It was the smallest little detail that determined a majority of the momentum in the close of the Zurich Classic. On the 16th hole both Marc Leishman and Charl Schwartzel had uphill lies for their shots around the green. Why were the two results so different? Forget for a moment Marc chipped in, he was going to hit it close no matter what. Charl on the other hand had a much more lackluster result.
After each of them hit their shot, the biggest difference we noticed was in the ball flight. Schwartzel’s ball was launched straight up into the air. An odd trajectory that caused questioning commentary in the broadcast booth. Leishman’s shot came out much more under control and tumbling toward his target. The casual fan may not have really noticed much of a difference between the two men as they played the shot, but there was.
There are a couple very important keys all golfers need to follow when hitting from uphill lies. It doesn’t matter if the shot is 50, 100 or 150 yards, these guidelines apply. Once explained, it will then make sense why the short game of the 16th hole yesterday determined the winner of the event.
Each of the players had an uphill lie. This means they are hitting on an upslope where the target side is higher than the trail side of their lie. If we aren’t hitting from a level lie, we must make adjustments to our setup in order to create solid, reliable contact. Marc’s shoulders were tilted where his lead shoulder (left) was higher than his trail shoulder (right). This kept his shoulders parallel to the ground. Charl’s shoulders looked much more level.
Marc’s strike on the ball continued through impact and right along the level of the rising ground. Schwartzel stuck the club in the ground. When presented from this perspective, one can certainly start to see why it’s so important to match your setup and swing to the surface. Follow Leishman here, when hitting uphill shots. Make sure the line of your shoulders matches the ground angle. If you’re uncertain, after you take your stance and tilt your shoulders, grab the club and hold it up across your chest touching both shoulders. The angle of that shaft should match the level of the ground.
This is a very powerful visual. Try it the next time you are on the course and find yourself standing on an uneven uphill situation. With your body better aligned to the ground it will be easier to follow through with your swing and create better contact. Since Charl’s shoulders were relatively level, he had no place to go with his swing past impact. His lead side was low and the ground was rising. Therefore, he stuck it in the ground and popped the ball in the air.
Matching our shoulder line is vital to the success of uphill shots. It’s a small detail, but it can lead to a very good result if we pay attention to our setup. For those wondering if the ball position changes, it’s best to keep the ball forward of center when hitting uphill shots. How far in front will depend upon the club you are using.
Imagine trying to hit a 150-yard approach and the club goes straight into the ground? We have to keep that clubhead sailing through impact and into our follow through along the earth. The next time you encounter an uphill lie, make sure you set those shoulders after you take your stance. Make a practice swing keeping the clubhead along the surface through impact. Then step in and hit a successful shot.
Follow Leishman’s lead and you just might find yourself in the hole just like him.
Keith Stewart is a 5-time award-winning PGA Professional with 25 years of experience in the golf industry. His network of players, coaches and insiders provide him with a unique perspective on the game. He's a writer on PGA.com and host of the ProShow on ESPN 920 AM Friday afternoons at 3:00pm EDT. Check out his PGA Coaching articles archived here or his conversations on air with this link to his website The ProShow.