You’re standing on the tee looking down at the par-3 green below. The distance is just right for your 6-iron, however the green, the surrounding pond and traps are all significantly below the tee box.
What do you do?
First, according to PGA pro Todd Kolb, don’t get distracted.
“Focus on the shot,” he says, “not the view. The green or the fairway tends to look much smaller than it really is when you’re looking downhill, so relax. Find a specific target to aim at and don’t let yourself get distracted.”
And if the straight-line distance calls for the 6-iron, and there isn’t a strong wind either helping or hurting, club down to your 7-iron.
“When the shot you’re going to hit is uphill, add a club so the 6-iron becomes a 5-iron. When the shot is downhill, go up a club to the 7-iron,” Kolb says. “It would have to be a really, really dramatic elevation change for it to be a two club difference. Maybe if the wind is strong behind you, you could have a two club change but the rule of thumb for this situation is one club.”
Kolb says one important piece of knowledge for choosing the correct club for the uphill or downhill shot is to know how far you expect to hit each club on level ground.
“It’s probably one of the easiest yet least appreciated skills…how far they hit a golf ball. And I don’t mean how far you hit it with your best shot. We have our students hit eight to 10 shots with each club and use radar to get accurate readings, then calculate the average for the good hits. Too often people hit one good 7-iron 165 yards and so they think they should expect to hit their 7 that distance all the time, and instead they usually end up coming up short.”
If you don’t have access to state-of-the-art swing analysis, next time you’re playing a casual round, drop three balls at the 150 yard marker on a flat hole and hit them with your 6-, 7- and 8-irons (big hitters can go up a club). Do it a few times and even if not all the swings are perfect, you’ll still get a basic idea of your distances.
“Too often people hit one good 7-iron 165 yards and so they think they should expect to hit their 7 that distance all the time…”
You can also try measuring your distances during a driving range session: beware though, often the range balls aren’t up to specs and the yardage markers at the range may not be wholly accurate.
When the terrain switches from downhill to uphill, there’s another factor to consider, the lie.
“When you’re hitting uphill from the fairway,” Todd Kolb says, “remember that hitting uphill adds loft to the shot so you have to consider both the elevation change and the lie.”
And when the ball lands, he says the uphill shot may not roll as far as normal. “You’ll see a little less roll on uphill shots and a little more roll on downhill shots to a fairway (not necessarily on the green, because it depends on whether or not the greens hold).”
The most important thing isn’t the club though, Kolb says it’s the swing.
“Find a target, focus on it, relax, and hit the ball.”
There’s video of Todd Kolb illustrating some of his tips for a downhill tee shot at this link: