Feet In Bunker, Ball Out
The key to this shot is to choke down on the club far enough—all the way to the shaft—if necessary. When you set up to this shot, imagine you’re making the same rounded swing you would if you were playing tee ball. This shot is on the same swing-plane angle.
Before you actually hit the ball, make sure you take plenty of extra practice swings to not only find the proper swing plane, but also locate the point where your club bottoms out. Don’t hit the sand!
Take one more club (you’ve choked down so you’ll hit it shorter) and swing smoothly. See the club hit the ball and don’t look up!
When you have an uphill lie, the first ingredient is to match your shoulder angle to the slope. Because gravity pushes you downhill, the tendency when you swing is to fall backward.
That’s where counterbalancing comes in. To help push your weight forward up the hill, take an extra club, place more weight on your left side and swing smoothly. Expect to hit it about a club shorter than you normally do, a bit higher and to the left of your target (adjust your aim accordingly). As you swing, keep your weight moving into the hill and finish in balance on your left side.
When you have a downhill lie, pretty much everything is reversed. First, angle your shoulders to the slope. This helps match your setup and swing to the hill. Expect a lower-than-normal ballflight that curves a bit right.
Remember, all uneven lie shots require good balance and a stable lower body. Take plenty of club, and swing smooth. Place a little extra weight on your downhill foot and think, “balance, balance, balance.”
When the ball is above your feet, you have to stand farther from the ball. As a result, your club’s lie angle is flatter than normal. Stand taller at setup, sit down and back, and point your chest at the ball. These adjustments will produce a flatter swing plane a la Ben Hogan.
The second important concept in executing these shots is counterbalance. Gravity, obviously, pulls us downhill. Hitting a ball that’s below your feet encourages an over-the-top swing and a loss of balance toward your toes. A ball above your feet tends to pull you in the other direction, toward your toes. To maintain your balance, take an extra club, make a smooth swing and keep your lower body stable!
Ball Below Your Feet
When the ball is below your feet (and, as a result, you have to stand closer to the ball and have a more upright swing), flex your knees more and bend more from your hips. Also, feel as if your chest is pointing at the ball. This new setup, fitted perfectly to the angle of the slope, will allow you to make a more upright swing, a la Jack Nicklaus.
The key to hitting from a flyer lie is to anticipate and predict how the ball will react—which, unfortunately, isn’t always easy.
First, let’s define what a flyer is. Typically, flyers occur when grass gets caught between the clubface and the ball. This results in a sort of “knuckle ball” shot that spins less, flies farther and rolls longer.
To get a sense of how the ball will react, look at how much grass is around your ball and in which direction it’s growing. The most common flyer is in light to medium rough that’s growing toward the target.
If you think you’ve got a flyer lie, take one extra club, make a smooth swing and expect the ball to release more once it lands.
When the ball nestles down in thick rough, it doesn’t fly as far as from a typical lie.
To make good contact, take a club with enough loft (a higher-lofted hybrid is ideal), stand closer to the ball (which allows for a steeper swing) and open your stance (which helps you swing from the outside in). Hold the club a bit tighter in your lead hand, and accelerate through the hitting area.
These adjustments help your club bottom out at the ball and prevent the clubface from shutting.
From The Pine Straw Or A Tight Lie
To advance the ball appropriately, you must hit the ball first! I can’t stress that enough if your ball is on pine straw or a hard surface.
To help you make ball-first contact, set up with the ball positioned slightly back of center in your stance, with your hands slightly ahead of the ball and your weight favoring your lead foot. Choke down about an inch and make a 3⁄4-length backswing. Add it up, and these adjustments will help you strike the ball first and the ground second. The shot might not fly as far or as high, but you’ll get a confidence boost from making clean contact.
Against The Fairway Collar
To make clean contact on this awkward lie, you have to adjust your setup and swing. If I addressed the ball with my normal setup and swing shape, I’d hit the fairway collar before the ball—and from there, the ball could go just about anywhere.
To compensate—and make cleaner contact—I stand closer to the ball. This makes me stand taller, which promotes a steeper swing plane, kind of like a Ferris wheel. Once again, the ball might not fly as far as normal, so take an extra club to be safe. Your mantra here should be “clean contact.” Don’t try to do too much.
Bonus Tip: Towel Drill
Here’s a great drill that’ll help you develop the feel for an earlier wrist hinge in your backswing and a steeper angle of attack in your downswing. (Both are key components for escaping divots, depressions, long rough, loose dirt and just about any other awkward lie.)
Place a rolled-up towel about 15 inches behind your ball, then make a backswing. If your clubhead hits the towel, you aren’t hinging your wrists early enough in the backswing. If you hit the towel on your downswing, you’re releasing your hands (and, hence, the clubhead) too soon. Either way, your angle of attack won’t be steep enough, and you’ll struggle to escape any awkward lie.