encounter on the course. But full swing practice options are usually limited to hitting off the range tee, which provides only flat lie fairway shots. While short game practice areas usually provide many replicative conditions that we see on the golf course, no such ideal practice environment exists for practicing full swing shots because range tees are generally restricted to hitting flat lie shots.
The course is the best place to practice all the slopes we might run into. This can often be done during off-peak hours, when there is very little play in progress. We can practice downhill, uphill, side hill lies, and combinations of uphill or downhill, and side hill lies. A lot to work on, and hitting full swing shots off fairway slopes should be a major part of a practice session. The more we practice on slopes the more we understand we have to change what we do based on the severity of the slope.
The most important key to success when playing different types of slopes is how we set-up or address the golf ball, because we must change our set-up to adapt to the slope. If we are on an upslope we have to move our lead hip toward the target after we take our normal set up position. This will change our shoulder tilt as well. The golfer does not need to change weight distribution, it stays the same as the golfer’s usual address weight distribution. Our hands at address will be slightly forward of center. This set-up will help us swing with a more upward angle of attack, because we have to swing the club head more with the slope than our normal set promotes. The bigger the hill the more the lead hip moves forward, and the more shoulders tilt to match the slope. But remember, the weight distribution never changes.
Set up adjustments must also be made on downhill slopes, but our hips move away from the target when swinging downhill. This will cause the trail shoulder to move higher and lead shoulder to move down. Again, keep the weight distribution the same as a flat lie. To try this, take your normal golf stance, arms at your side. Move the trail hip away from target, and keep weight the same. This will give a sense of what needs tohappen to your golf posture. Again, the more dramatic the slope the more we need to create tilt in our pelvis and shoulders to match the slope.
When the downhill or uphill slope grade is more than our set up can reasonable adjust for we then must change our swing. Try to picture the normal arc the club head travels. We must tilt that elliptical arc towards the slope so the club will work more on the angle of the slope. On uphill shots the club needs to swing in a more upward arc; on downhill shots the club head needs to swing downward. When the golf ball is above the feet on a side hill lie we need to set-up to match the slope as well. After taking a basic golf stance, stand more erect. Again, how much deepens on the slope. If the slope is more than minor we will need to swing the club head lower to the ground during the downswing. This does vary based on the golfer’s normal swing, and only practice can determine what is correct for each golfer.
When the golf ball is below the golfer’s feet we must set up as normal. Then we have to bend the knees more, but at the same time not lowering the handle of the club too much. The amount of knee bend depends on the slope and the golfer’s normal club head path through impact.
We discussed some set-up changes that can benefit golfers when hitting shots off different slopes. Here are some common questions that beg for easy answers: Do we change our swing? How much do we bend our knees? How much do we stand up straight? When the ball is below my feet will I usually miss left or right? How far will I hit a shot off an upslope, downslope, side slope, etc.? These are all questions that are answered only by the player who goes and practices these situations on a regular basis, experiments and discovers based on the results they get, and then determine what works for them. To give a blanket answer to any of those questions would be irresponsible of any coach.
The more we practice on various slopes the better each player will discover how they can adapt to put themselves in a position to succeed. I hope the set-up suggestions mentioned above give each golfer some adjustment ideas, but more than anything else I hope they motivate everyone to get off the flat, nicely kept range tee and get out on the course when play is slow to hit a variety of different shots — including full swing shots off those treacherous, stroke-eating slopes. Good luck and let me know if you have any questions.
Todd Elliott is the Head Golf Professional at Hideaway Beach Club on Marco Island, Florida. Todd is a PGA and CMAA member. Todd is Titleist Performance Institute Level 3 Golf Certified. To contact Todd email him at email@example.com, or on Twitter @elliottgolfpro.