Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Playing Slopes, Valleys and Plateaus

Most of us hit balls on the driving range off of a flat lie from the perfect amount of grass.  Then we step onto the golf course and we face deep rough, downhill lies, and elevated greens.  The perfect version of golf that we learned on the range is nowhere to be found.

Experience is the best teacher in golf, but you can accelerate your learning by understanding how to approach the many variables you will face when you play.  The first trick is to pay attention to where your ball lies and where your target is compared to where you stand.  This sounds very obvious, but players often get so into what they are doing that they fail to notice when they are standing on a slope. 

Your evaluation of the situation of where your ball lies and where your target is in relationship to you is the first step to choosing the proper shot.  For example, if your ball is above your feet and the green is elevated, you will have a tough time stopping the ball on the green.  You will have to choose a landing area short of the hole if possible and visualize the shot releasing.  When you understand how geography effects your shot, you can plan successfully.

This hole at Cruden Bay presents many slopes and a target well below the level of the approach shot. 

The first step to understanding the mechanics of hitting specialty shots is to have a cooperative view of what the golf course offers you.  For example, if you have an uphill lie, you should visualize a high shot.  If you fight the tendency of the shot and attempt a low shot from an uphill lie, your mechanics will be tough to execute, because you will be going against the grain.  Go with what the course offers to you and your task of hitting a great shot will be easier.

When you cooperate with the golf course, here are the cause/effect relationships you will see on the golf course. (These are all based on right handed players).
  • Ball above your feet - This shot will generally fly lower and work left, either by pulling or hooking, depending on the club in your hand.  The shot will release and have more roll because it usually has topspin.  You can often choose one less club than the distance calls for.
  • Ball below your feet - This shot will generally fly higher and work right, either by pushing or slicing, depending on the club in your hand.  You will generally need more club than the distance calls for.
  • Ball on an uphill slope - This shot will fly higher.  You might need an extra club.  Some people find this shot easy to hook.
  • Ball on a downhill slope - This shot will fly lower and release because of the top spin.  You will probably need one less club than the distance calls for.
  • Hitting to an elevated green - This shot will release when it hits because the trajectory of the shot will still be moving forward when it hits the green instead of dropping down.  
  • Hitting to a lower green - This shot will stop very quickly because the trajectory of the shot will be straight down.  
  • Hitting to a green tilted toward you - This shot will check quickly.  Spin will be accentuated.
  • Hitting to a green tilted away from you - This shot's first bounce will be out and away from you and will not check quickly.  Many players feel the need to hit this shot high and soft, but it is best to keep it low and get it rolling quickly to offset the first bounce.
    Now, add rough or wind to any of these shots and you will compound whatever effect is normal.  If you have a natural ball flight that matches the shot at hand, you can probably triple the effect.  For example, let's say you naturally draw the ball right to left.  You are playing in a wind that is right to left.  Your ball is above your feet.  If your natural draw tells you to aim 5 yards to the right of the pin, you need to triple that and aim 15 yards right of the pin.  This might sound excessive, but it is a good start for you to understand what influences your ball flight and to cooperate with these instead of fighting them.
    Danielle McVeigh hits from a bunker to an elevated green.

    In the next blog, we will talk about how to set up to these shots and the adjustments needed in alignment and posture.  

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