Explaining 'Cuppy Lie' (Cupped Lie) in Golf

What is a "cuppy lie" on the golf course? The key in understanding it is to think of, well, a cup. The expression "cuppy lie" is one that announcers on golf television and streaming broadcasts sometimes use to describe the way a golf ball is sitting after it comes to rest. Here's what it means:

When a golfer has a cuppy lie, her golf ball has come to rest in a slight depression. It's a very simple definition, but since these terms don't often get explained by the people using them, one that even some golfers get confused about.

Note that some golfers prefer the term "cupped lie" to "cuppy."

In Gary McCord's Golf for Dummies (affiliate links used in this post) book, cuppy lie is defined as "when the ball is in a cuplike depression." The PGA of America defines cuppy lie as "when the ball is sitting down slightly, usually in a small depression." And The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms says "cuppy lie" is an expression that was being used by golfers at least back to the late 1800s.

In their 1922 book Golf from Two Sides, Roger Wethered and Joyce Wethered, in describing the characteristics one wants in a mashie niblick, included "a rounded sole to assist in extricating the ball from a cuppy lie."

Going back a little farther than 1922, to the 1800s, we find a golf club called a "rut iron" that was specifically designed to dig down into tracks, ruts and depressions to dig out golf balls from cuppy lies.

Today, the rut iron no longer exists, but Raymond Floyd, one of the greatest chippers in golf history, once explained to Golf Digest how he would use his sand wedge like one to play a cuppy lie:

"The rut iron is gone, but you can turn your sand wedge into one and use it when the ball is sitting down in a cuppy lie or in tall grass. Take your sand wedge and stand close at address, so the clubhead is sitting on its toe. Open the face just a shade, and hit the ball with a slightly descending stroke. Little miracles happen when you play this shot; you won't believe you can clip the ball so cleanly from tall grass or a little depression."
For full shots from cuppy lies, the golfer's options depend on just how shallow or deep the "cup" in which the ball sits is. But you'll almost certainly be taking a large divot when playing a full shot from a cuppy lie.

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