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A Flat Lie

Frank:

I really enjoy your Q&A and look forward to reading it every week.  Your advice has improved my understanding of the mechanics of golf immensely.
Recently, I was fitted for a set of irons.  During the fitting, the lie angle was determined by me hitting off of a lie angle board on a perfectly flat platform.  Turns out I needed irons which were one degree upright.  I understand that process but, I never get a lie like that on the course.  So, within reason, and for the average golfer, what difference does the lie angle of an iron (within a degree or two) really make when, in the course of play, one never has a perfectly flat lie as one has during the fitting process? 

Regards,

--Tom

Tom,
Thank you for the kind comments about my weekly column.
When it comes to custom fitting there are two very important properties which need your attention.

One of these is the shaft flex. The shaft flex makes a lot of difference to your swing as it allows you feel the head position most effectively with greater comfort and control. After about 400 years of trial and error we have come to the conclusion that the faster we load the shaft during the down swing the more it will flex and the stiffer it should be.

In general a stiff shaft is better for the faster swing speeds – there are no standards for flex in the industry so you have to try these before you buy or get the same as you have in your existing set. For a driver you are eligible for a stiff shaft if your swing speed is 95+ mph or you load the shaft quickly. Otherwise stay with an R-flex.

The other important club property to consider is the LIE angle. Even though, as you have suggested, you hardly ever  have a flat lie on the course you need to assume that the average lie will be flat and therefore adjust the lie angle of your irons to this ‘flat’ norm.

Imaging you could weld a rod (end on) to the center of the face of your clubs. This rod being at right angles to the face will point in the direction the ball will travel if the leading edge of the club is presented square to the target. If the toe is too high at impact, the rod will be pointing to the left of target.

This is the very reason why we must aim well right of target when the ball is above our feet on a side hill lie. The face is pointing to the left because the lie angle at address (relative to the horizontal) is too upright.  

For your more lofted clubs i.e. wedges and short irons, the correct lie angle is more critical than the long irons. For example, the lie angle for a club with zero-loft (some badly designed putters) has no effect on the direction the ball travels as the lie angle moves in the same plane as the loft.  The correct lie angle in drivers (low lofts) is thus not as important as it is for mid and short irons.

Tom, try to stick a golf pencil with a flat end to the face of your wedge – or hold it in place – as you change the lie of the club and you will quickly see the importance that the correct lie angle is for lofted clubs.
So, the bottom line is, to pay attention to shaft flex and lie angle when you buy an otherwise standard set of clubs. Most other fine adjustments are for golfers in the low single-digit handicap range or just to get you to buy a new set.

Be careful of those lies.
Frank