how to hit crisp iron shots

Better Iron Play: Compressed Iron Shots

Do you want to learn how to compress the golf ball and finally start hitting crisp irons?

If you can learn how to hit your irons pure the game becomes so much easier. Plus, there isn’t much as satisfying as being able to walk up to any approach shot with ultimate confidence in your swing.

But most amateurs don’t have this much confidence and usually have the goal of “getting it close to the green.” 

This lack of confidence happens for two main reasons. The first reason is that most amateur golfers don’t have the right technique. Most players try to help the ball up instead of hitting down on the ball and creating a solid divot.

Sound familiar?

The other main reason is that most golfers simply don’t practice with irons enough. My guess is because hitting 7 irons isn’t nearly as fun as hitting drivers.  

But with a few tweaks to your swing and setup you can learn how to hit crisp iron shots. 

4 Biggest Mistakes Most Players Make With Irons 

Think back to the last time you bombed a drive like Brooks Koepka straight down the fairway. How did you follow it up with your approach shot? 

Did you hit it long, short, pure, skinny, fat or just average?

There isn’t much more frustrating than hitting great drives only to continually miss the greens because of poor iron play. Here are four of the biggest mistakes that most amateur golfers make when hitting their irons: 

1. Trying to Help the Ball Up  

The biggest mistake most amateur golfers make with irons (and wedges) is trying to assist the ball into the air. Everyone wants to see the ball go high and land soft but there is no need to help it up. 

If you want to hit crisp irons and hit the ball high, you need to do the opposite and hit down on your irons. Don’t try to help the ball up as it won’t allow you to transfer your weight on the downswing.

Let me repeat that in case you didn’t get it, the key to golf approach shots is hitting down on irons.

As Butch Harmon said in Golf Digest, "Keep everything moving forward through impact -- your weight, your hands and arms, the grip end of the club; hit with the back of your left hand facing the target. Feel as if you're backhanding the ball at impact. You'll deliver the club with the correct loft, so an 8-iron behaves like an 8-iron, and you'll hit more greens."

2. Scared To Take a Divot 

I’m sure you’ve hit a few great drives only to thin an approach that sailed over the green before. It happens even to great players when you’re scared of taking a divot. But if you want to hit compressed iron shots, you can’t be afraid of taking some turf. 

So many amateur golfers seem to be afraid of taking a divot. Remember, to hit the ball up you must hit down and through the ball. 

3. Not Taking Enough Club

Most courses in the United States have one thing in common, the majority of the trouble around the green is short of the green. 

Why? 

Because most amateur players don’t take enough club with their approach shots! 

Usually, taking less club and trying to swing hard tends to make for some bad swings and even worse misses. Rather than swinging hard, use a ¾ swing to stay in control and not feel like you have to crush it to get on the green.

Make sure you are always taking enough club to ensure you can get it there without having to kill it. Get to know your distances in practice so you can learn to take an extra club and choke up if you need to take a few yards off. 

4. Not Making a Full Shoulder Turn

A lot of amateur golfers don’t turn on the backswing as much with irons as they do with woods. This is a huge mistake as an appropriate amount of shoulder turn is necessary to make a full backswing with your irons.

Make sure you are turning back and through just as you do with woods! 

Now that you know the biggest misses let’s show you how to hit your irons betty with these adjustments and drills. 

How To Compress The Golf Ball 

Your setup is key to hitting any shot in golf. The wrong setup makes the game harder than it needs to be. Here’s how to do it correctly:   

1. Stance and Shaft 

Depending on which club you’re hitting, your stance will adjust slightly in width. The longer the club the wider the stance. Another big mistake golfers make with irons is setting up with a narrow stance. If you have a narrow stance it’s hard to turn around the body and make a full shoulder turn.

To compress the golf ball you also want to have a slight forward shaft lean with irons. The more loft the more shaft lean.

2. Ball Position 

Like your stance, the ball position will adjust slightly depending on which iron you’re hitting. In general, the longer the club the more forward in your stance. Here’s where each shot should be in your stance for a normal shot: 

  1. Pitching Wedge: The ball should be positioned in the middle of your stance directly underneath the buttons on your polo. 
  2. Mid Irons (7-9): The ball should be in the front-middle part of your stance. 
  3. Long irons or hybrids (3-6): Longer irons and hybrids should be in between your logo and buttons of your shirt.

Once you’re setup properly it’s time to make sure your posture is also aligned to help you hit pure irons.

Posture is Everything

If you’re hitting thin and fat shots there is only one reason why...your posture! 

Your head plays a huge part in maintaining your posture throughout the swing. This video is a great example of what your head should be doing:

Head Position is Everything 

If you’re hitting fat & thin shots it’s because your head is moving up and down throughout the swing. This is changing the spine angle you created at setup.  If your head dips down on the backswing you have to come up on your downswing. This results in hitting the lower grooves on your club producing thin shots. While it’s not as big of a deal with woods, it can produce huge misses with your irons and wedges.

Alternatively, if you keep your head position during the backswing but drop on the downswing you will hit behind the golf ball resulting in a chunky shot. If you watch the best players in the worlds like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy or Adam Scott, you’ll be amazed how still their head remains through the swing.

You want to maintain the same head position throughout the swing. 

Drill #1: Fence Post Drill (at home or on the range)

This is a simple drill to help you feel your head in the same position throughout your swing.

  1. At home, stand in front of your mirror and cross your arms over your chest.
  2. Without a club, practice turning your shoulders back and through while looking at yourself in the mirror.
  3. Make sure your head position is not dipping down. You can also use a piece of tape to help. 

Drill #2: 

If you’re hitting left and right shots you’re probably moving too much laterally on your backswing. While you can rotate your head a little (research shows great players rotate one-three inches) you don’t want your body sliding. 

Here’s how to fix it: 

Backswing Sets Up Everything

While you don’t have to take the club straight back and straight through to hit good golf shots (just ask U.S. Open champion and Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk), your backswing ultimately sets up your downswing. If you’re in the wrong position at the top of your swing it’s very difficult to hit pure irons consistently.

Instead, your swing will rely more on timing to hit good irons which can result in some good days and bad days. Ultimately, you want to build a solid swing that doesn’t rely on timing to hit your irons better.   

Transfer Your Weight 

During your backswing, the number one goal should to getting your weight on the right side of your body. 

If you hang on the left and reverse pivot, you will keep weight on the left side. This will lead to a lot of thin shots as you aren’t hitting down and compressing the ball. 

On the downswing, you want to start with your hips and make sure your weight is moving back to your left side. Again, one of the biggest mistakes amateurs make with irons is keeping their weight on the backside and trying to help the ball up. I want to remind you again, there is plenty of loft on the club to get the ball airborne. 

Weight Transfer Drill 

Make a Descending Blow

Unlike swinging with your driver, irons should never approach the ball on an ascending arc. A good swing thought is to think about covering the golf ball with your chest.  Most irons require a descending blow, which means the lowest part of the swing arc is reached after you make contact with the golf ball.  That’s how you create those nice golf divots you see the pro’s hit on Sundays.

Cock Your Wrists Properly

With short irons and wedges, you want to cock your wrists sooner rather than later. This is especially true if you are hitting your irons fat or thin.  

With longer irons, you want a slightly slower wrist cock. This will help widen your swing and provide you with the flatter arc to hit long irons pure. 

Master The Release and Hold the Follow Through 

To hit better irons you want to feel like you are hitting down and through the ball. Try to feel like the ball is just getting in the way of your swing. 

You want to sweep through the ball, especially with longer irons. Once you complete the swing try to hold the finish like Rory as you stare down the dart you just hit! 

Drills

Watch this video and use these three drills to help you hit pure irons! 

What to Do Next

I recommend filming your swing and comparing your swing to the four biggest mistakes I mentioned at the beginning. Download the free Hudl Technique app as it allows you to watch your videos in slow motion and draw lines easily.

Go to the range and start understanding your misses. Are they right, left, thin, fat or a combination of both? Once you begin to notice a pattern you can look at some of the drills and common mistakes to start correcting them. 

Next up, check your equipment.  Make sure you are using irons that have this century's technology.  If you're using grandpa's irons from 1960, it's going to be pretty tough to hit compressed iron shots.  Dependent on your skill level, make sure you select the best irons for your game.  If you're just starting out, than means you don't need to go out and grab a set of blades because Tiger Woods hits them.  Instead, opt for forgiving irons such as the ones listed in our best irons for beginners article.

And finally, don't underestimate the importance of club head speed in delivering a solid compressed strike.  Here is a great article we've written on how to improve your swing speed.

Final Thoughts

If you want to start shooting lower scores and become a more consistent golfer, you can’t keep neglecting your irons anymore. Don’t keep hitting great drives only to scramble for par or bogey by ignoring your iron game.


While it might not be as fun as blasting drivers at the range, working on a few of these techniques is key. Use these tips and drills to start giving yourself more opportunities to shoot lower scores.  

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