Instruction: How to crush your long ironsHenrik Stenson ranked fourth on the PGA TOUR in 2013 on approach proximity from 200 to 225 yards.November 05, 2013
By Dave Myers, Staff Instructor, TOURAcademy TPC Sawgrass
The driver may be the longest, least-lofted club in your bag, but if you were to poll the average golfer on which club was the most difficult to hit, they would almost unanimously point to the long iron. That’s why club manufacturers invented the hybrid, a long-iron replacement that’s much easier to hit due to its wide sole and lower, deeper center of gravity. Still, nothing beats the precision of a well-struck long iron, and there are going to be times when even the weekend golfer is going to have to pull out their 5- or 6-iron — such as on a long par 3 or an approach shot where their hybrid is too much club.
According to statistics pulled from TOURCaddie (www.pgatourcaddie.com), the average 0-9 handicapper hits their 5-iron 175 yards on average, the 10-19 handicapper 168 yards, and the 20+ handicapper 149 yards. That’s quite a gap between the better player and the higher handicap golfer. Why the huge disparity? For one, most golfers simply don’t like hitting 5-iron. After all, how often do you see someone hitting a 5-iron on the range prior to their round? Probably never. You’ll see them hitting their sand or pitching wedge, and maybe a 7-iron, and then they’ll move right on up into the driver. You see, the long iron is already in their heads mentally before they tee off. So when the time comes to hit a controlled 160- to 180-yard shot on the course, how confident do you think they are standing over the ball with a 5-iron in hand?
It’s like any other shot in golf: If you’re going to get better at hitting your long irons, you have to practice with them more. The next time you tee it up, do some research beforehand on the course you’re about to play. If you know there are a few par 3s or 4s where you may need to hit 5-iron, then take a few additional minutes during warm-ups to hit a few 5-irons. Start off by hitting several punch shots, swinging from 9 (o’clock) to 3, so that you can feel and hear the ball coming square off the center of the clubface. Nothing helps your confidence more than the feeling of a few perfectly struck irons. Then progress into some slightly longer, but compact, swings. If you hit a couple of flush 5-irons in warm-ups, it will remove that apprehension you may be experiencing on the course. Here are a few other keys to help you become more efficient at hitting the longer irons.
APPROACH IT LIKE AN 8-IRON
How often do you feel nervous standing over an 8- or 9-iron approach shot? Unless there’s water between you and the green, probably not too often. That’s how you should treat a 5-iron, from the tight, compact nature of the backswing to the rhythm of the swing down to the ball position. The shorter distance the arms have to travel during the swing, the easier it is to keep your arms and club in sync with your body and make solid contact. When you take the club back very short, it encourages you to use your body rotation more to hit the ball the required distance, which is why everything seems to move together better. But as soon as your swing gets too long (which happens when you’re trying to hit the ball farther, and swing harder), the motion becomes all arms and you lose that connection with the body. It becomes much more difficult to square the clubface up at impact.
As for ball position, the No. 1 reason why amateurs struggle so much with their long irons--besides not practicing with them--is that they over-exaggerate how far forward they’re supposed to play the ball in their stance. I see many who play it off their left heel, or shoulder, like they would a driver. It’s so far forward that they can’t hit down on the ball and compress it. If you’re struggling to hit the ball solid with your long irons, then by all means, play the ball in the middle of your stance or a ball or two forward of center, like you would an 8-iron. This will help you to compress it better and launch the ball high with enough spin to carry it the appropriate distance.
KEEP YOUR HEAD STILL
At address, assume a wide enough stance (about shoulder-width) so that if someone tried to push you over, they couldn’t. Get to a point where you feel very balanced, and then start your swing. As you swing back, make sure that the brim on your cap does not move or turn off the ball. If you don’t wear a cap, then try to keep your head relatively still. This will not only ensure a short, compact backswing, but it will keep you more centered over the ball so that you can hit it more solidly. As soon as you sway or move off the ball, you’re dead. You’ll have a harder time controlling the low point of your swing and making consistent contact. Keep your head quiet, and the clubhead should bottom out just ahead of the ball, delivering that crushed, solid feel that will have you reaching for your 5-iron more in the future.
Dave Myers is a Staff Instructor at TOURAcademy TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. For more game-improvement tips from the TOURAcademy instructors, on-the-spot club recommendations and 3D previews of each hole you play, download the TOURCaddie PRO app at www.pgatourcaddie.com.