One of the basic rules of iron play is: Hit down on the golf ball to get it up in the air.
Unfortunately, many golfers lack the fundamentals necessary to follow this guideline. The most common mistake is setting up with the hands behind the ball (to the right for a right-hander), the by-product being a thinned or topped shot.
Luckily, this is easy to fix by simply moving the hands forward, or toward the target.
Look at any picture of a good golfer at the moment of impact with an iron and you"ll notice the hands are slightly in front of the clubhead and thus, the ball. It"s no coincidence that photos taken at address show the same thing.
As a general rule, iron shots should be played with the ball midway between the feet (or in line with the sternum, as some pros teach). The handle of the club should be ahead of the ball; in other words, closer to the target.
Addressing the ball this way is an absolute must if you want to strike down on it.
Of course, this does not apply to hitting the driver. Since the tee does the work of getting the ball into the air, the hands should be even with the ball at address and impact.
Increase Your Frequency of Pure Iron Shots
Hitting a pure iron shot on the golf course is something you know you’ve done the instant that it happens. Hitting pure iron shots just might be the best feeling in golf because the ball seems to just explode off the club without any vibration or feedback. Good, crisp iron shots make a clean ‘click’ sound when they leave the club and no one in your group will have any doubt that you hit the ball just perfectly. Pure iron shots tend to go the right distance, and usually in the right direction as well. It should go without saying that increasing the number of crisp iron shots you hit during a round will go a long way toward improving your performance on the course.
Obviously, figuring out how to hit solid iron shots is something that most golfers do, but very few succeed at. Playing well with your irons may be the most challenging part of the game because of the unique requirements that exist. Unless you are playing a par three, you are usually hitting your iron shots right off of the turf instead of a tee – this instantly makes them more challenging to deal with. When the ball is sitting down in the grass, you won’t always have a perfect lie to hit from so you may have to make some minor adjustments just to make good contact and get the ball into the air.
Another challenge with iron shots is the expectation of accuracy that you have when aiming for the pin. When hitting a tee shot with your driver, you want to be as accurate as possible – but even missing by ten yards to the right or left of your target probably won’t cause you too much trouble. On the other hand, missing ten yards to the right or left of the hole when playing an iron approach shot could land you in the bunker, or even the water. The accuracy that you are hoping for with your irons is much greater than with your woods, so you may feel more pressure during the swing.
The answer to the question of how to hit solid iron shots is a little more complicated than when learning how to hit your driver properly. Sure, there are similarities between the two swings, but there are several differences as well. Understanding the right technique for iron play specifically will be important if you are going to make good progress with your game.
Before getting started, please note that the instruction below is based on the swing of a right handed golfer. If you happen to be a left handed player, make sure to reverse the directions as needed so that they apply correctly to you.
The Basics of Clean Impact
Hitting pure iron shots all comes down to making clean impact with the ball. In the end, that is really the whole point when you are hitting an iron shot – striking the ball cleanly so it climbs into the air and heads straights toward your target. Making clean impact might not be too much of a challenge when you are playing from the tee, but hitting the ball solid off the turf is another story.
There are a few essential elements of the golf swing that you need to have under control if you can expect to hit quality iron shots from the fairway on a regular basis.
- Balance. It is all about balance. Without making a swing with good balance, you are never going to be able to make solid contact consistently. Specifically, you need to control your center of gravity and keep it as consistent as possible from start to finish in your swing. While most golfers are able to properly center their weight at address, it often drifts to the right during the backswing – creating many problems for later on in the swing. With your weight stuck on your back foot in the backswing, you will have to slide back toward the target during the downswing to get your center of gravity where it needs to be. As you might imagine, this can be a challenge to get right time after time. It is far easier to get your center of gravity in the right spot if it isn’t moving around during the swing. Think ‘rotation’ when you make your golf swing, rather than moving from side to side, and your ball striking from the fairway should instantly improve.
- Downward impact. When the ball is on a tee, you can hit up into it slightly and still make good contact, because there is air under the ball. However, this isn’t possible when the ball is laying on the ground. Therefore, you have to hit down through the shot in order to make pure contact on the face of your iron. Having good balance helps toward this end, as highlighted above. Also, you need to make sure that your hands are moving through the shot ahead of the club head. In fact, the club head should be the last thing to move through the hitting zone after your hands and body have already rotated through toward the target. As long as your hands are ahead of the ball when you are approaching impact, you won’t have any choice but to hit down through the shot.
- Confidence. Quite simply, many players doubt themselves when playing iron shots and the results speak for themselves. You have to believe that you are going to hit a good shot, and that you are going to make good contact with the ball. Why is confidence so important? Because the golf swing happens so quickly, you don’t have time to make last second adjustments. If you are doubting yourself as the club moves down toward impact, you might try to change your swing at the last moment – which will always lead to disappointing results. When you believe in yourself and your swing, you can commit to the swing you are making and let the club head tear through the hitting zone at full speed.
Once you are able to hit solid iron shots from the fairway, the rest of the game opens up to you. Being able to strike the ball cleanly off the turf means you can start to aim at the pin more regularly instead of just trying to hit the green with your approach shots. While you are still going to hit some poor shots from time to time, developing your skills from the fairway should be a top priority just because of how radically it can improve your scores.
Playing Long Iron Shots
Not only do you need to make slightly different swings between your driver and your irons, you also need to alter your technique slightly between your long irons and your short irons. Long irons are meant to be hit off the turf with more of a sweeping motion than short irons. While you still need to hit down slightly through impact, you don’t want to be hitting down as aggressively as you do when you play a short iron shot. Long iron shots are among the most challenging in the game, so it is essential that you get as much of the technique right as possible.
The first thing to think about when playing long iron shots is that ‘sweeping’ quality mentioned above. Ideally, you won’t even take a divot when you play a long iron shot – instead, you will just brush the top of the turf while picking the ball cleanly and sending it into the air. If you look down at the ground after the shot, you should see a mark where the grass was disturbed by the swing, but not actually a divot taken out of the ground. Not surprisingly, the key to pulling this off correctly is maintaining good balance during the swing.
As you read earlier, balance is vital to good iron play. That is especially true of hitting long irons, where there is little margin for error because of the length of the shaft and the length of the shots you are trying to hit. If you make a small mistake with a pitching wedge, for example, the ball might end up a few yards off line. Make that same mistake with a three iron, however, and the shot could be a disaster. Your swing needs to be as well-tuned as possible to hit good long irons, which is why so many amateur players struggle to master them.
Another important element of the long iron swing is the length of your backswing. If you get in a habit of cutting the backswing short when hitting a three or four iron, you are going to have trouble generating enough speed to really get the ball up into the air. The length of your swing with a long iron should be similar to that which you use with your driver. Anything less and you are going to be fighting the shot every time, and having to use your hands more than you should in order to find some elevation under the ball.
One drill you can work on to help make sure your backswing is the proper length is to go back and forth between hitting your driver and hitting your long irons. On the driving range, alternate from shot to shot hitting a driver and hitting a long iron. When you hit the long iron, try to think about the swing you made with the driver and work on replicating it as closely as possible. The iron swing will be more upright than your driver swing, but the overall length and rhythm of the swing should be the same. When you are able to make this happen, the outcome should be quality ball striking that makes your long irons a weapon off the fairway and from the tee.
Playing Short Irons
For many golfers, short iron shots are some of the most exciting on the course – because they are the ones that most often lead to birdies. Relative to the other clubs in your bag, short irons should be the easiest to hit and the easiest to get close to the hole. Good short iron play can help you make quick work of short par fours and par fives, and the birdies that you could put on the card can go a long way toward erasing any mistakes you might make on the other holes.
As you already know, however, it isn’t that simple to just pick up a short iron and stick the ball within a few feet of the hole. While you might not have much trouble hitting a ‘decent’ shot with a short iron, it is a different story to try and hit a great shot. To do that, you will not only need good technique and execution, but strategy as well.
Some good news is that most of the fundamentals that apply to your other swings still apply to your short iron shots. Most notably, balance remains a key ingredient in any swing, including those with a short iron. It should be easier to stay on balance when hitting short irons because your swing isn’t as long as you aren’t swinging as hard – but you still want to focus on it to make sure it doesn’t get away from you at some point. Swing the club with great balance and you will never be too far away from success.
Also, making sure your hands are in front of the ball at impact is another key element to good short iron play. With your short irons, unlike your long irons, you do want to take a divot out of the grass, and a descending blow down into the ball will allow you to do just that. As long as your hands ‘win the race’ to the ball as compared to your club head, it should be easy to hit down through and take a nice divot.
Most of the important points that you need to know related to short iron play have to do with strategy and your thought process more than the mechanics of the swing. The short iron swing is the easiest one of all, so as long as you use the same good mechanics you have built for your other swings, you shouldn’t have much trouble hitting short iron shots. Try using the following mental game tips to improve your performance when it comes to getting the ball as close to the hole as possible.
- Take more club and swing easy. If there is a most common mistake among amateur golfers when it comes to hitting short irons, it is swinging as hard as they can and trying to hit the ball the maximum distance to reach the hole. This is the completely wrong approach. Instead, you should use more club than you think you need and swing easy. You don’t want to be hitting your short irons all out because they spin too much and become harder to control at that point. When you are only talking about a shot of 100 yards or so, for example, try backing off a little bit and swinging at about 80% of full power. You just might be amazed by the results.
- Find the low side of the hole. As you get closer to the green, it becomes more and more possible to position your ball for an uphill putt at birdie. When you are picking a target from the fairway, take a look at the slope of the green and try to place your ball on the low side as often as you can. Even if you miss the green, you should have an easy chip as long as you are going uphill toward the hole. Playing short shots uphill – whether they are putts or chips – is a great advantage, so put yourself in this position as much as you can. Paying attention to details like this can pay off big time at the end of the round when you add up your score.
- Eliminate the Disaster. Often, golf is more about the mistakes you don’t make than the great shots you hit. If you can simply get your way around the course without making a major mistakes, you will be most of the way toward a successful round. One type of major mistake that you can’t afford to make is hitting the ball into a bad spot when playing a short iron shot. You are never going to hit the ball close to the hole every time, or even hit the green every time, but you can pick smart targets in order to avoid making huge mistakes. For example, if there is a water hazard next to the green on the right side, and the hole is cut on the right, aim to the left half of the green and play it safe. Sure you might not make as many birdies this way, but avoiding the water should be your main objective. Be patient and aim right at the flag on a hole where there is no hazard to threaten your shot.
Other Iron Shot Options
Hitting pure iron shots from the fairway is a great feeling, but not all of your shots are going to be hit from the fairway. Sometimes, you will find your ball in a bad spot around the course and you will have to figure out how to get back in position as quickly as possible. Most of these ‘trouble’ shots are going to be played with your irons, so learning the basics of these kinds of shots is a skill that every golfer should have. You don’t want to be limited to your standard full swing while on the course – the more options you give yourself in terms of swings and ball flights, the better you will be able to get out of trouble.
One of the basic trouble shots that you should know how to hit is the punch shot. This is an iron shot that is intended to fly low in order to avoid trees and other obstacles on its way toward the target. To hit a punch shot, make two adjustments – move the ball back in your stance, and choke down on the grip of the club. If you do those two things, you can pretty much make a standard swing and get a lower and shorter ball flight as a result. Practice this shot on the driving range as it comes in handy more often than you might think.
Another variation of the iron shot is the one that you have to play from deep rough. When you find your ball in this situation, you again want to choke down slightly on the club and move the ball back in your stance. In some ways, it is similar to hitting punch shot. However, you want to make sure your swing is as long as possible to give the club plenty of time to build speed before impact. Hitting through deep rough is difficult, and your need maximum club head speed to cut through the grass and get to the ball.
The final iron shot variation that we will discuss is the full iron shot played from a fairway bunker. Hitting out of a fairway bunker is totally different than playing from one that is greenside, so you need to understand the basic technique involved. First, pick a club that you are confident will fly high enough to get up and out of the bunker – the last thing you want is to have to play from the bunker again on your next shot. Then, make a balanced swing that is focused on good tempo and not on raw power. If you try to swing too hard, you increase your chances of slipping and miss-hitting the shot. Stay under control and keep your eye on the ball to strike it pure and send it out of the sand and toward the target.
Hitting a pure iron shot is one the best experiences that a golfer can have on the course. This doesn’t have to be an elusive feeling, either – work on your technique and spend plenty of time on the driving range to make sure you get to feel a crisp iron shot coming off your club more than just once in a while. Not only to pure iron shots feel great coming off the club, they also will do wonders for your score at the end of the day. Whether hitting a short iron or a challenging long iron shot, those magical pure iron shots are sure to keep you coming back again and again.