Striking your golf irons well helps on a number of levels. It will create more consistency, better judgement of distance control, height control and much better accuracy when hitting into greens.
Striking your irons well is also important so that you have the confidence to hit out of different lie conditions and play in different weather conditions. You may notice when professionals on television play, they maintain their balance perfectly throughout the golf swing. This certainly is no coincidence that they also strike their iron shots so brilliantly too.
Fault - Losing balance during the golf swing causes inconsistent strikes with irons and lack of consistency. If a golfer loses balance during the golf swing, many possible outcomes can occur. Heel shots, toe shot, topped shots, bottomed shots, fat shots, thin shots and even shanked shots. If the body is moving irregularly during the swing, and therefore losing balance, this can cause all the problem shots mentioned above.
Fix - There are drills to maintain balance during the golf swing. The first drill is a simple one to practice as it does not require equipment, just plenty of practice.
When you are next at the driving range or practice tee, practice this drill to help maintain balance throughout the golf swing to help become more consistent and confident when striking iron golf shots. Set up to the golf ball as you would do normally with a mid iron. From there, place your feet together so that they are almost touching together in line with the golf ball. Practice hitting golf balls stood in this position. You should at first notice how restricted you feel and how much you need to depend on your balance and tempo. Practice this drill until you become confident that you can hold your body balance throughout the golf swing. When you feel happy to create the same feeling of balance and tempo, continue to set up to the golf ball normally again with your stance wide and recreate the same feeling of balance and tempo whilst hitting much better golf shots.
To take this drill to the next level, you can work on hitting golf balls whilst standing on balance disks (small round inflatable cushions for use during exercise to engage core stability), or practice whilst stood on something soft and bouncy i.e. a mattress type material. From there, work on holding your balance, tempo and stability throughout the golf swing. Once you feel like you have mastered that then proceed in hitting golf balls without the balance disks, but still remain focused on your balance, tempo and stability.
You should notice when you stand back on solid ground that you suddenly feel much more stable and fixed, therefore helping with the improvement of your strike.
How Do I Improve My Strike with Irons?
If you have played golf for any length of time, you have certainly heard the term 'ball striking' mentioned by other players. Whether during practice or on the course, golfers will frequently talk about the need to improve their ball striking in order to achieve lower scores. But what does that mean? What exactly is ball striking, and why is it important? In this article, we are going to answer those questions, and then move on to offering specific instructions on how you can take your own ball striking to a new level.
To get started, we first need to work on the definition of ball striking. To most golfers, ball striking refers to the quality of impact achieved on an iron shot. While ball striking can technically extend to all clubs other than the putter, most golfers will talk about it in the context of the irons. It doesn't take much to contact the ball cleanly when hitting a driver from the tee, for example, so ball striking skill doesn't apply specifically to that context. Hitting an iron shot clean from the fairway takes tremendous skill, however, which is why so many players work so hard to sharpen up their ball striking.
For the most part, you are going to be talking about the quality of impact itself when you talk about ball striking, rather than the outcome of the shot. For instance, you could strike the ball beautifully on an iron shot and still miss the target badly for any number of reasons. If you misjudged the wind, for example, or if you simply measured the distance incorrectly and took the wrong club. Those mistakes would not reflect on the quality of your ball striking, so you should not just your iron strikes only on the outcome of the shot after the ball comes to rest. As long as you make solid contact with the ball near the center of the club face, you can consider your ball striking to have been a success. If there are other problems from there that need to be worked on, those will fall into their own separate categories.
Quality ball striking is important because it is going to allow you to hit predictable shots time after time, all throughout a given round. As long as you are doing a reasonably good job with things like judging the wind and picking your clubs, you should be placing the ball near to the target when your ball striking is on point. On the other hand, when you are struggling with ball striking, this game becomes almost impossible to play. There is no way to know where the ball is going to go, or how far it is going to fly, when your ball striking gets off track. If you have any hopes of lowering your scores and raising your level of play in the future, you absolutely must have solid ball striking on your side.
With the definition of ball striking out of the way, we can now dedicate the rest of this article to instructional material on how you can improve the quality of your iron strikes. The content below is going to cover a number of different tips – both physical and mental – that you can use to guide yourself toward a better ball striking future. All of the instruction offered below is based on a right handed golfer, so please be sure to reverse the directions if you happen to play left handed.
Basic Building Blocks
The good news is this – the building blocks of solid ball striking are actually quite simple. You don't need to understand any complicated swing theory in order to gain a clear picture of the things you need to do to strike the ball cleanly. In fact, it would be better if you were able to keep those complicated thoughts out of your mind. You want to keep the golf swing as simple as possible in order to make it repeatable swing after swing. It is tempting to get deep into swing theory as you add more and more pieces to your swing, but that kind of effort is rarely rewarded. Stick to the basics, master them to the best of your ability, and focus on executing properly time after time.
So what are those basics that you should be focused on in your iron swing? The following points are a great place to start –
- Balance. When talking golf fundamentals, balance is always going to be the point that lands at the top of the list. While balance alone won't allow you to hit a good golf shot, it is going to be nearly impossible to hit good shots without having this fundamental in place. Need evidence as to just how important balance is in the golf swing? Take a few minutes to watch a professional golf tournament on TV. How many of those players do you see competing at the top of the game with poor balance? Very few – if any at all. Pro golfers know how important balance is in the pursuit of quality ball striking, and you should follow their lead. Before you work on anything else related to your iron play, make sure that you have your balance under control.
- Stable head position. This is a point that doesn't get nearly as much attention as balance, but it is also critical to your ability to strike iron shots cleanly. When talking about ball striking with your irons, one of the biggest keys is being able to put the club in the ground at the right point along the swing arc. The club needs to be moving down through impact, and it needs to contact the ball just a fraction of a second before the club hits the turf. To control this point of contact perfectly, you need to keep your head still. It is okay for your head to turn slightly toward the target in the downswing – that kind of move is relatively common – but you should not be allowing it to move up and down excessively. If you can control the way your head moves (or doesn't move) during the swing, you will quickly find it easier to make solid contact.
- Hands in front of the ball. At the point of impact, your hands should be closer to the target than the ball – this is a basic fundamental of ball striking that all good players are able to follow. If your hands are behind the ball when you make contact, the club will naturally be moving up through the ball, and you won't be able to achieve a clean, solid strike. One of the best ways to ensure that your hands are ahead of the ball is to check on the position of your left wrist at impact. Is that left wrist flat, or is it cupped? If your wrist is cupped, you will know that you have allowed the club head to pass your hands prior to impact. Work on striking the ball with the back of your left wrist in a flat position and better shots will be sure to follow.
As you can see, this is a rather simple list of three points. To be well on your way to solid ball striking, all you need to do is stay balanced, hold your head steady, and keep your hands in front of the ball at impact. Of course, in golf, everything sounds easier than it is in reality. You are going to have to practice each of these three points if you want to incorporate them into your swing on a consistent basis. Get to work on mastering these basic ball striking fundamentals as soon as possible and your game will start to move in the right direction.
The Right Mindset
In addition to solid physical fundamentals, you also need to have the right mindset to be a quality ball striker. Succeeding on the golf course is always going to require a good mindset and positive attitude, as there is so much in this game that can eat away at your confidence if you aren't careful. When it comes to ball striking specifically, having the right mindset will help because your mind will be 'staying out of the way' of your physical technique. If you allow your mind to interfere with what your body is trying to do, disappointing results are sure to follow. Just as you are going to need to spend some time working on your physical technique, you will also need to work on your mindset if it is going to improve.
To get a better idea of what kind of mindset you need to have in order to be a great ball striker, please review the list below.
- High level of confidence. You probably already know that you need to be confident if you are going to play golf at a high level in general. However, this point needs to be made here as it is specifically relevant to ball striking. Without confidence in yourself and your abilities, you are likely to become cautious at the club nears the hitting area – and caution is something that you never want to find in your golf swing. Rather, you want to be swinging through with full confidence and even a bit of aggression. If you are lacking confidence at the moment, there is really only one place to find it – the driving range. By working on your technique at the range, you should be able to build up confidence that you can use to carry you through when out on the course.
- Singular focus on the target. One of the many ways that the average player can go wrong with regard to their ball striking is by failing to pick out a target for the shot at hand. You might not think that you would need a specific target to make a great swing, but those two things are forever connected in this game. If you pick out a smart, well-defined target, your swing will have purpose – just like aiming over the front of the rim gives you purpose when shooing a basketball. Before you address the ball to hit any iron shot anywhere around the course, be sure that you have a specific target in mind. Of course, you should be rehearsing this way on the range as well, so always pick out targets before you hit shots in practice.
- Freedom to make mistakes. It might seem odd to have a point about making mistakes on the same list with a point about having a high level of confidence in your swing. However, it is possible for these two thoughts to coexist, and they should coexist in your golf game. In golf, you need to be both confident and realistic at the same time. Your confidence should come from the practice that you have put in on the range, and the good shots that you have hit in past rounds. Your realism should come from the understanding that this is an extremely difficult game, and even the best players in the world hit poor shots in nearly every round. No one is perfect in golf, so you should not be expecting to reach that unreachable standard. Rather than looking for perfection, you should be allowing yourself the freedom to make mistakes along the way. You want to be confident, yes, but you also need to forgive yourself after a bad swing. Beating yourself up for making a mistake in golf is pointless, as there are sure to be more mistakes to come.
Your mind needs to be 'in a good place' when you are playing golf, no matter what kinds of shots you are trying to hit. It isn't always easy to have the right mindset when standing over a difficult iron shot, so work just as hard on improving this part of your game as you do on improving your physical technique.
Believe it or not, the equipment that you use can have a major impact on your ability to strike the ball cleanly with your irons. If you are using irons which are ill-fitted to your swing, it will be difficult – or even impossible – to achieve a high standard of performance with your ball striking. While club fitting is important throughout the bag, it is particularly important when it comes to your set of irons. Having irons that match up with your stance and swing properly will make it tremendously easier to strike the ball at a high level.
One of the first points that you should be concerned with regard your set of irons is lie angle. The lie angle refers to the angle that the shaft makes when compared with the ground while the club is set at address. All iron sets come with a predetermined lie angle for each iron, but those lie angles can be changed to suit the needs of the specific player. While the following is not always the case, it is common that shorter players will need flatter lie angles while taller players will need their irons bent slightly more upright.
Of course, the best way to determine the ideal lie angle for your set of clubs is to go through a fitting session with a qualified professional. If you take the time to visit a club fitter near you, that individual should be able to measure your current iron set and then make the adjustments needed. The fee for such a fitting session is usually rather modest, and you can learn a lot about your set of clubs in just a short period of time.
In addition to lie angle, you will also want to make sure that you have the right shafts in your irons. Shafts which are too soft or too firm will make it difficult to strike the ball cleanly, and even if you do strike the ball cleanly, your ball flight will likely be less than ideal. Many golfers today like to use a combination of graphite shafts in their woods and steel shafts in the irons, but that isn't going to be the right formula for everyone. Again, this is where the help of an experienced club fitter can be extremely valuable. By measuring your swing for speed and other factors, the club fitter will be able to tell you if your current shafts are appropriate for your swing – and if they are not, recommendations for new shafts will be made. In the end, you should come away from a fitting session with a set of clubs that is perfectly tuned to your game. Will this guarantee quality ball striking? No – of course not. It will, however, take you one step closer to the goal of improving your game as a whole.
The Power of Lag
The last topic that we need to touch on in this discussion of ball striking is the issue of lag. This is a point that confuses many amateur golfers, so much so that many just avoid it altogether. However, it is not something that should be avoided, as it is critical to your ability to hit powerful, accurate golf shots on a consistent basis. Players who are able to lag the club nicely are almost always going to be better ball strikers than those who don't – it's just that simple.
So what is lag? Basically, as you swing down from the top of the backswing toward impact, the club head should be lagging behind your hands (and the rest of your body). As you turn through toward the target, there should be a sharp angle formed between your left arm and the shaft of the club – hopefully, around 90*. If you can hold this angle nicely on down into impact, you will have a great deal of potential energy stored up that you can unleash into the ball. If you watch a slow-motion replay of a professional golfer hitting any kind of full shot, you are sure to see tremendous lag taking place in the downswing. Specifically, Sergio Garcia is known for lagging the club perhaps better than anyone in the history of the game.
Lag is an important piece of the ball striking puzzle because it allows you to easily move your hands past the ball prior to impact (as was mentioned above). Also, it is going to establish a nice downward angle of attack, which is another important part of solid ball striking. You should be producing lag in your downswing with all of your clubs from the driver on through to the wedges, but it is particularly important when hitting iron shots. There is nothing quite like the feeling of catching an iron shot just right after you have lagged the club down into the ball, but you are going to have to work hard on the range before you can enjoy that experience consistently.
To work on lag, you should actually head to the short game practice area at your local course. By starting small, you can get comfortable with the feeling of lagging the club before heading up into full swings. Hit pitch shots from 30 or 40 yards out while lagging the club down into the back of the ball. As you gain confidence, gradually hit longer and longer shots until you can step up to the tee line and send the ball off into the distance time after time with no problem at all.
If you have goals in the game of golf that involve shooting lower and lower scores, it is likely that you are going to need to become a better ball striker to reach those levels. Ball striking is one of the keys to playing well on a consistent basis, so get right to work on the points that are laid out for you in this article. With proper practice and the right attitude, your ball striking just may be able to carry you to a new level of performance in this great game.