THE WRONG SLANTS
You slam a tee shot down the middle of the fairway, you feel great, and then you find the ball has somehow stopped on an awful slope. It is time to do something—aside from cry about your luck. First, there is one basic law that I have for playing any type of shot from a slant, be it downhill, uphill, sidehill, standing in a bunker or in a carrot garden: take one club more than normal, say the five-iron instead of the six.
Now what? Let's assume the shot is an uphill lie. Routine. Obviously, you take one club more here because you are going to hit the ball higher than usual. Play the ball in the middle of the stance in an effort to get the shot a trifle lower, and aim slightly to the right of the green, because the tendency is to pull the ball. The best way to play a downhill lie is toward the right center of the stance, again using one more club than usual since this shot figures to slice—which means less distance. Naturally, allow for the slice when you aim.
Much more intriguing are the sidehill shots, those beauties where you find yourself reaching down like a man with a rake or up like a man pruning a hedge. When the ball is below your feet it will almost certainly slice, so, once more, choose a little more club and allow for the slice. Play the ball back, and flex the knees just a fraction. This sitting-down effect will help your balance, putting your weight back on your heels. But don't exaggerate the position. If you do, you will shank.
For the shot that makes you reach up, grip the club shorter because, clearly enough, the ball is closer to you. And again you must take a club with more distance, this time because you are choking down on the grip. Most of your weight has to be forward, and you should aim to the right of the target, since this shot will often be pulled. Occasionally you get lies with really sharp angles, as beside a bunker, but you just follow the same principles, remembering that you will not hit this kind of shot more than 150 yards or so.
I might add that you should take a close look at every lie. A lot of lies are deceiving, and little hills make big differences in how a ball flies. You don't have to be playing on Mount Rush-more to have a shot ruined by a slope.
THE DIVOT DILEMMA
If you hit a thousand bags of practice balls intentionally trying to land in a lonely unrepaired divot down the fairway, you probably would not come close. But just hit one shot during an actual round, and there you are—smack in a canyon left by some inconsiderate player up ahead. Amazing, isn't it? It happens to us all, and it happens so often I am beginning to think most golfers are physically unable to bend over and pick up the chunks of turf that their iron shots have torn out of the fairway. But that is another subject. The only way that you can surely solve the situation is to know how to hit good shots out of divots.
The best way to approach the problem is to understand right off that you are not going to have to hit some kind of trick shot to get the ball up in the air. The extra something you may try to put into such a shot will only result in making you scoop it or cause you to stump your club behind it—a complete miss right there in front of God, caddie, opponents and dogwood.
My method for playing out of divots is fairly simple. I take my normal swing, since the loft of the club is ample to get the ball up even though your mind may be trying to tell you that it isn't. But I do consciously remind myself that I have to take a very firm grip on the club and that I am going to have to swing strongly through the shot.