Technical Tips

November 2007

Tech Tip - How to Make Sure You Lie Correctly

By Jeff Jackson

Lies. They are what golf is all about, right? The 300 yard drive (that was actually a shade over 200), the 50 foot birdie putt (that was closer to 20 feet), the score of 72 (with a mulligan or two); the list goes on and on… Golf, it seems can’t be played without lies – and it shouldn’t – at least if those lies aren’t “correct”. What??? Each golf club in a set has a specification known as lie; the lie for each club needs to be matched to the player for best performance. A club that has the correct lie angle will help hit all shots straighter, especially shorter irons. On the other hand, if the lies of a player’s clubs are not quite right, he may be missing shots to the right or left even though he makes a perfectly good swing. The lies of all irons should be checked and set to ensure best playability. Let’s take a more detailed look at “How to lie correctly on the golf course”.

The term lie angle is simple to explain. Lie (or lie angle) is the direction that the shaft comes out of the club when you place it on the ground as you would when you address the ball. (A more technical definition of lie is the angle formed between the shaft centerline and the sole of a club in playing position.) Lie is measured in degrees. It would make sense that the club should rest comfortably in a player’s hands without any upward or downward manipulation if the lie angle was correct, right? The way to tell if the lie is correct is just to look and see if when you hold it, the club rests on the ground with the lines parallel to the ground… Close, but not exactly. As the club is swung, the shaft actually bows downward due to centrifugal force. Softer shafts may bow more than stiffer ones if both are swing at a similar speed. Thus, a club whose toe is slightly off the ground at address may be just perfect at impact as a result of this bowing of the shaft.

Now think about this for a moment. As you swing, the shaft bows downward. That means the head will have to change position too. So a club that looks like it has the correct lie when you hold it at address, most likely will have the wrong lie when you swing it! Sound confusing? Maybe it seems a bit difficult to understand, but there is a fairly simple way to tell if clubs have the correct lies for a player. A lie board test will quickly indicate if the lie of a given club is correct for a given player’s swing. A lie board is a flat plastic or wooden board from which balls are hit. As the balls are hit, the sole of the club will come in contact with the board and a mark from the board will show up on the club. If the marks are in the center of the club’s sole, the lie is right for the player. If the marks show up toward the toe of the club, the club needs to be changed to a more upright lie; if the marks show toward the heel, the lies should be made flatter. (Each ¼” from the sole’s center the marks appear indicates that a 1-degree lie change should be made. Samples of standard, flat and upright lie clubs should be part of the test, making sure the player is fitted for the correct lie angle. If the test can be done outdoors, the player should test hit several clubs of different lies, noting not only where the sole impacts are, but looking at where the ball goes as well.

So just what does having the properly fitted lie have to do with ball direction? If iron lies are correct, the club face aims directly at the target when it meets the ball. But, if the lie is not correct, the face plane will actually tilt one way or the other as club meets ball. If lies are too upright, the face plane will angle to the left and a lot of shots will end up left of where the player aimed-even though a good swing was made! If the lies of irons are too flat, the clubs will tend to tilt to the right, making the player miss too many shots to the right.

Just how much difference does having the wrong lie make? You might be surprised. For each 1° the lie is off, it may cause a 2-3 yard difference between where the player aims and where the ball goes. True, this is no big deal on longer clubs; if you miss your #3 or #4 iron by 2 yards, it’s still pretty good shot for most of us. But, if you miss your wedge by 2 yards, you might not be so happy since you could now end up in the bunker rather than on the green. Obviously if iron lies are off by more than 1°, even bigger shot direction errors will result-and these errors will happen even though a perfect swing may have been made!

Loft is a factor in how lie affects ball direction. More lofted clubs (shorter irons and the wedges) apply more backspin to the ball due to their higher loft angles. If their face plane is tilted off-line, the increased backspin will cause the shot to spin further off-line, compounding short iron directional problems. Longer irons do not produce as much backspin; thus the compounding of incorrect lie angles is less with these types of clubs. The more lofted the club, the more an incorrect lie will cause accuracy problems. The proper lie is important for all clubs, but it is absolutely critical to the shorter irons.

It only takes a few minutes to do a lie fitting. Lies can easily be changed on nearly all brands irons at least two degrees, enough in most cases to eliminate poor shots due to improper lie angles. It is hard enough for most players to hit shots where they aim them; having clubs with the wrong lies make it nearly impossible for that player to play his best golf. How to lie correctly on the course: Hit some shots from a lie board, set the lies correctly, and accurate shots and lower scores will follow.



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