There are many elements to hitting good iron shots, any of which can be refined and improved with specific drills and practice aids. But perhaps the underlying, yet seemingly counter-intuitive, iron-play fundamental is that you have to hit down to hit up.
Any attempt to add loft, by flicking at it with the hands perhaps, will lead to poor ball-striking and inconsistency even if you have one of best irons on the market in your hands!
So, before anything else, remember that with irons you have to hit down on the ball rather than hitting it on the upswing.
How to hit an iron: Set-up
Getting your ball position right is crucial whatever iron you’re using (more of this later). If you have the ball too far forward in your stance, you won’t be able to move your body far enough forward in the downswing to get the club interacting with the ground below the ball at impact.
Ball position does vary between irons, but for most golfers, somewhere near the middle of the stance will be the optimum ball position with a mid-iron.
The takeaway requires a nice, wide low move away from the ball rather than any hint of picking the club up quickly with the hands.
Your weight should transfer across to your right side on the backswing, but guard against swaying off the ball rather than turning against your right side.
Focusing on staying centred over the ball with your upper body will prevent the unwanted lateral movement that makes it harder to strike your irons consistently.
Any lateral movement will demand well-timed compensating movements on the downswing. Far better not to sway off the ball in the first place!
Having turned rather than swayed to the top, a good idea is to make your first thought as you start back down to shift your right knee across towards the left.
This will improve your weight transfer and help to shift the low point of your swing arc forward, which will improve your ball-striking.
As explained earlier, good ball-striking requires a downward rather than upward angle of attack with the divot fractionally after the ball rather than before it.
A simple but effective way to hone your striking is to place a towel or sheet of card two to three inches behind the ball at address. Your goal is to then miss this on your downswing.
As your angle of attack and striking improve, you can move the towel or piece of card closer to the ball.
Now we will move on to the different types of iron and highlight the key differences between long, mid- and short irons.
Stance width will get narrower as you move down from long irons to short irons. You need a nice stable base for the wider swing arc a long iron requires, so feet just a fraction over shoulder-width apart with weight evenly distributed.
A handy rule of thumb for ball position with irons is ‘inches to iron number’ with reference to your left heel. So, with a 4-iron, for example, the ball should be 4 inches inside your left heel - further forward than with mid- and short irons.
The backswing should be just short of parallel, and don’t hurry the transition from the top – a common issue with long irons where many golfers are less confident and therefore more anxious.
You could, of course, turn to hybrids, but if you still prefer irons, it's always worth checking out some of the most forgiving irons currently available. Make sure your sternum stays over the ball as you rotate through to help you clear your hips. This is what pros mean by ‘covering the ball’ at impact.
The shorter shaft means you will now be standing a little closer to the ball, so it will need to come back in the stance (so 7 inches from the left heel with a 7-iron using the ‘inches to iron number’ mantra) to help promote the correct angle of attack.
The hands should be just a fraction ahead of the ball and the stance should narrow down to around shoulder-width.
The backswing should now be some way short of parallel as we’re moving into the clubs where distance control is more of a priority than out-and-out distance. You can always go up a club if you feel you’re going to have to hit it too hard.
Again, make sure your upper body is over the ball at impact, your hands are ahead of it and your hips keep turning. This promotes the downward attack angle needed to compress the ball and make ball-then-divot contact.
With short irons, your stance should narrow further, with ball position slightly back of centre. You want your hands to be ahead of the ball but not too far ahead, so resist the temptation to push them too far forward and get the shaft leaning too much.
A good thought is to keep the club and your left arm in a straight line from shoulder to clubhead. The backswing should become shorter still as the emphasis on control over distance increases.
Although control is now the main priority, resist the temptation to get too ‘steery’ and hold on to the shot more through impact
You still need to release the club fully with a short iron, so allow the clubhead to overtake the hands after impact so your swing can follow through into a nice flowing finish.
Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly across the whole spectrum from courses and Rules to equipment and instruction. He also edits The Golf Club Secretary Newsletter, a highly regarded trade publication for golf club secretaries and managers, and has authored or co-authored three books and written for a number of national papers including The Telegraph and The Independent. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played well over 950 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, right across the spectrum from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts, but put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.
Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf
Jeremy is currently playing...
Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft
3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft
Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft
Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts
Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts
Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)
Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response
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