Lie Angle

What it is and Why we care

The lie angle of the club is the angle the shaft makes with the ground, when the club is in the proper address position with the grooves level. There is a de-facto or nominal "standard" lie angle for each iron. If a club has a higher lie angle than standard, it is called "upright"; if lower, it is called "flat". For instance, the normal lie angle for a 5-iron is 60 degrees. A 5-iron with a 58-degree lie would be called "two degrees flat". A player with a particular size and swing will require a particular lie angle in order for the clubface to be level at impact. And it is important for the clubface to be level at impact. The reasons?

Direction of clubface

The more toe-down the club, the more the clubface will face to the right (for a right-handed golfer; we'll use the right-handed convention from now on). The result will be a push, but the right-facing clubface will also impart some slice spin that will magnify the effect.

Effect of Lie angle error

The figure should help you visualize this. Take a well-lofted club (a short iron) and hold it with the shaft perfectly vertical. This will simulate a seriously exaggerated too-flat club (i.e., toe-down) for the very upright position in which you're holding it. Notice how the face is pointing not just up, but well to the right as well.

Conversely, if you hold the shaft horizontal, the clubhead is toe-up, or "upright". And the face points well to the left.

By the way, this is the same reason that a sidehill lie with the ball below your feet is a "slice lie" and with the ball above your feet is a "hook lie".

How much of a directional error will you get from an error in lie angle? The greater the loft, the greater the angle of error. But the greater the loft, the less the distance -- so the angle of error doesn't matter as much in yards. Here is a table of total directional error (in yards) for a variety of clubs, due to each degree of lie error.

Club
Loft
Distance
(yards)
Angular
Error
(degrees)
Yards
Error
Driver
10
250
0.17
1.5
3-iron
20
190
0.35
2.3
6-iron
32
160
0.55
3.1
9-iron
44
130
0.76
3.5
Sand wedge
54
100
0.94
3.3
The table takes into account both the initial directional error and the slice due to the open clubface. I used a rule of thumb suggested by Tom Wishon on Golfsmith's Tech Forum, doubling the directional error to include slice. But I believe it significantly overestimates the slice error for lofted irons, so there probably isn't any club with over 3 yards of error. But three yards is not trivial, and that's just for one degree of lie error.

Twisting with Ground Contact

A club with the proper length and lie will, at the bottom of the swing where the club meets the ball, have the head perfectly level. An important consequence of this is that the club strikes the ground at a point directly under the sweet spot of the clubhead; this is also directly under the ball, assuming the golfer has managed to strike the ball on the sweet spot.

But what happens if the club is not the right lie? Let's consider the too-flat or too-short club, which is toe-down as it strikes the ball. The toe will strike the ground first, and twist the clubface open.

If you hit the ground before the ball (that is, hit it fat), this twisting of the clubface greatly multiplies the small directional error we had before due to the flat lie. Now you don't have a small push or slice; you could have a disastrous one. If the club is too long or has a too-upright lie, the opposite is true. The club will face left at impact, encouraging a pull or a hook. A fat hit will further close the clubface, giving a potentially disastrous pull or hook.


Last modified Jan 3, 1999