So you are out on the golf course and you need to get your irons close to the flag.
Your first decision is how far the golf shot is and what outside elements can come into play. i.e. wind, weather, trouble to avoid. You can then make a calculated decision as to what club you will need to execute the shot to the best of your ability. Sometimes you may get stuck between golf clubs to use or the shot requires you to hit the ball higher or lower. You need to be able to modify your golf club easily to help with the demands of changing the distance and height.
Fault - The golfer is stuck in between distances and struggles to choose the correct club for the job. This results in taking less club and hitting it very hard which can easily sacrifice technique and quality of strike. The golfer may take more club than is needed and decelerates through impact because they know they have way too much club. Both the above decisions can interrupt your general tempo and swing characteristics. This can lead to bad contact of the golf ball and incorrect strikes. This will most likely result in missing the target and forcing the golfer to recover with a good chip or bunker shot.
Fix - Modify the golf club's power to reduce the distance the golf ball will travel without compromising strike, tempo or consistency. This is a tip you can take straight out on the golf course to modify the distance you can hit your irons. Think about your golf club as having three different settings, 100% power, 90% power and 80% power. For example, if the golfer held the golf club at the top of the grip, as the golfer would do normally, and hits their average full hitting 7 iron 150 yards (100% power), an easy way to modify the distance of the golf ball would be to hold the golf club about one inch down on the grip. This will reduce the club head speed as not as much power can be produced. If the golfer held the club one inch down (90% power), and hit the ball with a full swing, still the ball will travel less distance than before (roughly five to ten yards shorter). An easy way to modify the distance of the golf ball again would be to hold the golf club about two inches down on the grip. This will reduce the club head speed even more than before as not as much power can be produced. If the golfer held the club two inches down (80% power), and hit the ball with a full swing, still the ball will travel less distance again (roughly ten to fifteen yards shorter).
Key tip - Still hit the golf club with a full swing as you would normally do and allow the shorter shaft length to change the distance rather than you needing to hit the ball softer or harder.
Best Drills to Hit Your Golf Irons Close
The ability to consistently hit iron shots close to the hole is something which can dramatically lower your scores on the golf course. Sure, things like accurate driving and reliable putting are also important, but setting up a number of short birdie opportunities with great iron play is a key piece of the equation. Not only does accurate iron play help you make a few birdies during the course of a round, it also saves you from the stress of having to get up and down to save your par. Any way you look at it, hitting the ball close with your irons is a skill which will be directly reflected on the scorecard.
There are two distinct skills which must come together successfully if you are going to hit the ball close with your irons. The first, of course, is the execution of the swing. You will need a mechanically sound golf swing which you can repeat time after time. When you know you can rely on your technique to produce a predictable ball flight, one of the big hurdles will be out of the way. You should spend time working on your iron game on the practice range in order to refine the technical points of your swing.
Once you are happy with your technique, there is still another half of this equation which must be dealt with – strategy. To have the ball actually finish close to the hole on a regular basis, you have to make sound strategic decisions. Which club are you going to use for your approach shot? How aggressive will you be in aiming at the flag? What about variables like wind, the firmness of the ground, and more? All of these things have to be taken into account before you send an iron shot toward the green. The players who are able to blend solid technical execution with smart strategy are those who will hit the ball close time after time.
In this article, we are going to provide you with some drills which will bring together both sides of the iron shot equation. These drills will include technical elements as well as strategy points, which means they should be of great help as you strive to improve on your iron play. You may decide that just one of the drills below is a good fit for your needs, or you may wish to use them all at some point. Either way, the important thing is that you continue to work on stepping up your performance with an iron in your hands. Great iron play can take you a long way on the golf course, and we hope these drills can help move you in the right direction.
All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Drill #1 - Finding a Lower Gear
One of the best ways to control your iron shots when on the course is to swing at something less than 100% effort. While most amateur golfers go all out to hit the ball as hard as possible on each swing, it is actually a better plan to back off in order to gain control. If you are willing to swing at approximately 80% of max effort when hitting approach shots, it is likely that you will find the ball close to the hole on a regular basis.
Why is it beneficial to swing at a slower speed? Well, for one thing, you are going to impart less backspin on the ball, which will allow your shots to travel a bit lower. Launching your irons way up into the sky might look nice, but that trajectory can make your shots difficult to control. Also, you are more likely to lose your balance when swinging at 100%, and golf gets much harder when swinging without balance. Most professional golfers favor control over power when hitting iron shots, and you should be doing the same.
To work on learning how to hit your iron shots with less overall effort, follow the steps below to complete this simple drill.
- To get started, head to the driving range with your seven iron and a bucket of practice balls. You can use any iron that you would like to complete this drill, but the seven iron is a great place to start. It would be ideal if you could find a natural grass driving range to use, but practicing on artificial mats will still allow you to make progress.
- Before hitting any shots, you are going to pick a specific target on the range to use as your objective for these swings. However, instead of picking a target which makes sense for a full seven iron shot, you are going to be more conservative and pick a shorter flag. For instance, if you normally hit your seven iron 150 yards with full effort, try selecting a target on the range which is 130-140 yards from your position. This will be an easy target to reach with the club you are holding – and that is exactly the point of the drill.
- Now that you have your conservative target, go ahead and make a swing. You aren't going to change anything about your technique at this point, other than swinging with slightly less effort than usual. With a smooth swing, send the ball toward the target you have picked out and watch the results carefully. Most likely, you will see the ball sail over your target.
- Continue to hit the remaining practice balls without making any changes to the drill. Use a conservative target for all of the swings, even if you are hitting the ball over the target each and every time. It is a good idea to do this entire drill with the same club, but you can switch up clubs (and targets) along the way if you like.
It might seem a bit silly to consistently hit the ball over your chosen target, but this drill is teaching you a valuable lesson. Most golfers think they need to swing as hard as possible in order to hit the ball maximum distance, but that simply isn't the case. If you make a smooth, controlled swing with your irons, there is a good chance the ball will travel nearly as far as it does with a max effort swing. You will make solid contact more consistently, and your shots will do a better job of holding their line. Overall, your play will improve with a softer swing, and you likely won't even have to give up any yardage in the process.
When you head back out to the course, keep this lesson in mind. You can probably still use your seven iron from 150 yards (to continue the example from above), but you don't need to feel like it is necessary to swing as hard as possible. You have learned that a smooth swing can hit the ball just as far as an aggressive one, so keep that smooth swing going on the course to hit your targets with incredible consistency.
Drill #2 – One-Handed Pitch Shots
With this drill, we are actually going to have you practice some short game shots with the intention of improving your full swing. To be accurate with your iron shots, you need to arrive at a solid impact position time after time. A big part of that impact position is your left wrist, which is what we are going to be addressing in this section. If you can use your left wrist correctly when striking irons, it is far more likely that you will be able to send the ball accurately toward the target.
As indicated in the title of this section, the pitch shots you hit for this drill are going to be struck with just one hand. That hand, of course, is going to be the left hand. The benefit of using only one hand is that you are going to gain a better understanding of how your left wrist (and the rest of your left side) should work at impact. If your right hand was on the club during this drill, you will not be able to focus solely on finding a great position with your left side. Take some time to hit one-handed pitch shots and your full swing should be dramatically improved as a result.
To complete this drill, follow the step-by-step directions below.
- Rather than heading to the driving range, you are going to visit the short game practice area at your local course for this drill. The pitch shots you hit when completing this drill are not going to be long – only 10 – 20 yards – so you don't need a huge space in which to work.
- The equipment you will need for this drill is simple – a wedge, and a handful of golf balls. You can use your regular golf balls if you wish, or you could just use range balls. You are more worried about the feeling you achieve at impact, rather than the outcome of the shots, so the ball you use is not terribly important.
- To prepare for the drill, find a relatively flat spot of fairway-length grass from which to hit your shots. Also, pick out a target hole on the green to use as an aiming point. While you aren't too worried about the outcome of the shots, you do want to have a target in mind – every shot you hit in golf, whether in practice or on the course, should have a specific target.
- With your setup finished, it is time to hit some shots. Take your stance over the first ball just as you would for any other pitch shot. At first, you are going to have both hands on the club as usual. Once you are settled into a comfortable address position, take your right hand off the club and put it in your pocket (or behind your back). With only your left hand on the grip, swing the club and do your best to hit a solid pitch shot toward the target.
- Repeat this process as many times as you would like. You should start to notice some improvements in your quality of contact after just a few swings, as you will get more and more comfortable with how you need to use your left hand and wrist at impact.
If you are 'flipping' your left wrist prior to making contact with the ball, the results you achieve in this drill are going to be ugly. Your one-handed pitch shots are only going to start to come around when you manage to firm up your left wrist leading into the hit. With a flat left wrist and a solid left side, you will be able to clip the ball cleanly time after time.
Not only is this drill going to help your play on full swing iron shots, it will help you dramatically in your short game as well. Given the way it can help your game from full swings on down to chips and pitches, consider adding this drill to your regular practice routine. Even hitting just a few one-handed pitches during each practice session will reinforce the important lessons learned in this drill.
Drill #3 – On Course Training
The first two drills we provided are both completed in the practice area – one on the driving range, and one around the chipping/pitching green. This last drill, however, is going to take place on the golf course, during an upcoming round of golf. You can play a 'regular' round with this drill in terms of keeping score and playing with friends, but it should not be a tournament round (or another competitive environment). You will need to feel free to prioritize your improvement over trying to post the best possible score for the day.
This drill is going to help you improve the mental side of hitting the ball close to the hole. When on the course, you should avoid doing any kind of work on your mechanics, and that holds true with this drill. This is a drill which is directed only toward your strategy and course management skills – you aren't going to think mechanics at all while playing a round with this drill in mind.
Believe it or not, there is only one rule for this drill – on every hole, you are going to aim your approach shot for the exact middle of the green. That's it. That one sentence is the entire drill. While that might seem a bit simple, it is actually quite a powerful way to improve on your performance over time.
On each hole, calculate your distance to the middle of the green when preparing to hit an approach shot. Regardless of where the hole happens to be located on the green, you are going to aim your approach for the middle of the putting surface. You are going to judge your success not on how close you get the ball to the hole, but rather on how close you get to the middle of the green. Continue this style of play all the way through the 18th hole, while playing normally on all the rest of your shots.
So what is this going to do to help your game? Consider the following benefits –
- A new perspective. When you think about hitting iron shots close to the hole, you probably think about taking dead aim at the pin. That makes sense, of course, as you should aim at the location where you want your ball to finish. What you will learn when taking this new approach, however, is that you will come up with many good shots simply by aiming for the middle of the green. Unless the greens on your favorite course happen to be extremely large, hitting the middle of the putting surface is going to leave you a reasonable putt to any location around the green.
- Margin for error. Golf is a hard game, and no player ever hits his or her targets 100% of the time. With that in mind, aiming for the middle of the green is a great way to give yourself some margin for error. If you push or pull your approach shot by a few yards, for instance, you should still find the putting surface. The same can be said for hitting the shot a little too far or not quite far enough. Either way, there will be green available to catch your mistake. By aiming for the center instead of pins out toward the edges, you will face more birdie putts and fewer difficult up and down attempts.
- Freedom to make a great swing. There is pressure which comes along with aiming at a difficult hole location. For example, if you aim at a hole which is cut only a few yards away from a water hazard, there may be extra tension in your swing as you worry about the outcome of the shot. That won't be an issue when you play to the middle of the green. With the freedom that comes from knowing you have some margin for error, you will be relaxed and you will likely make a better swing.
During one of your upcoming rounds, commit yourself to hitting each and every approach shot you face to the middle of the green. It will take some discipline to stick with this plan all day long, but you might be surprised at the results if you do. Not only will you hit more greens in regulation than usual, your score may be lower as well. Take what you have learned from this conservative game plan and use that information to hit more close approach shots in future rounds.
A Few Other Tips
With regard to hitting accurate iron shots, there are a few other points which need to be made before we wrap up this article. Those points are listed below.
- Accurate yardage is important. Some amateur golfers take yardages for granted when on the course, simply estimating how far they have to the target rather than determining a specific number. If you are going to consistently set up short putts, however, you need to have an accurate number available. Take a moment to get a reliable measurement and then use that number to create a game plan for the shot.
- Respect the lie. Even the best iron players can only do so much when faced with a poor lie. If you find your ball sitting down in some long grass, for instance, take a conservative path and do your best to keep the ball in play. Only when you have a good lie and a comfortable distance should you feel willing to be more aggressive.
- Low in the wind. When trying to hit accurate iron shots on a windy day, you will be best served to keep the ball down as close to the ground as possible. Sending your ball high up into the wind – even when playing downwind – it only going to cause you to lose control over your shots. Do your best to produce low ball flights and take the wind out of the equation to the greatest degree possible.
The importance of hitting accurate iron shots is obvious. When you hit your irons close to the hole, you will have plenty of birdie opportunities throughout the day – and plenty of easy two-putt pars even when your birdie tries miss. To work on hitting the ball closer than ever before, use the content above to direct your practice and your way of thinking. Producing quality iron shots is both mental and physical, so be sure to address both sides of the equation as you work toward a brighter future on the course. Good luck!