One of the hazards of hitting into deep rough is the possibility of a flyer lie, which can occur when the ball is partially buried in the grass. When hitting from this type of lie the ball tends to travel farther than expected -- to fly, figuratively speaking -- causing the unprepared player to hit the ball past his target. The key to hitting a flyer lie successfully is recognizing the lie and understanding how the ball is likely to react.
Light rough should not cause a flyer lie. If your ball is in full or heavy rough, and is still touching the ground, then you likely have a flyer lie. If the ball is in heavy rough but is held off the ground by the grass, then you have a “fluffy lie,” which must be played differently than a flyer lie. PGA pro Zack Allen says you’re more likely to have a flyer lie if the grass that surrounds your ball is growing toward the target.
Why the Ball Flies
When you play from a flyer lie, there’s so much grass around the ball that you can’t help hitting the grass before contacting the ball. The grass reduces the backspin that your club face produces, causing the ball to fly farther than you expect. The lack of spin also allows the ball to roll farther than it normally would. If you’re 300 yards from the hole and strike the ball solidly from a flyer lie, the lack of spin may be beneficial. More often, however, if you’re closer to the green and unprepared for a longer shot, you may fly the ball over the green.
Flyer lies can catch even pro golfers unprepared. Greg Norman was a young pro playing in the 1980 Australian Open when he “learned the danger of the dreaded ‘flyer lie,’” he says. Norman was 260 yards from the pin, and in deep rough, so he grabbed a 5-iron with the intent of laying up in front of the green. He put a good swing on the ball, which “jumped out of the rough and flew forever,” he says. The ball sailed past the green and ultimately traveled more than 300 yards.
How to Play a Flyer Lie
Conventional wisdom says to simply use less club when you have a flyer lie; use a wedge instead of a 9-iron, for example, suggests former PGA Tour standout Tom Watson. He also suggests aiming slightly to the left of your target (for a right-handed player), opening the club face a bit and standing slightly closer to the ball. Nevertheless, Watson warns, trying to figure out how far you’ll hit the ball from a flyer lie “is always guesswork.” Norman recommends playing the ball about an inch farther back in your stance, causing you to take a steeper angle of attack, thereby minimizing the amount of grass that comes between the club head and the ball.