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
in order for the clubface to be level at impact. And it is important
the clubface to be level at impact. The reason? The direction of the
clubface at impact varies with lie angle. And it can vary even more if
the ball is hit a little fat.
Direction of clubface
The more toe-down the club, the more the clubface will face to
(for a right-handed golfer; we'll use the right-handed convention from
The result will be a push, but
the right-facing clubface will also impart some slice spin that will
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
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
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
below your feet is a "slice lie" and with the ball above your feet is
a "hook lie". With the ball below your feet, the shaft will be more
vertical than the design of the club; with the ball above your feet, it
will be more horizontal.
How much of a directional error will you get from an
lie angle? The greater the loft, the greater the angle of error. The
formula controlling the directional error is actually pretty simple:
= Loft * sin( LieError )
the loft is zero, then lie errors don't matter. (Well, they matter if
you hit it fat. We'll see this in the next section.) If the lie error
is zero, then there is no directional error. Here's a table of where
the clubface points for various lofts and lie errors.
| Lie error
says that the greater the loft, the greater the error. But that is the
angular error; the error in yards is not so cut-and-dried. That's
because 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.
The table takes into account both the initial directional error and the
slice due to the open clubface. I used a rule of thumb that I derived,
directional error by a "curvature
to include slice. The factor itself increases with distance, in
opposition to the face angle error. So the yards of error reach a
maximum for a six-iron. But all the irons have an error of roughtly 3
yards for every degree of lie angle error. That's not trivial; three
yards, or 9 feet, can easily be a stroke difference for a good golfer
-- the difference between a tap-in and a 10-foot putt. And that's just
a one degree lie error.
Twisting with Ground Contact
So far, we have been talking about directional errors with a
strike. Now let's discuss what happens if you hit it fat -- if the sole
of the club hits the ground before the clubface reaches the ball. Yes,
that will cut yards off the shot, but it will also exaggerate the
A club with the proper length and lie will, at the bottom of
where the club meets the ball, have the head perfectly level. An
consequence of this is that the club strikes the ground at a point
under the sweet spot of the clubhead; this is also directly under the
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
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),
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
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
Last modified May 22,