Tiger tips: how to make solid contact with your long irons
There have been many popular jokes about the difficulty of hitting long irons. My favorite is Lee Trevino’s quip about God, lightning and a 1-iron. He’s right. Tough club to hit. In fact, the 1-iron had a very brief lifespan in my bag when I was a junior golfer.
Whatever iron is the longest in your bag, the key is hitting the ball flush, because there is no substitute for solid contact.
The way I set up to the ball often depends on the feel of the shot. For a stock long-iron shot, I position the ball just inside my left heel, much like I do with a fairway wood. If I need to hit a low shot, I’ll position the ball farther back in my stance.
Nothing against the utility clubs that have replaced the longer irons in most average players’ bags, but there is no better feeling than a well-struck long iron that soars high and lands softly.
Shallow out the arc of your swing
To hit the long irons solid, it helps to have a shallow, more rounded arc on the backswing and to hit the ball at the bottom of the arc on the downswing. You want to attack the ball with the clubhead coming from inside the target line. A shallow arc also allows you to sweep the ball with your long irons as opposed to the steep swing you use with the shorter irons to hit down and through the ball.
The player who beats down on the ball with a long iron will have a tough time getting it in the air. Jack Nicklaus, one of the game’s best long-iron players, never seemed to take a divot.
Most amateurs don’t swing the club level through impact. They try to help the ball get airborne by lifting up through impact, and as a result they hit their long irons thin. Some amateurs swing too steeply on the backswing, bottom out the arc too soon on the downswing and hit it fat. Instead, think of swinging your arms around your body, and staying tall through impact.
I’ve been fortunate enough to experience feeling a solidly struck long iron a number of times, including a big-2-iron during the final round of the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. The shot was huge because of the situation. A two-stroke lead in a major championship isn’t that much, especially with some tough closing holes. After a solid drive to the left side of the fairway at the par-5 13th, I had 264 yards to the pin. I set up for a high cut and just nutted it, holding my finish like I’m doing here. That told me I swung in balance. The ball stopped about 30 feet below the hole. My eagle putt was a couple rolls short, but the easy birdie sent me on my way to victory.
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