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The "lie angle" of a golf club measures the relationship between the club's shaft and the ground when the club is held with its sole level to the ground. There are three categories of lie angles: standard, flat and upright. A standard club has an average lie angle. A flat club's lie angle is less than average, while an upright club has a higher than average lie angle.
Length and Lie
With the exception of putters, longer clubs require smaller, flatter lie angles than shorter clubs. The longest club, the driver, has a standard lie angle of 56 degrees. An angle of less then 56 degrees, therefore, has a flatter lie angle, while an angle of more than 56 degrees is classified as a more upright club. Wedges and the 9-iron have the largest standard lie angle, at 64 degrees. Industry standard lie angles have increased from 1 to 3 degrees across the board since the 1950s, possibly as a means to help limit the most common golfing error, the slice.
Effects of Flat and Upright Lie Angles
If a club's lie angle is too flat for an individual player's swing, the club's toe will strike the ground first, resulting in shots pushed to the right. If the lie angle is too far upright the club's heel hits the ground first and the player will tend to pull the ball to the left. With a correctly-fit club, the middle of the club head's sole will strike the ground first, giving the player a better chance to hit the ball squarely, and straight.
The process for fitting a player for new clubs will typically include a dynamic fitting session to establish the type of lie angle the golfer requires. The player hits balls off of a lie board, using a club on which impact labels have been attached to the sole. When the player hits the ball off the board the labels are torn or marked. The club fitter observes the marks and determines whether the player is hitting the board with the center of the club's sole, and adjusts the lie angle accordingly. If the fitting takes place at an outdoor range, the club fitter can also analyze the results of the player's shots, adding that data to the evidence provided by the labels.
Check Your Divots
If you're not sure whether your clubs contain the best lie angle for your swing, you can perform a preliminary analysis yourself. Just check the divots you make when you're playing your next round, or when you're hitting from a grass tee at a driving range. If your lie angles are correct, the front edges of your divots will be uniform, their depths will be consistent and their shapes will point toward the target. If the divot edges closer to you (relative to your hitting position) are deeper, then the club's heel is hitting the ground first and your lie angle is too far upright. If the divots become deeper on the far edge your lie angle is too flat.