How To Hit Iron Shots Like The Pros
Rick Ewing, PGA, Director of Instruction, Old Warson CC
If you think about the great players through the years, some have been really good drivers of the ball, some have been great putters, but one thing is certain for all players that win tournaments, particularly majors: Their iron play is top notch. Consistent iron play is all about controlling distance, direction, trajectory and spin. Here are a few keys to help you reach a higher level with your iron play.
Your grip plays an important role in the golf swing as it is the only body part connected to the golf club. There is not an exact grip for everyone, but there are a couple of guidelines to follow when gripping the club that will allow you to achieve both a better backswing position and control of the club head through the impact zone. You want to feel like you are holding the club more in your fingers than the palms. The base of your thumb should stay connected to your pointer finger on both hands (this will create a V shape). When you put your hands on the club you should align these V's towards your right collarbone.
At address you want to start with 60-70% of your body weight on the inside of your lead foot. This will ensure that you start on your lead foot, stay balanced equally at the top of the backswing and then return your weight to the lead foot on the forward swing. If you don't feel like you are in an athletic position while addressing the ball then you need to adjust it so you feel like you could move quickly in any direction (this position is similar to a defensive stance in basketball). Your shoulders should start in a level position. Do not try to elevate your lead shoulder in hopes that it will help you launch the ball; actually, this will cause you to do just the opposite. Consistent iron play will result from a descending blow on the ball and shoulder angle will play an important role. Everything done in the setup portion of the golf swing is designed to keep you in a balanced and level position throughout the swing and most importantly, ending up on your lead side as you swing around your lead foot.
The more compact your backswing, the easier it is to hit solid irons. When you begin the takeaway with your shoulder turn, the club should be pointing away from the target when it is parallel to the ground (about half way back). Controlling the clubface at this point is also important. When your club is parallel to the ground, the clubface should look slightly closed (it will look closed but will actually be square to your swing plane). To eliminate wasted motion, work on moving your hands on a circular path (45 degrees) to the top of the backswing. There is a simple checklist for the position at the top of the backswing (this is opposite for a left-handed player):
A) Flat left wrist (the hinge in the left wrist occurs in the bottom of the wrist, not by cupping it).
B) Angle in the right wrist (feel like you are holding a serving platter in the front of your right wrist).
C) Right elbow pointing at the ground (no chicken wing).
D) Keep your left forearm and shaft of the club on the same plane (45 degree angle).
Using a mirror at home or at a golf facility will allow you to get feedback on your backswing positions. Don't over think the backswing...you are not hitting the ball backwards.
3) SPINE ANGLE
One crucial element for good iron play is to maintain a constant spine angle throughout the swing. This enables you to hit down at impact, correctly taking a divot after the ball. Many amateurs tend to rise up as they swing the club down in a mistaken attempt to help lift the ball into the air. Lifting leads to poor contact such as fat or thin shots.
To correct this tendency, first swing to a finish position and then hold it for a moment, then bring the club back down as if someone hit the rewind button. You should be able to get right back into your address position. That's maintaining your spine angle.
4) FORWARD SWING and IMPACT
Once you have found a decent backswing position, to achieve the correct pinching action -- where club head meets ball and then descends into the turf, producing that textbook feel and sound at impact -- start with the forward swing sequence. The forward swing actually starts at two different times. The body and core start the forward swing even before the hands and arms finish the backswing. The body is actually turning back towards the ball while the hands and arms are still peaking at the top of the backswing. You should always be trying to rotate back to the ball (with your correct spine angle) faster than your hands are moving. This is where I see the most difficulty for my students. If you are trying to hit or swat the ball with your hands and arms first, you will experience a number of different looking shots. After your body has started to rotate, you can then begin to pull your hands back down the same circular path we discussed earlier. Remember, the position of the hands and wrists at the top of the backswing should be maintained all the way to impact. You should feel a slight rotation in the back of your left hand as you move towards the ball. The most successful ball-strikers all look very similar at impact with 80% of their weight on there left foot, their body slightly facing the target, their head even with the ball and their hands slightly ahead of the club at impact. If you can keep your body and your hands in front of the club head throughout impact then you too can become a world-class ball striker. If you are striking the ball first and then taking a divot slightly in front of the ball then you are well on your way.
This may be a little overwhelming as you read through and try to digest it all. I assure you, if you break it down in pieces from a practicing standpoint you can make all the necessary changes to your swing. Don't try to do it all at once. Spend a couple of weeks on each segment of the instruction and see what changes are possible. If you are playing a round then just play the round and enjoy it. Separate your practice and playing so you can fully enjoy this great game.