Want to catch more dead-solid iron shots? Set a trap.
Here's what we mean: Pure contact with the irons requires a downward clubhead path that “traps” the ball against the turf. The ball is compressed between ground and clubface, maximizing velocity and spin and producing a penetrating trajectory.
Watch the pros on TV. Better yet, listen closely when they play iron shots. You'll hear the ball hitting the club very crisply, yes, but you'll also notice the sound of the clubhead ripping through the turf. That's the beautiful sound of a well-trapped iron.
Low-handicap amateurs usually trap the ball, too, if not quite as consistently as the pros. The rest of us tend to sweep the ball off the grass, which diminishes velocity and backspin. Then there's the opposite of trapping – hitting the ball on the upswing, often in an attempt to lift it off the ground. Goodbye, distance and spin. Hello, pitiful little flutterballs.
Not sure if you're trapping the ball properly? Question: Do you take divots with your irons? If not, you aren't trapping it. If you do take divots, do they start a) behind the ball, or b) just beneath or slightly past the ball? If “b,” you are trapping it. (Good job!) If “a,” read on.
The first key to developing a trapping action is committing this phrase to memory: Hit down to get the ball up. The loft of your irons is more than sufficient to lift the ball off the ground – no need to “help” it into the air.
The next key lies in the setup. And it's incredibly simple: Your hands must be ahead of the ball at address. Put another way, the shaft should tilt slightly toward your target. This positions the club to enter the impact zone moving down into the ball.
Obviously, the swing matters too. Here's a drill to instill the correct, downward striking position.
How and Why Trapping Your Golf Iron Shots
Everyone loves to hit the driver – and why not? It is fun to blast the ball as far as you can down the fairway, and you have the added advantage of getting to hit the ball off of a tee. With your driver, you don't really have to worry about making clean contact, because that task simply isn't very difficult. With the ball several inches off of the ground and a large club head working to your benefit, you just have to sweep the club through the hitting area and you should be able to make good contact nearly every time. With just a little bit of practice, most golfers can get comfortable with their driver, and it often becomes the favorite club in the bag.
The story, of course, is different when it comes to irons. While your driver can be somewhat easy to hit, irons can be difficult at best. For some golfers, it might seem downright impossible to hit quality iron shots on a regular basis. You are usually hitting your irons off of the ground rather than a tee, meaning you have to go down through the shot to make clean contact. Making a mistake of even an inch or two at impact can lead to rather poor results, where you might be able to 'get away' with the same kind of mistake when swinging a driver. Few would argue that hitting iron shots is more difficult than hitting the driver, but that doesn't mean you need to resign yourself to a lifetime of poor iron play. By learning the proper fundamentals and the concept behind iron play, you can improve your performance and start hitting more greens than ever before.
One of the most important skills you can develop in golf is the ability to trap your iron shot. What does it mean to trap an iron shot? Basically, you are 'trapping' the ball between the face of the club and the ground. By hitting down through the shot, you can compress the ball against the face of the club, which will provide the shot with both power and spin. Professional golfers are able to repeat this kind of contact over and over again, which is why they hit such high, accurate iron shots on a consistent basis. While you might not ever rise to that level of performance, you can work on trapping the ball as a way to sharpen up your own game.
Unfortunately, most amateur golfers hit up on their irons rather than hitting down, and the results are usually not pretty. When you hit up on your irons, you will struggle to get sufficient backspin on your shots, and you will often make poor contact as well. It is crucial that you hit the sweet spot on your irons as frequently as possible, and that is only going to happen when you commit to trapping the ball down into the ground at the moment of impact. The content below will walk through this concept, highlighting why it is so important, and how you can make it happen in your own game.
All of the instruction 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.
The Advantages of Trapping Iron Shots
It is not a coincidence that nearly every professional golfer in the world chooses to trap their iron shots at impact. The best players in the world play this way because they know it is effective – there are plenty of positives, and almost no downsides, to this kind of strike with the irons. Once you are clear on just how this method can affect your game, you will want to get down to work on improving your iron play as soon as possible.
The following list contains a number points that you should see as benefits if you are able to start trapping the ball effectively at impact.
- Added distance. Solid contact is always going to mean added distance, and you will hit the ball solidly more often using this method. When you hit down on the ball, you avoid the risk of catching some of the grass (or the ground) on the way into impact. That means that the club face can stay square to the target line, you can maintain all of your club head speed, and everything that you have built up in the swing can be passed on to the ball. In the end, you will be left with a swing that produces more power, and your iron shots will carry farther in the air than they would if you were hitting up on the ball through impact.
- Added backspin. This point is just as important, if not more important, than the point related to distance. You want to play iron shots with a relatively high rate of backspin, as that spin is going to help you get the ball high in the air and stop it quickly when it comes down. Irons are all about control, as players who are able to control their iron shots from both a distance and direction perspective will be able to set up more birdie putts. Backspin helps your ball hold its line as it travels toward the target, and it also may allow you to spin the ball back toward the hole when playing short iron shots. A high rate of backspin on your irons is going to be desirable for the vast majority of shots that you play, and trapping the ball at impact is going to make it possible to achieve that spin.
- Dealing with poor lies. Bad lies are a part of golf, and it is up to you to find a way to carve the ball out of a tough spot in order to get it back in position. Whether your ball is sitting down in some rough, or it has just found an old divot hold in the middle of the fairway, hitting down through the shot is almost always going to be the best course of action. When you are used to trapping all of your iron shots, it will be easy to hit down on those shots that do include a bad lie, so you should become a much more consistent iron player overall. It would be great if bad lies didn't exist in golf, but that just isn't how the game works – learn how to handle them with a trapping swing and your results will improve.
- Consistent trajectory. In order to predict how far the ball is going to travel, which is imperative if you are going to get the ball close to the hole regularly, you need to consistently produce the same trajectory time after time. That task will become easier if you commit yourself to hitting down and trapping your irons on each shot. This kind of impact should produce a ball flight that starts relatively low to the ground, climbs quickly thanks to the backspin you have created, and then comes down softly – hopefully on the green. Once you are able to hit that same style of shot over and over again, you will quickly learn how to predict how far the ball is going to go, and you will hit more greens as a result.
- Other options. One of the skills that you would like to have on the course is the ability to create some 'other' shots with your irons when necessary. For instance, if you need to take distance off of the shot to reach a specific target, you want to be able to do that on command. Also, if you are playing on a windy day and you need to keep the ball low, you should be able to call on that kind of shot as well. Fortunately, trapping the ball at impact will help you in those pursuits. Players who hit trapped iron shots are more versatile than those who hit up through impact, so they are able to deal with a wider variety of circumstances on the course as a result.
There are probably even more benefits to trapping the ball than just the five points listed above, but you get the idea. This is a method of hitting iron shots that stands to dramatically improve your game, so you will be missing out on a major opportunity if you decide to go in another direction with your iron play. Work on hitting down to trap the ball and the confidence you have in your iron shots will grow rapidly.
How to Trap Iron Shots
Now that you have the motivation to learn how to trap iron shots, it is time to get down to business on learning this skill. Like anything else in golf, you are going to have to dedicate some focused practice time to this technique if you are going to be able to successfully add it to your game. Nothing comes easy in golf, which is why it is so satisfying when you do learn how to execute a new technique properly. Incorporate the tips below into your iron swing and you should find yourself trapping the ball in the very near future.
- Hands in front of the ball. This is the 'golden rule' when it comes to trapping the golf ball with your iron shots. At impact, your hands need to be closer to the target than the club head. In other words, your hands need to be to the left of the ball as you are looking down from above. When that is the case, you can be confident that you are hitting down nicely, and the ball will be trapped between the club face and the ground. If your hands were to lag behind at impact, the club head would be moving in an upward direction, and it would basically be impossible to achieve the trap we are looking for. To make this goal easier to accomplish, set up with your hands in front of the ball at address. By setting up in that position, you can do your best to simply return your hands back down in front of the ball at impact, and you will be all set to create beautiful iron shots.
- Control the movement of your body. Balance is always important in golf, and it is important for the purposes of hitting down as well. You need to have your weight over top of the golf ball as you swing down in order to trap the shot properly. Your club is going to bottom out wherever your center of gravity happens to be, so make sure that point is just slightly in front of the ball at impact. Many amateur players get into the bad habit of hanging back on their right side during the downswing, which only leads to bad results. Stay balanced throughout your backswing and then start to move to the left on the way down as your lower body rotates toward the target. Not only will working on your balance help you to trap your iron shots, but it will also help you to perform better in a number of different ways throughout a given round.
- Swing through to the finish. Even a good golf swing can be ruined by a lack of confidence and conviction at the bottom. As you swing down, commit yourself to swinging the club through impact aggressively, and continue that swing all the way up into a full finish position. When you lack confidence, the club will slow down as it approaches the ball, and a variety of negative outcomes can result. Remember, there is really nothing you can do at the bottom of the swing to fix any mistakes that you have already made, so you might as well turn it loose and see what happens. Commit yourself to swinging with confidence each time and your results are sure to improve.
Trapping your iron shots isn't actually all that complicated – it comes down to getting your hands and body slightly past the ball at impact. When you do that, you will hit down and the ball will be trapped into the ground before it launches off into the air. Of course, everything always sounds easier than it is in golf, so it will likely take some serious effort on the practice range before you are happy with the results you achieve. Be patient, stick with the process, and look forward to being rewarded once you are comfortable with the process of hitting trapped iron shots.
The Long Iron Dilemma
Trapping your short and mid irons is a no-brainer – most golfers will get great results once they learn how to trap the ball properly, and they will go on to continue using that technique for the rest of their golfing lives. However, when it comes to long irons, the story gets a bit more complicated. Trapping your long irons certainly is possible, but it is a good deal more challenging than it is with the shorter clubs. Since your short and mid irons have more loft than the long irons, they have an easier time getting the ball up into the air. To trap your long irons and have them still climb up into the air, you are going to need to generate impressive club head speed through the hitting area. That might not be a problem for a top professional, but it can be a challenge for the average weekend golfer.
So, should you try to trap your long irons, or should you opt to sweep them off the ground? The answer is going to depend on how much speed you are able to create in your swing. If you swing hard enough, trapping your long irons slightly is a great way to produce an impressive ball flight. However, without that necessary speed, you will only hit low bullets that fail to ever get up in the air and carry any significant distance. As a rule of thumb, if you usually hit your driver less than 240-250 yards, you likely don't have the swing speed needed to trap the long irons. Most of the time, it is only players who can drive the ball in the 260-280 range (and beyond) that are able to smash their long irons successfully.
Of course, the best way to decide how you are going to proceed on this point is to simply head to the range and work on it for yourself. Hit some long iron shots with the goal of trapping the ball into the ground and see how it goes. What does the ball flight look like on the shots that you hit cleanly? Is the ball climbing into the sky, or is it struggling to stay even a few feet off the ground? If you aren't able to get the ball airborne with any kind of consistency, you will want to revert back to a flatter swing through impact when hitting long irons. You can still hit quality long iron shots this way, so don't feel like you have to give up on your long irons all together. It is important to play to your strengths in golf, so hitting down hard on your long irons without the speed to pull off that shot is a mistake you don't need to make.
Trapping Short Shots
You probably don't think of them in the same way that you think of full swing iron shots, but chips and pitches from around the green are iron shots as well. With that in mind, should you be trapping these kinds of short-distance iron shots in the same way that you are trapping the ball with your full swing? In short, the answer is yes. In order to play great chips and pitches from near the green, you will want to trap the ball cleanly against the turf at impact. To do so successfully, follow the simple tips below –
- Hands in front (again). Keeping your hands in front of the ball while chipping and pitching is just as important as it is when you are hitting a full shot. Place your hands in front of the ball at address and then return them to that same position at impact. This task should be easier than it is in the full swing since you don't have to create so much speed in the swing. Just a simple rocking of the shoulders back and through the ball should be all it takes to catch the shot cleanly and send the ball toward the target with plenty of spin.
- Play the ball slightly back in your stance. With a full swing, the rotation of your lower body through the shot serves to move your center of gravity slightly left and in front of the ball in the downswing. That is not going to happen when chipping and pitching. Your lower body is going to be quiet on these shorter shots, so you should start with the ball back in your stance in order to facilitate a downward hit. Even placing the ball just an inch or two back of center will make it easier to hit down and trap the shot.
- Tight backswing. If you let the backswing get long on these short shots, you will have to slow the club down prior to impact – which is going to make it tough to trap the ball cleanly. In order to be able to accelerate nicely through impact, you will want to keep your backswing short and compact. Work on this technique in practice so that it is comfortable out on the course.
Trapping the ball against the turf with your irons is a technique that has the potential to make you a much better golfer. However, you are first going to have to put in some hard work if you would like to attain improvement via this method. As long as you are willing to be patient with your practice as you go through some growing pains, you should be able to come out on the other side as a vastly improved golfer.