In the winter, the rough at your local golf course is probably pretty thin, so flier lies are not an issue. However, during most parts of the golf season, the rough grows thicker and taller, creating what most people call the “flier lie.” When you hit your ball in the rough, you must assess what lie you have in order to choose the correct golf shot.
1. Identifying a Flier Lie
Typically, when you get a flier lie, your ball will be nestled down in the grass a little bit and there will be a decent amount of grass sitting just behind your ball. This prevents your club face from making clean contact with the ball on your downswing. Thus, when the club makes contact with the ball, grass will be between the club face and the golf ball.
2. How is a Flier Lie different than a Normal Lie?
On a normal golf shot from the fairway or when it’s sitting up in the rough, your club head’s grooves would strike the ball cleanly and impart backspin (or sidespin) on the golf ball, giving you more distance control and spin control over the ball. This provides you the ability to hit shots a more consistent distance and trajectory.
With a flier lie, you won’t be able to control the spin on the golf ball. Most likely the grass between your club head and golf ball will keep you from putting much spin on the golf ball, resulting in a shot that has little to no sidespin or backspin.
3. Benefits of a Flier Lie
There are actually benefits to no sidespin – typically the ball will fly in a straight line with no fade, draw, slice, or hook.
4. Problems with a Flier Lie
However no sidespin can also be a problem. If you are on the right side of the fairway with trees that you need to fade the ball around, you will find it difficult to impart a lot of fade spin on the golf ball. Typically, you’ll hit the ball straighter than you desire and miss the green to the left.
Also, the ball will probably react like a knuckleball (absolutely no spin) which causes the ball to travel higher and farther.
Given one of the cardinal sins in golf is to hit the ball over the green, typically leaving you a more difficult, downhill chip or possibly a tricky chip up over a ledge and then back down the hill for an elevated green. Avoid this at all costs, so the best advice for a flier lie is to take precautions. If the shot would normally call for a 6 iron, then choose a 7 iron or perhaps an 8 iron, depending on the situation and how much danger there is short and long of the green. Also, move the ball an inch back in your stance from where you normally play it to create a steeper swing path to minimize how much grass you get between the club face and ball on the downswing.
Remember, you’re always assessing risk/rewards trade-offs, so if there is a water hazard short of the green, then don’t club down and put your ball at risk. However, if the water hazard is over the green, then club down one additional club to be safe.
Another thing to note is that a shot from a flier lie will not have any backspin when the ball lands either. Thus, the ball will release forward when it lands vs. typically checking up or spinning back. Thus, land the ball short of the hole and let it release.
When you have a flier lie, choose a shorter club with more loft and move the ball back in your stance an inch from where you typically play it. Plan for the shot to travel farther than you expect in the air and then release when it hits the green. The ball will also travel straighter so plan ahead if you’re trying to fade or draw the ball.
Now, you won’t be surprised when your ball launches off the club face and flies over the green. Let that be some other person’s problem. Good luck!
Note that this flier lie instruction does not apply to woods or 2- or 3-irons. Given the low attack angles of these clubs, you tend to get a lot of grass between the ball and the club, typically producing the opposite – a less crisp impact and a shorter shot. You would typically be better served hitting a slightly shorter iron out of such a lie (~4-iron or rescue wood), especially if it’s sitting down in the rough.