If you've ever been out on a golf course or watched golf on TV, you've probably heard someone in your group or a commentator say that a player has "left the ball above the hole."
Frankly, that's a confusing term. Taking it literally, someone might think the golf ball is floating above the cup in the ground, and that's not what that means. Rather, being "above the hole" in golf is an explanation of where the golf ball lies.
What does it mean for a golf ball to be above the hole?
In golf, the ball is said to be "above the hole" when the next shot or putt a golfer hits is going to be downhill or down a graded slope relative to the hole.
Generally, golfers consider it worse to leave a ball above the hole than underneath the hole, with that term implying an uphill next shot. Golfers tend to prefer hitting putts, chip shots and pitches toward an uphill target because they believe they have more room for error to get closer to the hole.
When hitting a chip shot or a pitch shot from above the hole, a golfer will feel more comfortable hitting their preferred shot of choice -- lower or higher, carrying the ball or running it toward the hole -- than trying to do so with a downhill shot. Downhill chips tend to require shorter, more precise shots that are less comfortable for golfers of all skill levels.
Tiger Woods is among the many famous professional golfers who have often spoken about the importance to him of leaving the ball above the hole. He feels it allows him to be more aggressive with his next shot, particularly a putt, and that it leads to better scores. While golfers may make equidistant uphill and downhill putts at about the same rate, golfers do tend to leave themselves closer to the hole when starting below the hole -- even if by a small margin overall.
Consistently leaving your ball above the hole can lead to higher golf scores and should be avoided.