The flight of your ball can be a very good indication what your club's shaft angle was at impact.
If your ball flight is too low, this could mean your shaft angle at address and impact was leaning to far forward (toward the target). For example, if you're using a standard 34 degree, 7 iron and your shaft was leaning 5 degrees forward, then you have reduced your 7 iron to only 29 degrees of loft. For most golfers this excessive shaft lean will produces a shot that is less accurate and too low. The flip side of this is the ball will go further because the golfer has essentially turned his 7 iron to be like a 6 iron (but at the cost of consistency).
We often see golfers who switch to Hybrid Irons getting higher trajectory and less distance than they're accustomed to for that particular numbered club. Hybrids have a wider sole that likes to sit level on the ground, so most golfers end up not leaning their shaft forward (de-lofting the club) like they tended to do with their regular irons (often without realizing it). So with the Hybrid, they are actually getting the proper height and distance for that numbered club; even if it's not the distance they are accustomed to from their standard irons. This is actually a good thing. The important thing in golf is to have a consistent, reliable distance from club to club, and this is easier when each club is used with its proper loft. When you want more or less distance, simply move up or down one club.
If you want to lean the shaft forward because you are having a problem getting a solid hit, try leaning the shaft only 1 to 2 degrees. This will help produces more of a downward blow and solid contact, but without so much loss of loft and lower ball flight.
Managing the Shaft Angle of Your Irons and Hybrids
Hitting good golf shots is all about finding the right position at impact. When your body and the club are both positioned correctly as the club arrives at the ball, you will be able to strike a shot that is clean and accurate. If either element – the body or the club – is out of position, your shot will not be a success.
One piece of the impact position puzzle that is often overlooked is shaft angle. When you hit a golf shot with any of your irons or even your hybrids, the shaft should be angled slightly toward the target at impact. This shaft angle is often called a 'forward lean', and it is what allows you to hit down through your shots nicely. Without a forward leaning shaft angle at impact, you would be forced to hit up at the ball – which is never a good thing when swinging an iron or hybrid club. If you wish to be a consistently solid ball striker, you will need to work on finding the proper shaft angle at impact.
As with anything else related to your impact position, proper shaft angle is a result of what has occurred earlier in the swing. A forward leaning shaft at impact is possible when you use proper fundamentals from the time you start your swing until the moment when the club collides with the ball. There isn't enough time in the downswing to manipulate the club into the right position to achieve a forward lean, so you need to put the 'building blocks' of the swing in place earlier. By doing things right in the backswing, you will make your job much easier in the downswing.
Good shaft angle at impact is something that all of the professional golfers you see on TV have in common. While each of them has their own unique swing technique that they use, all of them will arrive at impact with the shaft in a good position. It simply isn't possible to play consistently good golf without placing the shaft in the right spot time after time. Golf can be a complicated game, but sometimes it is quite simple – use proper fundamentals to put the club in the right position, and you will hit good shots.
All of the instruction included below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Signs of Poor Shaft Angle
As always, you need to first make sure there is a problem in your golf swing before you try to make any changes. Adjusting your swing to fix your shaft angle – when your shaft angle is just fine to begin with – would be a big mistake. Fortunately, there are a few signs that you can watch out for in your own game that will alert you to a shaft angle problem. If any of the three signs below are showing up consistently in your game, shaft angle may be something that you need to improve.
- Fat shots. This is the classic sign that you aren't successfully achieving a forward lean with your shaft angle at impact. If you are hitting your iron shots fat on a regular basis, your shaft is likely vertical at impact, or even leaning away from the target slightly. When this happens, it is usually because you are releasing the club prematurely in the downswing. Fat shots are frustrating because they come up well short of the target, and often leave your ball in a difficult position. Hitting your shots the right distance is one of the basic keys to playing good golf, so eliminating the habit of hitting iron shots fat needs to be a top priority.
- High launch angle. There is nothing wrong with hitting your iron shots high into the air – in fact, it can be a great advantage out on the course if you are able to throw your iron shots up into the sky and bring them down softly on the green. However, you would like to see a ball flight that starts out somewhat low and uses spin to send the ball up into the air, rather than a shot that simply starts on a high trajectory. When your shots start out on a high path immediately off the club face, you will know that your shaft angle is not leaning forward at impact. To create a high launch with your irons or hybrid clubs, you must be leaning the shaft away from the target when you strike the ball. The combination of high launch and low spin is great for your driver, but it is bad news on iron shots. When you notice this kind of ball flight in your iron game, it is a safe bet that poor shaft angle is to blame.
- Lacking distance. There are a number of variables that go into determining how far you will hit the ball, and shaft angle at impact is one of those variables. If you are unable to get the shaft of your club into a forward leaning position at impact, you will be leaving yardage on the table. Simply by getting the shaft slightly in front of the ball at the bottom of the swing, you could stand to gain distance even without swinging the club any faster. When you notice that all of your playing partners are hitting the ball farther than you with their irons, take a close look at your shaft angle to see if that might the root cause of the power loss.
Golf is a complex game, and noticing one or more of the three signs above doesn't necessarily mean that you have a problem with shaft angle in your swing. Once you discover one of these problems, however, you should investigate further to get to the bottom of the issue.
The Proof is In the Video
Once you suspect that there may be a shaft angle problem in your swing, the best step to take is recording your swing on video. By getting a look at your swing technique on a video recording, there will be no doubt as to the position of the shaft at impact – because you will be able to see it for yourself. Since most people have a cell phone capable of recording video these days, it should be very little trouble to capture a recording that you can later use to analyze your swing.
To start, head to your local driving range and take a friend with you for the practice session. Once you have warmed up sufficiently, hit a few shots with one of your mid-irons and ask your friend to record your swing. You want to have them recording from the 'face on' angle, meaning that if you looked up from your stance at address you would be looking right at the camera. This angle is perfect for this purpose because it will allow you to see the angle of the shaft at impact. Record a few swings so that you can watch all of them and spot any variations in your technique from shot to shot.
Once you get back home, take some time to carefully review the video that you have captured of your swing. If possible, try to pause the video at the exact moment of impact – or as close to it as possible. What do you see? Is the shaft leaning toward the target as you strike the ball, or is it standing straight up? Hopefully, you will already have a forward tilt to your shaft angle at impact. If not, you will quickly know that this is an area of your swing which needs improvement. Save this video, as it might be helpful later on when you are diagnosing the problems in your swing that are leading to the shaft angle issues.
One other thing to look for in the video is the finish position that you reach when your swing has been completed. Ideally, you will see that the majority of your weight has moved onto your left foot as you watch the ball sail toward the target. However, many players who have problems with their shaft angle will struggle to reach that classic finish position. Instead, they may finish the swing with too much weight on the right foot – a result of not using enough body rotation in the downswing. Don't be surprised if you find both of these issues in your swing when watching the video. While it might be frustrating to see that you have a couple of problems to solve, there is good news – the same fixes that you will implement for the shaft angle correction should also improve your finish position.
Using a video recording should provide you with the definitive proof that you need regarding potential shaft angle problems in your swing. If the video looks good and the shaft is leaning toward the target at impact, you can move on to working on other parts of your swing. If not, the content below will help to get your shaft angle in the right position at impact so you can get your game back on track.
Focus On Your Hands to Solve the Problem
Getting your hands in front of the ball at impact is really all you have to do in order to achieve proper shaft angle. As long as your hands are past the ball when contact is made, you will automatically know that you have accomplished a forward tilt at impact. Of course, if you are used to hitting the ball while your hands are behind the position of the club head, this can be quite an adjustment. It will take some practice time on the range to learn the new mechanics necessary to make this change.
To get started, you are going to hit some shots with one of your wedges on the driving range. Always start with a short club so you can simplify the swing and learn the right technique before you apply it to your longer clubs. Your pitching wedge is the perfect club to get started with, but you can use a sand wedge as well if you would prefer. The shots that you hit at first aren't going to be using your normal swing, but rather they will be hit with a modified swing as outlined below. Follow these step by step instructions to complete this drill successfully.
- Set aside 10 range balls for use in this drill. You can repeat the process as many times as you would like until you become comfortable with the techniques involved, but each 'round' of the drill will require you to hit 10 shots.
- For the first shot, take your address position as you would for any other swing. Make sure you are in a good posture with your knees flexed and back straight. Don't cut any corners when you are preparing to hit shots in this drill. All of the little details matter just as much when you are practicing as when you are out playing on the course.
- Once you have taken your stance, move your hands a few inches forward so that they are in front of the position of the ball. If you have ever used a 'forward press' while putting, this is the same idea. You don't want to change anything else about the position of your stance, except to move your hands forward slightly (approximately 3-4 inches). As you look down, your hands should now be in front of your left thigh, rather than in line with your belt buckle.
- With your hands repositioned, start the club in motion by making your normal takeaway. However, you are only going to go partway through the backswing before transitioning to the downswing. For this first shot, swing back until your hands are in front of your right thigh, and then swing through the ball and hit the shot. This motion won't be much different than your usual pitching motion, and the ball will only fly 20 or 30 yards. Achieving great distance isn't important at this point – the quality of contact is your main goal. With your hands set in front of the ball prior to starting your swing, you should notice that it immediately becomes easier to hit down through the shot. Your contact should be crisp, and the ball should come out with plenty of spin.
- Moving on to the next ball, you are going to repeat the same process, only this time you will make a slightly larger swing. If your first shot flew 30 yards, try to hit this one around 40 yards. Again, focus on the quality of the contact that you make with the ball.
- Continue on through the remaining eight range balls until you have hit all ten that you set aside for this drill. Each swing should be slightly longer and more powerful than the one previous. The final shot of the set of ten should be a normal full swing, except you will have started with your hands ahead of the ball at address.
This drill is a quick and easy way to learn how to get your hands in the right position at impact. Once you feel the quality of contact that can be achieved by getting your hands in front of the ball, you will suddenly understand what you should be trying to do with each swing that you make around the course. When hitting any iron or hybrid shot, moving your hands past the ball at impact is crucial toward a clean strike and great distance. Repeat the drill as many times as you would like until you are comfortable with this swing concept.
When you are satisfied with the progress that you have made while doing this drill, you can then move back to your normal address position and try to hit some shots with your usual swing. However, don't forget what you have just learned by going through that drill. As you make your swings, focus on pulling your hands down from the top of the backswing so that they beat the club head down to the ball. Think of it as a race – if your hands are past the ball while the club head is still approaching impact, you have a great chance of hitting a quality shot.
Don't rush into hitting your long clubs using this new technique, as the long irons are far more demanding than short and mid-irons. Stick with the shorter clubs for a period of a few practice sessions until you are confident in your ability to create forward shaft angle at impact. When you do start hitting hybrids and long irons, be sure to keep your patience and understand that the results will not be instantaneous. Stick with it and repeat the drill above as often as necessary. In time, the concept of getting your hands in front of the ball will be something that comes naturally, and your ball striking will be better for your efforts.
The On-Course Adjustments
Any time you make changes to your swing, there will be changes to your standard ball flight that come along at the same time. While that is usually a good thing, it can still take some time to adjust to a ball flight that you aren't used to producing. Over the years you have probably learned to compensate for your old ball flight by aiming to the left or right of the target, but that might no longer be necessary. It will take a few rounds worth of shots for you to learn your new patterns and then adjust your aim accordingly.
To make this transition as smooth as possible, use the three tips below –
- Play safer at first. Rather than aiming right at the flag on each of your approach shots, start out by picking conservative targets for your irons shots until you master your new ball flight. Aim at the center of the green, or at least at the side of the green that provides the most margin for error. Doing this will not only help to keep your ball out of trouble, but it can also boost your confidence knowing that you don't have to hit a perfect shot each time you swing the club. As you get more and more comfortable with your new ball flight, you can slowly start to be more aggressive.
- Expect more spin. If you are successfully getting your hands past the ball at impact, you should expect your shots to have more backspin when they land on the green. This is especially true of your wedges. Don't be surprised if all of your iron shots stop faster than they did with your old swing, and your short wedge shots may even spin back toward you when they land (depending on what kind of ball you are using). The exact amount of spin that you generate will vary based on a number of factors, but some degree of increased spin is highly likely.
- Better distance from the rough. Players who don't accomplish forward tilt with their shaft angle at impact often are unable to hit long shots from the rough. However, now that you have improved your shaft angle, you may find that your shots from the rough are flying longer than ever before. Remember, shots played from the rough tend to come out with very little backspin, so plan on bigger forward bounces when hitting into the green from out of the rough.
Good shaft angle with your irons and hybrids means that the club is angled toward the target at impact. Use video to analyze the current state of your shaft angle, and then make the corrections to your swing as necessary using the simple drill outlined above. There are many ways in which a forward leaning shaft angle at impact can help to improve your game, so this technical point is one that is certainly worth your time and attention.