For senior golfers, long irons are something that often gets put on the shelf.

Senior Long Irons Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

Rather than continuing to use their long irons as the years go by, it’s common for seniors to put them away and opt for things like hybrids and fairway woods instead. While it can be a smart strategy to switch some of your longest irons out for hybrids, you don’t have to give up on all of them just yet. In this article, we are going to talk about what senior golfers can do in an effort to get the most out of their long irons.

It’s important to note that you don’t have to take an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to this category of clubs. As you work on your technique, you can see which of these clubs is still willing to cooperate for you, and which should be kicked out of the bag. For instance, you might find that your four iron and five iron still work very nicely, but your three iron just doesn’t get the job done anymore. You get to carry fourteen clubs for each round, and you want to make the most of those spots. View each individual club as its own case and keep those that work for you while looking for replacements for the ones that don’t perform.

All of the content 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.

Why Long Irons?

Senior Long Irons Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

Knowing that long irons are hard to hit, you might be wondering why you would bother at all keeping them in your bag. Shouldn’t you just toss them all out in favor of the easier to hit hybrid clubs? Not so fast. Yes, long irons can be hard to hit, but they also offer some advantages if you are able to execute your technique properly. In this section, we’d like to highlight some of the many benefits of using long irons, so you will have the proper motivation to work on improving your own performance in this area.

  • A penetrating ball flight. One of the best things about using long irons is the ability to move the ball through the air aggressively from long distance. The type of penetrating flight usually produced by a long iron is hard to replicate with any other style of club. Hybrids and fairway woods are promoted as being easier to hit higher than long irons, and that’s true, but you don’t always want to hit the ball high. Sometimes, you want to hit it low and cut it through the air. That might be because you are playing into the wind, or maybe because the course is firm and you want to let the shot run out. Whatever the case, having a long iron available to hit this kind of penetrating shot is a nice weapon in your arsenal.
  • Getting out of trouble. No one likes hitting their ball into the trees, but it happens from time to time in this game. When you do find yourself under a tree and in need of an escape, a long iron is a great option to have in the bag. Using an abbreviated swing to produce a punch shot with a long iron can cause the ball to come out low with plenty of speed. Trying to hit such a shot with a hybrid or fairway wood might lead to a higher launch than you would like. Of course, it takes a bit of practice to master this shot, so work on it at the range from time to time just to make sure you are prepared. Hopefully, you’ll keep your ball in the fairway more often than not, but having the ability to get out of trouble is an important skill.
  • Controlled tee shots. A common mistake made in the amateur game is to simply hit driver on every par four and par five tee without thinking twice. Sure, you’ll probably hit quite a few drivers during the course of a typical round, but you probably won’t want to use it on every non-par three. There is a lot of strategic thinking required on the golf course, and sometimes that means clubbing down for control purposes. When you need to hit a fairway on a relatively short hole, a long iron from the tee can be a great choice. As long as you are comfortable striking your long irons cleanly, you should be able to hit a lot of fairways with these clubs without too much trouble. And, since you are on the tee, you have the added advantage of placing the ball on a tee rather than having to hit it directly off the turf. It’s nice to have at least one long iron in your bag that can be used for producing accurate tee shots when the situation is right.
  • Deal with a dry course. When you play golf on a course that is particularly dry and the turf is rather firm, you can use that fact to your advantage by letting the ball run out. However, you will only be able to play running shots if you have a club or clubs in your bag that can produce flat shots. Most fairway woods and hybrids are designed to hit the ball high, which is great in many cases, but won’t necessarily let you run the ball out as you would like. With a long iron, you can hit a flat shot that is going to lead to a big bounce and plenty of roll up the fairway. Whether you are using the long iron for a tee shot on a par four or maybe to go for a par five green in two, you’ll appreciate what this club can do in dry conditions.

Long irons are a club category that has largely been left behind over the last 10 or so years, but don’t toss all of yours out in the garage just yet. As you can see, there are some notable benefits to be enjoyed when using long irons, as long as you can hit them well enough to reap the rewards. Moving on in the article, we’ll talk about how you can improve your play with these kinds of clubs.

Mechanical Points

Senior Long Irons Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

At this point, you might find yourself feeling pretty excited about the possibility of using your long irons to shoot lower scores in upcoming rounds. That’s great, but it will only work out on the course if you make some good swings and strike the ball solidly. In this section, we are going to cover some of the basic mechanical points to keep in mind while hitting long irons.

Before getting into those points, we do need to say that your long irons are not dramatically different from the other irons in your set. They are longer (obviously), but the general shape and tempo of your swing should remain the same. Basically, the points below are just minor tweaks (or points of emphasis) that we hope will get you on track and ready to play some of your best-ever shots with the long irons.

  • A wide enough stance. You probably play your mid- and short-iron shots with a relatively narrow swing, and that method works nicely for most players. With long irons, however, you’ll want to move your feet a bit farther apart so you can make a big turn and stay balanced. You need to produce plenty of speed through the ball to hit these clubs properly, and that is only going to happen with a sturdy base at address. Experiment on the range with a few different stance widths until you get to a point that feels comfortable and allows you to strike the ball nicely.
  • Don’t get too steep. As you take the club back away from the ball, make sure to keep your swing plane relatively shallow so you don’t wind up with a steep downswing when the time comes. Hitting down sharply on long irons is not going to end well, as you would need an incredible amount of speed to get the ball airborne when hitting down from a steep angle. Instead, you want to be thinking about sweeping these shots off the ground, while hitting down just slightly through impact. When hitting a long iron from the fairway, you shouldn’t take much of a divot, instead your club should just ‘scuff’ the top of the turf a bit on the way through. When hitting a long iron off the tee, you may find that you don’t even hit the ground at all. If you find yourself taking big divots when trying to hit long iron shots, that’s a sure sign that you need to correct your angle of attack.
  • Take your time. This point isn’t necessarily ‘mechanical’, but it does have to do with the way the mechanics of your swing unfold. It’s easy to rush through a long iron swing for a couple of reasons. First, you might find yourself rushing simply because your other iron swings don’t take as long to produce. A swing with a pitching wedge is shorter than one with a long iron, for instance, so you might find yourself replicating that short pitching wedge swing instead of making a swing long enough for a three- or four-iron. Also, you may be a bit nervous about the outcome of a shot with a long iron, knowing how hard they can be to hit. When that is the case, you’ll be likely to rush just to get it over with, and again, the quality of the shot could suffer in the end. To play quality long iron shots, you are going to have to learn how to take your time. Make a big swing, let the rotation of the swing develop naturally, and unleash all of your power when the moment of impact arrives.
  • Forward ball position. A faulty ball position can undo everything else that you work on with regard to your long irons. Since you don’t want to hit down too sharply on these clubs, make sure you are playing them forward of center in your stance. The exact right spot for you will depend on various factors, so this is another thing you are going to have to work on at the range in order to get it ironed out. For most golfers, approximately halfway between the middle of the stance and the left foot is going to be about right, but test a few positions on the range until you get the results you desire.

It would be a mistake to attempt to radically change your golf swing simply because you need to hit a long iron shot. It is necessary, however, to make small changes, just as you need to do when moving into any other area of your bag. The only way to dial in these changes, and to make them stick, is to spend time working on your long iron game during practice. Sure, you may not have a ton of confidence in your long irons currently, so practicing them might not be all that much fun, but it’s the only way to progress.


Senior Long Irons Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

We’d love to tell you that it will be all smooth sailing when you start working on your long iron game, but that just isn’t likely to be the case. Instead, there are going to be plenty of bumps along the way, and you will probably make progress in bits and pieces. To help you get back on the right track when things go sideways, we’d provided a few troubleshooting points in this section.

  • Not enough distance off the tee. If you find that you are hitting your long irons much shorter off the tee than you are from the fairway, it’s possible that you are teeing the ball too high. With the ball teed up too high in the air, you’ll make contact high on the face – and you’ll lose ball speed as a result. While you do want to use the tee to your advantage, you don’t want to tee the ball up so high that it makes it difficult to achieve clean contact. Try teeing the ball just barely above the top of the grass. Basically, you are using the tee to give yourself a perfect lie, but that’s it. It’s great to ‘tee it high and let it fly’ with the driver, but the same plan with a long iron is doomed to fail.
  • Hitting the ball fat. When you seem to hit the ground before hitting the ball more often than not, there are a couple potential problems to consider. First is ball position. If the ball is too far forward in your stance, you might not be able to reach it before striking the ground at the bottom of your swing arc. You do want the ball to be forward of center but going too far forward can get you into trouble. Try moving the ball back in your stance just a bit (it should still be forward of center) and see if this solves the problem. The other potential problem to consider is a downswing that’s just too steep. If your backswing is putting you in a high position at the top, you’ll have no choice but to swing down steeply into the back of the ball. Sometimes, you won’t line up your swing plane just right, and you will hit the ball fat instead of striking it cleanly. Work on flattening the plane of your swing with the long irons and your quality of contact may improve quickly.
  • Pushing shots out to the right. If you are producing a pattern of shots pushed to the right of your target, the timing of your swing is likely to blame. Specifically, you may not be taking enough time during the backswing to get into a good position. Pay attention to how much time you give yourself to turn your shoulders and don’t cut this time short. A full shoulder turn away from the ball is essential for quality long iron play. Not only will the big turn give you the chance to generate some speed, but it will also provide your swing with a natural timing that will help carry you through on the course.

You are going to have to get out to the range and work on this part of your game for yourself to see any progress. As mentioned above, it’s likely that your progress will not occur in a straight line, but rather you’ll have some periods of success followed by periods of frustration. Whatever struggles you encounter, do your best to be patient and work through them calmly and logically. It doesn’t help to get mad at yourself or anything like that – try to keep a cool head and take it one step at a time until you see the progress that you’ve been hoping to find.

Picking the Right Spots

Senior Long Irons Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

For this last section, let’s assume that you have made good progress with your long irons and you now feel confident using them on the course. That’s great! But, you’ll only get a benefit from this skill if you decide to use your long irons at the right times. If you put them into play when they really aren’t called for, you won’t come out ahead in the end.

The first thing to know about club selection for long irons is that you don’t want to force it. Just because you are now comfortable with these clubs doesn’t mean you should make yourself hit them whenever possible. The idea is always to pick the club and the shot that gives you the best chance for success. Evaluate each situation individually and make the choices that give you confidence in a positive outcome.

Another key is to understand that long irons perform best from good lies. That means they are a nice option off the tee or from the fairway. It’s hard to hit a quality long iron shot from the rough, and most amateur golfers shouldn’t even attempt to do so. Unless you happen to draw a great lie and the rough is pretty thin, mentally eliminate this idea and stick with the other clubs in your bag when a shot needs to be played from longer grass. Also, even if you are in the fairway, remember that long irons can be tough to hit from dramatically uneven lies. With the ball well above or well below your feet, playing a long iron shot is going to be a challenge.

Lastly, keep in mind that long irons are difficult to hit, and other clubs may give you a better chance at success in a given situation. For instance, if you think either your hybrid or your longest iron could work for a shot, go with the hybrid and buy yourself an extra little bit of forgiveness. There are no extra points given for difficulty in golf, so don’t take pride in making things harder on yourself than they need to be. It’s great to be able to hit your long irons well, but they are always going to be challenging, and some of your other clubs might be able to make life easier.

Should you keep several long irons in your bag for each round? Probably not. There is too much to be said for fairway woods and hybrids to carry a significant load of long irons in your bag these days. With that said, tossing them all out probably isn’t the right decision either. For many golfers, a middle ground is the way to go, using one or two long irons while also including some of the easier-to-hit fairway woods and hybrids. With the right mix of clubs, and the ability to use all of those clubs properly, lower scores should be on the horizon. Good luck!