Golf requires a lot of different shots which is one of the many reasons why it’s such a complex game.
Think about it, you have to learn how to hit it long and hopefully straight off the tee. Then hit your approach shots on or near the green. Then, get the ball in the hole in as few strokes as possible once you’re near the green.
All while managing your emotions, battling the weather, the course conditions, and your playing partners. Needless to say, a lot goes into playing consistently and scoring well.
One of the parts of the game that most players don’t understand enough is their mid-game. While all of us love to hit drivers on the range, not enough amateurs really understand the importance of good iron play.
A few reasons…
The first reason is that most amateur golfers don’t have the right technique. Far too many players try to help the ball up instead of hitting down on the ball and creating a solid divot. Plus, a few other issues that make it nearly impossible to hit consistent iron shots.
The second reason is that a lot of golfers simply don’t practice with their irons enough. Most players opt to hit drivers and woods on the range instead of really mastering their mid-game.
But when you learn how to hit irons consistently, the game gets so much easier. It will allow you to free your swing up on the driver (because you know you can usually get on the green) and positively affects your short game as well.
If you’re ready to finally learn how to hit irons and score better, this is the article for you. (This article is about generally hitting good iron shots. If you are specifically looking for help with long irons we recommend you check out our full article about hitting long irons.)
5 Iron Shot Mistakes Holding You Back From Solid Ball Striking
Before diving into all the best tips and tricks to improve your golf swing for solid iron play, let’s start with the biggest mistakes first. This way you can identify the top ones you might be making and learn how to address it moving forward.
Here are five of the biggest mistakes that most amateur golfers make when hitting their irons:
1. Trying to Help the Ball Up
The biggest mistake most amateurs make with irons (and wedges) is trying to assist the ball into the air. Every player wants to see the ball go high and land soft on the green because let’s get real, it’s a wildly rewarding feeling.
But understanding the best way to do this with your irons is key. Here’s the thing, there is no need to try to help the golf ball into the air.
Each iron has plenty of loft that is made to do just that!
If you want to hit crisp irons and hit the ball high, you need to do the opposite. Instead, you need to hit down on your irons to make it launch high with each strike.
Simply put, hit down so that the ball goes up. When you try to help the ball up, it won’t allow you to transfer your weight on the downswing.
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.”
Do not be afraid to take a divot and compress your iron shots.
2. Over the Top Club Head (Too Steep on the Downswing)
To get good iron shot after good iron shot, you need to learn how to shallow the golf club. It’s one of the things that all good players have in common and allows you to hit the ball much more consistently.
This will help the ball behave how you want, add distance, and get it started on the target line. This is a topic in itself so make sure to read our full post below.
3. Not Taking Enough Club
Did you know that most courses in the United States have one thing in common?
It’s not the type of grass, the number of par 3s, or the average distance per hole. So what is it?
It’s that the majority of the trouble is short of the green, not long. Rarely, if ever is the most trouble (like bunkers, water, waster areas, etc.) behind the green.
Because too many golfers don’t know how far each iron shot goes and thus, end up short.
Let’s get real, most of us think we hit the ball a little further than we do. Or, not enough golfers make solid contact because they try to swing too hard, hit it poorly, and end up short. Or are playing from the rough, not the fairway which is harder to make solid contact.
Which is exactly why the designer puts the trouble in front of the green. They know how most golfers hit their approach shots. Then, our golf balls end up in the hazards short of the green.
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. This less than full swing will improve the ball flight and will allow you to hit crisp iron shots effortlessly.
Make sure you are always taking enough club. That way you can avoid trouble, have more biride putts, and score better. 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!
5. Playing the Wrong Irons
The final reason a lot of players don’t hit their middle irons and long irons well is they play clubs that aren’t made for their game. Like any club in the bag, you need to make sure the club shaft and head match your golf game.
If the iron set is too small/unforgiving and/or too heavy, it’s nearly impossible to hit irons consistently.
How to Hit Irons Like a Pro
Now, let’s get into the proper mechanics so your ball ends up closer to the pin and you have more looks at birdies.
1. Own Your Setup
To make a good golf swing with any club, the first thing to always evaluate is your setup position. Without proper setup position, it’s so much harder to hit the ball consistently. Here is the correct position for the main setup components.
First, make sure you build a solid, steady base about shoulder width apart. A big mistake so many golfers make with irons is setting up with a narrow stance. If you have a narrow stance, it’s hard to turn your entire body enough.
Depending on which iron you’re using, your stance will adjust ever so slightly in width as well. The longer the iron, the wider the stance but always more narrow than your driver. You also want your mass 50/50 or maybe even 60/40 on the ground to compress the club face at impact.
Ball Position For Each Iron
Once your stance is dialed, you need to adjust your ball position depending on the iron. In general, the longer the club the more forward in your stance but not off your front foot.
Here is the correct position for each type of iron:
- Short irons: With a short iron, the ball should be positioned in the middle of your stance directly underneath the buttons on your polo.
- Mid-irons (7-9): The ball should be in the middle of your stance or slightly ahead (about one inch).
- Long irons or hybrids (3-6): Longer irons and hybrids should not be in the middle of your stance. Instead, they should be positioned between the logo of your shirt and buttons of your shirt. If the golf ball is teed up, you can have a slight tilt in your posture as well.
As Tiger Woods said in his book, How I Play Golf, “As the club becomes shorter, my stance width becomes narrower. My stance is wide enough to allow me to keep my balance, but not so far apart that it restricts motion in my upper body.”
Finally, make sure your hips, feet, and shoulders are all square to your intended target line. Having your feet square to your target is key and an area that a lot of players get wrong at address.
Also, 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. Understand Your Takeaway
The backswing ultimately sets up your downswing and what you do at the start of your swing sets you up for success or failure.
For example, if you pull the club inside on the backswing, you’re more likely to create an over the top swing. Or, if it’s too far outside during the takeaway, you’ll probably come from the inside on the downswing as the club hits behind the ball.
Keep Your Chin Up
As you take the club back, you also want to maintain your chin position.
As Tiger said in his book, “One of the most important aspects of good posture is to hold your chin high at address. You want your chin well off your chest so your left shoulder has plenty of room to turn under your chin on the backswing.”
Wide on the Backswing
Another significant part of the backswing is width. Too often, the average golfer will get steep and vertical on the backswing which creates a steep downswing as well.
Instead, you want to think, “How far can I move the hands away from my head?” This will help you keep your arms together and make a full swing on the way back.
3. Transfer Your Weight
During your backswing, the number one goal is to get your weight on the right side of your body. This will allow you to load up and create a solid strike on the way down.
On the downswing, you want to start with your hips and make sure your weight is moving back to your left side toward the target.
Start Down Slow
Another common error on the downswing is to rush it in order to get more power. But the opposite usually occurs. Instead, you want to start down slow and generate power so it’s at its peak at impact.
As Tiger said in his book, “The beginning of the downswing can’t be rushed. You want your swing to gather speed gradually, so that everything works in sequence and the clubhead reaches its maximum speed at impact. Remember, there can only be one fast moment in the swing, and it had better be when the club strikes the ball.”
Make a Descending Blow
Unlike swinging with your driver, irons should never approach the ball on an ascending arc (even if it’s on a tee). Irons require a descending blow, which means the lowest part of the swing arc is reached after you make contact with the golf ball.
- 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.
4. Maintain Posture in the Swing
To hit the ball well, you need to find the low point after the ball… meaning, the divot is ahead of the ball, not behind it.
If you’re hitting thin and fat shots there is only one reason why…your posture changes.
If you’re hitting fat & thin shots it’s because your head is moving up and down throughout the swing. If your head dips down on the backswing you have to come up on your downswing.
This move results in hitting the lower grooves on your club which produces thin shots. While it’s not as big of a deal with woods, it can produce huge misses with your irons and wedges.
Instead, you want to keep your head position the same on your backswing. Then, as you make the move on your downswing it’s okay if it drops slightly as you push off the ground to create power. This move will lead to more distance as you use the ground force to create momentum and speed in your swing.
Additionally, if you are looking at video of your swing make sure to look for side bend both on the backswing and downswing. Your shoulders need tilt in order to hit the ball off the ground.
5. 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. Too many golfers seem to slow down at the ball when they should use their hips and body to keep swinging hard to the top.
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!
Next Steps for Better Iron Play
If you’re ready to take your game to the next level, here is your iron action plan for better ball striking.
Always Use a Tee
On par 3’s, every once in a while I will get paired with a golfer who doesn’t tee up irons for some reason or another. But I think for most players this is a big mistake.
By using a tee and getting the ball off the ground, you’re giving yourself a better chance to succeed. Tiger said in his book that he always tees the ball up on par 3’s, even if it’s a wedge.
He claims that it plays a big role in helping guarantee solid contact. If it works for one of the best iron players in the world, I would say it will work for you too.
Record Your Swing
It’s important to establish a baseline before trying to tweak your swing.
I recommend filming your swing and comparing your swing to the biggest mistakes that are mentioned above. Download the free Hudl Technique app as it allows you to watch your videos in slow motion, analyze your swing and draw lines easily.
Once you have some videos, then you can learn if your target line is correct, if your right arm is bending, if your left shoulder is turning, or anything else you’re working on.
Use Drills in Technical Practice
To improve your ball striking, you might need some drills to create new habits in your swing. Here are five great drills to help you add distance and hit the ball more consistently with irons.
Fence Post Drill (at home or on the range)
This is a great drill to help you feel your head in the same position throughout your swing. Plus, you don’t need any fancy golf gadgets to make it happen.
At home, stand in front of your mirror and cross your arms over your chest. Without a club, practice turning your shoulders back and through while looking at yourself in the mirror. Imagine that your head is sitting on a fence post and not dipping during the takeaway.
Make sure your head position remains the same during your backswing. You can also apply a piece of tape to the mirror to ensure your head remains in the same position on the way back.
Lateral Slide Drill
If you’re hitting left and right shots you’re probably moving too much laterally on the way back. While you can rotate your head a little (research shows great players rotate one-three inches) you don’t want your body sliding.
This YouTube Video from Rick Shiels will help you avoid the lateral slide that plagues so many golf swings.
Weight Transfer Drill
If you’re a golfer who struggles with leaving your weight on your back leg, this drill is for you. All you need is a sand wedge and a mid-iron to get started.
If the ball is going all over the place and you need a reset, this drill is great. It will help you feel your upper body staying connected and work your way to hitting pure irons.
Technical Practice vs. Feel Practice
As you can tell, there are a ton of drills to help you strike your irons better than ever. But I want to emphasize that you shouldn’t spend all of your practice sessions working on technical stuff. While all these tips can help, over thinking your mechanics can hurt your game.
That’s why I suggest practicing on the driving range in a multitude of ways. Do not only spend each session with drills and working on the technical side of things. If you do, it’s hard to forget about all these swing thoughts when you head out to the course.
Instead, mix up your routines and types of practice. On certain days, work on your pre-shot routine without any swing thoughts.
Another option is to try the 9-ball practice that Tiger does. With this drill, he never hits the same shot twice and instead, tries to hit each shot differently.
For example, sometimes he’ll hit a high cut. The next shot is a low cut or flat draw. Each strike has a different type of ball flight and intended shot shape.
This will help you focus on playing golf instead of always thinking about your swing. Plus, it’ll help you lower your score by mastering all shot shapes.
Master Your Distances
To get the most of your mid-game, make sure to learn your distances as well. With so much technology, there’s no reason to not know exactly how far each iron travels.
Use a launch monitor at the range to learn how far each ball goes. Then, create a note in your phone to log the distance for each club. This will help you swing with more confidence on the course and hopefully leave yourself more looks at birdie.
Bonus Tip: Use More Hybrids
While all these different tips will help your golf swing, never forget to take advantage of technology. Specifically by using hybrids to replace those pesky longer irons.
If you don’t love these clubs and don’t feel comfortable with their distance or forgiveness, opt for hybrids instead. There is no need to make golf even more challenging by trying to strike long irons.
Final Thoughts to Better Iron Play
If you’re a great driver of the ball, you owe it to yourself to master your irons. Because as you know, there isn’t much more frustrating than hitting great drives and not having the score to match.
Neglecting your irons isn’t the solution, it’s time to address it head on so you can start making positive changes to your game. 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.