Golf Tips for Better Long Iron Play

So you refuse to give up your long irons for hybrids, huh? More power to you, fella.

As long irons (those numbered 2 through 4) have become scarce among both amateur and pro golfers, so have tips designed to help golfers hit their long irons better. Presumably, anyone still carrying a 3-iron is good enough not to need much instruction.

In fact, long irons are tough to hit for anyone. If you're one of the few, the proud still clinging to yours – but occasionally struggle to hit them well – here are a couple of simple keys that could fix your problems.

  • Check your ball position: Because of their low loft, it's tempting to try and lift long irons into the air. At address, many golfers play the ball too far forward (toward the lead foot) and end up hitting shots either thin or fat. Remember, long irons are irons and should be struck with a slightly descending blow. Play the ball a few inches forward of center and watch them soar.
  • All about tempo: As clubs get longer, there's a natural tendency to swing harder. Not only can this lead to disaster with long irons, it's entirely unnecessary. Concentrate on making a slow, smooth backswing and mimicking that pace on the downswing. On the driving range, hit a few full wedge shots, then switch to a long iron and hit it with the same tempo. That's the rhythm you want.

Here's another great drill for developing and maintaining great tempo and balance: Feet-together drill.

There's no reason to ditch your long irons if you can hit them consistently well. Keep these two tips in mind and you may not need hybrids after all.

Golf Tips for Better Long Iron Play vs. Long Hybrids

Golf Tips for Better Long Iron Play vs. Long Hybrids

Long irons are notorious for being some of the most difficult clubs in the bag to hit. Golfers have long struggled to strike their long irons cleanly, and achieving a high ball flight from a three or four iron is a skill that few ever master. For that reason, many golfers have turned to hybrid clubs over the past decade as an easier option. Hybrids can cover the same distance as long irons while providing a larger sweet spot and higher launch angle. As club manufacturers have developed more and more hybrid options, the choice was easy – ditch your long irons and fill up the bag with a variety of long hybrids.

Unfortunately, that means that many golfers have given up altogether on the idea of learning how to hit their long irons. While they may be tough to hit, long irons do offer some advantages that aren't easily replicated with hybrids. For instance, long irons are easier to hit on a low trajectory, which allows for a penetrating ball flight and plenty of roll. If you play a lot of golf in windy conditions, the ability to hit solid long iron shots is extremely valuable. Make no mistake, hybrid clubs are great and worthy of a place in your bag, but long irons shouldn't go the way of the dinosaur just yet.

In reality, you don't have to be the best ball striker in the world to produce useful shots with your long irons. Yes, they will always be harder to hit than your driver or your short irons. With the right technique and some quality practice time, however, it is possible to learn how to hit quality shots with your long irons. You may never be able to launch them high into the air like a Tour pro, but that doesn't mean you need to banish them to a dark corner of your garage.

One of the keys to successful long iron play is simply knowing when to choose a long iron for a specific shot, and when to turn to your hybrids instead. There are some long shots that are well-suited for a long iron, while others may be too difficult (or require too much carry) to use a three or four iron. By only using your long irons when you are sure that you can execute the shot at hand, you will build confidence and start to create a more positive attitude toward those clubs.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please be sure to reverse the directions as necessary.

The Advantages of Long Irons

The Advantages of Long Irons

By now you have probably heard plenty of bad things about long irons from fellow golfers and even golf teachers. There are certainly valid concerns over amateurs carrying too many long irons in the bag, but it is also important to highlight the positive attributes that these clubs bring into your game. Before you decide on how many long irons and hybrids to carry among your 14 clubs, be sure to consider the following benefits to be gained from including at least a couple long irons.

  • Low, accurate tee shots. When you confront a short par four with a narrow fairway, finding the short grass off the tee should be your top priority. While a hybrid club can serve this purpose as well, hitting a long iron from the tee is a nice choice because you can usually keep the ball low to increase your accuracy. When you launch the ball high up into the air – as many players can do with a hybrid club – it has more time to drift off line. A low, penetrating ball flight with a three iron is a great way to keep your ball in the fairway and position yourself for the approach into the green. As an added bonus, you get to place your ball on a tee for this kind of shot, which means making solid contact with the long iron will be significantly easier.
  • Fight the wind. Playing in windy conditions can be a real challenge, especially if you don't have any clubs which are designed to cheat the wind by keeping the ball low to the ground. The design of hybrid clubs is intended to help you get the ball into the air – which is a great thing, unless the wind is blowing. On a windy day you want to be able to play plenty of low shots all around the course, and nothing does that job better than a long iron. Learning how to hit solid shots with your long irons is a valuable skill to possess even if you only put it to use when the wind comes up.
  • Punch out of trouble. One of the key functions of long irons is to 'punch' your ball out of trouble and back onto the fairway. If you hit a poor drive into the trees, you will often need to hit a low shot that keeps your ball under the limbs while it makes its way back onto the green part of the course. This is another job that is better suited to a long iron than a hybrid club. Again, hybrid clubs are meant to get the ball in the air, so using them for punch outs will put you at risk of hitting the ball too high. Hopefully you don't have to punch out very often during your rounds, but when you do, a long iron will come in handy.

Long irons are good for more than just the three examples above. They are handy when you need to carve a shot to the left or right to get around an obstacle, as the lack of loft makes them easier to curve than some of your other clubs. Also, long irons may be able to achieve even more distance than your hybrids when used on a dry golf course that is offering plenty of roll out. A hybrid shot that flies high and lands soft may come up shorter overall on a dry course as compared to a low-flying long iron shot that takes some big bounces after landing in the fairway.

Think through the list above and decide if your game could benefit from some of the advantages that long irons have to offer. For most golfers, the answer will be a resounding 'yes'. Now that you understand just what long irons can do for you, it is time to work on improving your technique with these challenging but rewarding clubs.

Minor Long Iron Adjustments

Minor Long Iron Adjustments

As you likely would guess, you don't want your long iron swing to be dramatically different from the swing you use with the rest of your clubs. In fact, your swing should look mostly unchanged from your driver all the way down to your sand wedge. Of course, as you move through your bag, you do need to make minor adjustments in order to optimize your performance for each club. Rather than a drastic overhaul of your swing mechanics, you should only make small tweaks to your setup position, as well as altering your mental approach to the swing.

Below are three points to keep in mind when preparing to hit any long iron shot.

  • Give yourself time. Since the shaft of your three or four iron is going to be longer than that of your sand wedge, your swing needs to be longer as well. Many golfers struggle with their long irons simply because they don't give themselves enough time to complete the swing. As you work on your long iron swing, remember to take plenty of time during the transition phase of your swing to allow your lower body to initiate the rotation toward the target. If you rush at the top of the swing, you will never be able to generate the power necessary get the ball up into the air with a long iron.
  • Move the ball up in your stance. Most players are best served by playing a wedge shot from the middle of their stance. You can't say the same thing, however, about a long iron shot. When you position the ball in the middle of your stance as you prepare to hit a long iron, you are asking for trouble. Instead, move the ball up closer to your front foot so you have room to slide the club along the turf prior to impact. While you want to hit down into your short and mid-irons, you want to 'sweep' your long irons off of the turf instead. Place the ball just to the inside of your left heel at address and you will find it much easier to achieve a proper ball flight.
  • Don't force it. It is easy to get nervous when you are trying to hit a long iron shot. If you are concerned about the quality of the shot you are going to hit, you may try to 'force' the action by using your hands too much through the impact area. This is another point in your golf game where trust is essential. As you swing down toward impact, trust your swing to generate a quality shot without any extra help at the bottom of the swing. Execute your mechanics properly, swing with confidence, and expect to achieve great results.

A big part of the battle with your long irons is going to be mental. You don't actually have to make a swing that is any different than the swings you make with other clubs in order to hit nice long iron shots. However, looking down at a long iron with a thin head doesn't inspire the same kind of confidence that you will have when you look down at a hybrid club. Try to get past the visual intimidation of the long iron and trust your swing to get the job done.

Use the Proper Equipment

Use the Proper Equipment

The equipment you use has a lot to do with the quality of golf that you will be able to achieve. No, buying new gear isn't going to fix all of your swing problems, but the right clubs can help you maximize your performance with your current swing. Specifically, having the right long irons in your bag can make it easier to get the ball up into the air even off of a tight fairway lie.

It all starts with the club head itself. Usually, the club heads that you have for your long irons will be the same as the rest of your iron set. If that is the case, make sure you are using a set with a cavity back design and plenty of weight in the sole. Blade-style irons may look great when they are rattling around in the bag of your favorite Tour pro, but they are likely too difficult for you to hit consistently. Unless you regularly shoot in the 70's or better, leave the blade irons alone and find a quality set of cavity back clubs.

Of course, there is another option if you want to play some blade irons even though you shoot in the 80's or 90's. You could build a mixed set, where you have blades in your shorter irons and cavity back club heads for your long irons. This is an increasingly popular choice, and it is a method even used by some professionals. You can find a set that is already designed in this fashion, or you can build your own by purchasing different models for your short and mid-irons as compared to your long irons. If you take this approach, consider using blades for your 6-PW, while you use cavity backs for your 3-5. This setup gives you the best of both worlds in many ways – you will have the control and feel of blades when you are trying to hit the ball close, and the forgiveness of cavity backs when you are hitting a long shot.

Another factor to consider is the shaft that you are using in your iron set. Most golfers opt for graphite shafts in their woods and hybrid clubs, and steel shafts in their irons. There is nothing wrong with this configuration, and it will work nicely for most players. However, if you find that you are having trouble getting the ball up into the air with your long irons, consider putting graphite shafts in those clubs as well. The lighter weight of the graphite shafts will help you increase your club head speed through impact, and many graphite shafts have a tip design which is meant to increase launch angle. By finding the right graphite shaft to match your swing, you can instantly improve the ball flight characteristics that you achieve with your long irons.

Don't be afraid to experiment with your equipment until you settle on a combination of club head and shaft that leaves you with a great ball flight. What works for one player won't work at all for another, so it really is up to you to try different gear until you locate the perfect fit for your swing. While experimenting is good, make it a goal to settle on a specific set of clubs and then use that set for a long period of time. Once you are confident in the gear you have in hand, the experimenting should come to an end as you focus in on playing the best golf possible with the equipment you have chosen. At the end of each golf season, do a review of your gear and decide if there are any places where you need to make a change before the next season begins.

The Strategy of Long Irons vs. Long Hybrids

The Strategy of Long Irons vs. Long Hybrids

It is possible (and recommended) to build a set of clubs that includes both long irons and long hybrids. After all, you are allowed up to 14 club by the rules of golf, so you should take advantage of all of those slots and construct a set that helps you battle the course to the best of your ability. Whether you decide to have one long hybrid and a few long irons, or vice versa, is up to you.

Once on the course, you will need to have a strategy in mind for how you are going to pick between your long irons and long hybrids for any given shot. You will probably have some overlap in your yardages with these clubs, so you can't always base your choices on distance alone. For example, you may be able to hit your three iron 200 yards, while your 21* hybrid goes about the same distance. Rather than choosing the club based on yardage, you can pick the proper stick based on the layout of the course in front of you.

Use the following three tips to select the right club and put yourself in a position to succeed –

  • Forced carry = long hybrid. When the course requires that you carry the ball most of the distance to the target – such as when you are hitting over a water hazard – you will always want to opt for the hybrid. Your hybrid clubs simply offer more forgiveness than do your long irons, and you want to have that extra margin for error on your side when you are taking on an intimidating shot. Even if the ball stays in the air too long and goes slightly over the target, that will usually be better than coming up short into the hazard.
  • Into the wind = long iron. This one should be obvious. If you are playing a long shot into the wind, and not hitting over a hazard, you want to rely on your long irons to get the job done. You are likely to get a lower ball flight out of your long iron shots, meaning the wind won't be able to affect the flight of the ball as much. This rule also applies to cross-wind shots for the same reason. The only time you will use a hybrid in windy conditions is when the wind is helping your shot and you wish to maximize distance. Other than that, reach for your long irons when the wind comes up.
  • Long par threes = long hybrid. Hitting from the tee of a long par three hole is a challenge for almost any golfer. Using your long hybrids in this situation is your best bet because you will be able to get the ball higher in the air, which means stopping the ball faster on the green. It is one thing to land your ball on the green of a long par three – it is another thing entirely to get the ball to stop while still on the putting surface. A hybrid gives you the best chance of reaching that goal, so you will want to leave your long irons in the bag on long par threes more often than not.

Club selection is a skill that is developed over time as more and more experience is gained on the course. Pay close attention to the decisions you are making as you move around the course, and learn from each one. You aren't going to pick the right club for every shot, but if you learn from your mistakes, you will get better and better as time goes by.
Hitting long irons is a difficult challenge, but it is one that is worth taking on for the average golfer. Even if you only use your long irons for hitting a few tee shots and punching out of the trees, they are still worth having in the bag. When used in a set that also includes some long hybrids, you can be well prepared for just about any shot that could be presented to you on the course. Spend plenty of time on the driving range practicing with your long irons, and make sure they consist of a club head and shaft that are right for your game. Investing time in improving your long iron play is something that can quickly show up in the form of lower scores on the card.