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 defacto 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 5iron is 60 degrees.
A 5iron with a 58degree 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 toedown the club, the more the clubface will face to the right
(for a righthanded golfer; we'll use the righthanded convention from now on).
The result will be a push, but
the rightfacing clubface will also impart some slice spin that will magnify
the effect.
The figure should help you visualize this.
Take a welllofted club (a short iron)
and hold it with the shaft perfectly vertical. This will simulate a seriously
exaggerated tooflat club (i.e., toedown) 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 toeup,
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

3iron

20

190

0.35

2.3

6iron

32

160

0.55

3.1

9iron

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
tooflat or tooshort club, which is toedown 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 tooupright 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
