I’m coming off a recent win at the CIMB Classic, and my iron game into the par 5s was a big reason I got it done. For the week, I played the par 5s at TPC Kuala Lumpur in 14 under par. That should get it done any week on tour. Most everyday players, however, loathe their long and middle irons and are reluctant to use them. That’s unfortunate, because these clubs are valuable tools. Whether you’re going for the green in two, trying to hit a green in regulation on a 200-yard par 3, or looking to run one up on a long par 4, let me help you rethink avoiding these clubs. I’ll take you through my strategy and swing thoughts with them and have you playing the longer holes better in no time. — with E. Michael Johnson
DECLARE YOUR INTENTIONS
Because amateurs typically have low expectations with longer irons, I’ve seen a lot of them get careless with these shots. Try to be more thoughtful. First, your goal should be to pick a conservative target so you’ll feel better about making an aggressive swing. Next, check your alignment. Some players set up to something closer than their actual target, but that doesn’t work for me. I focus on where I want the ball to end up, and I set up to make that happen by taking shot shape into consideration. For example, if there is water on the left and the pin is in the middle or the right side of the green, I’ll go at the flag. But if the pin is near the water, I’ll aim away from the trouble and try to work the ball back toward the green. Remember what I said about aggressive swings toward conservative targets. You never want to hit toward trouble and hope it curves away. What if you hit the dreaded straight shot?
TAKE YOUR TIME
Timing is super important. If it’s off, you’re not going to hit the ball very well. You’re better off swinging slower and making sure everything is moving in the right downswing order—body, arms, hands, then club. If you ever watch me swing a long iron, you’ll notice that although I’m about to hit a long shot, the shaft of my club does not reach parallel at the top. Don’t get me wrong; I make a good turn, and my arms are extended away from my body—that’s a good feeling to have—but the point is, I’m not overswinging. The tendency with longer irons is to put more effort into the shot than you would if you were swinging a pitching wedge. But if you swing these clubs just like your short irons, your timing will be a lot better. You’ll also have a better chance of making centerface contact, which matters most when swinging these clubs. This is especially true into the wind, so take your time.
If you want to hit one flush with a middle or long iron, don’t swing down too steeply. It’s a bad habit of mine, and I see it a lot from everyday players. It’s as if the swing thought is to trap the ball. Instead, you want the club coming in on a shallower approach so it can sweep the ball off the fairway—or even a low tee. This will produce crisp contact, a higher launch angle for better distance, and the height needed to get the shot to stop on the green. Good weight distribution is vital. When I’m too steep, it’s usually because I have too much weight on my left side as I start down. That pitches my body toward the target and prompts a steeper angle. But if some of my weight stays on the right side, I’m in business. Another benefit to being shallow is good extension of the arms, which improves contact and power. Trust me, you’ll hit it a lot better with extension than if you’re swinging with “crocodile arms.”