Fitting for Lie Angle

As with length, there are both static and dynamic ways to fit for lie angle. As with length, the dynamic methods will just about always get it right, but the static methods are quite reliable for a remarkably large share of the golfing population.

Static Fitting

Static lie methods, at least the valid ones, are basically the same as the static length methods. They size up the golfer for length, assuming that the clubs will be the "standard" lie angles. So let's review the table of "standard men's" lengths and lies from the previous chapter.
Club Length Lie
1-wood 43" 55
3-wood 42" 56
5-wood 41" 57
1-iron 39.5" 56
2-iron 39" 57
3-iron 38.5" 58
4-iron 38" 59
5-iron 37.5" 60
6-iron 37" 61
7-iron 36.5" 62
8-iron 36" 63
9-iron 35.5" 64
Wedges 35.5" 64

The rationale for a combined length/lie table like this is a pretty good one:

  • By keeping the lie "standard" and choosing length for your body proportions, you are keeping the "standard" (and presumably optimum) swing plane. You are proportioning your swing to your body.
  • By keeping the lie "standard", you will be able to use the generally available components without having to bend them to a custom lie angle. Unless you have a bending machine, this advantage is not a trivial one.
  • If the golfer's swing plane is other than "standard" (or if other factors -- like swingweight -- dictate the length), it is an easy matter to calculate the change in lie angle for a change in length.

Anyway, if you choose to use a static method, see the section on static fitting for length. Choose the length that way, and go with a standard lie. Then, if there is any reason to change the lie but not the length, calculate the new lie and get upright- or flat-lie clubheads.

Dynamic Fitting

Dynamic fitting for lie is easier than dynamic fitting for length. Once again, length and lie are sufficiently closely related that their fitting should be combined. The dynamic lie test is very easy and very accurate. The minuses are the necessity for several calibration clubs and the time and place to take some swings. Here's how to do it:

You need several clubs of differing lengths. Ideally, you'd want a series of, say, 5-irons of the same lie and known lengths in 1/2" increments (though 1" will do nicely). You'll need these clubs to test for length anyway, and they can be the same clubs.

Tape the soles of these calibration clubs with masking tape. Place a piece of thin plywood or masonite on the ground, its surface level with the ground on which the golfer is standing. Have the golfer take a few good swings with each club, at an imaginary ball located on the center of the plywood. At least one of the swings must "clip grass"; that is, it must strike the plywood so that it marks the masking tape on the sole.

Now look at where the mark on the masking tape is:

  • If it is right in the middle of the sole (that is, under the sweet spot), then that club is the right length-lie for that golfer.
  • If it is more towards the heel, the club is either too long or too upright.
  • If it is more towards the toe, the club is either too short or too flat.
If you have a continuum of similar clubs, it is easy to zero in on the ideal length-lie for the golfer. With one, or just a few, clubs, you need an estimate of what distance on the sole corresponds to what lie angle error (or length error). This is highly dependent on the shape of the sole (especially the amount of rocker), and is probably not a reliable way to get a final measurement. I have seen soles so curved that 1/12" corresponded to a degree of lie, and soles so flat that a degree of lie moved the mark over 3/8".

The professional clubmaker should keep a set of calibration clubs on hand, since their presence makes the more accurate dynamic measurement easy. If the one-time clubmaker cannot get one or more calibrated clubs for a dynamic measurement, they should be reassured by the fact that the fingertip-height approach gives the right answer nine times out of ten.

Trading Length and Lie

I've been talking about a match of lie and length, but so far only suggested length as a design parameter. But we can "adjust" lie, either in the catalog or in the shop.

Suppose the length test (the ball mark on the clubface) and the lie test (the scuff mark on the sole) suggest two different lengths. Then build the clubs with the length suggested by the length test, and calculate the lie correction based on the difference between the lengths, as described here.

Let's start with an ASCII-graphics picture of why length and lie trade off.

Length/lie #1         Length/lie #2

          /| A                    /| A
         / |                    /  |
        /  |                  /    |
       /   |                /      |
      /    |              /        |
  C  /     | B       C  /          | B
Consider the two length/lie pictures. In each picture, the hands are at A and the clubhead is at C. The club's shaft is A-C. The lie angle is the angle at C.

It should be clear from this that #1 is a lot more upright than #2; that is, the angle at C is larger. As a result, the shaft is longer in #2, because it has to reach further to get to the ball. If you do the trigonometry (I won't ask you to; there are trigonometriphobes in my family, so I sympathize with the affliction) you will find that:

  • At the sort of lie angles where golf clubs live (53 degrees to 64 degrees)
  • Every degree more upright needs 1/2" less length, and
  • Every degree flatter needs 1/2" more length.
So our design rule is pretty simple. The industry-wide "rule of thumb" is that 1/2" of length trades with 1 degree of lie. That is, if you make a club 2 degrees more upright, you can make it 1" shorter and still fit the golfer that it fit originally. My analysis shows this to be a pretty good rule of thumb; it's a little over .5" for a driver and about .3" for a wedge or 9-iron, with the rest of the clubs falling somewhere in between.

Getting back to the question we posed at the start of this section. If the length test suggests one length and the lie test suggests another, what do we do? Now it should be pretty obvious:

  • Choose the length suggested by the length test. Let's call it 'L'.
  • If the lie test suggests a length shorter than 'L', then 'L' was too upright. So use a flatter lie. How much flatter? One degree for each half inch of difference between 'L' and the proper-lie length.
  • Conversely, if the lie test suggests a length longer than 'L', then 'L' was too flat. So use a more upright lie, again by one degree for each half inch of difference.

So much for the theory; how do we manage to build clubs with arbitrary lie angles?

Quite a few component clubheads are available in off-standard as well as standard lies. The most common of these is the three-lie catalog entry: standard, two degrees upright, and two degrees flat.

Even if the clubhead you want isn't available in a choice of lies, it may be possible to bend it to the lie you want. The mechanical difficulties of bending the clubhead (and the likelihood of success) are dependent on the material of which the clubhead is made.

Last modified Jan 9, 1999