Many recreational golfers struggle with the trajectory — how high the ball gets in the air — on iron shots. A common question from amateur golfers who struggle with their iron shot trajectories goes like this:
I have great difficulty getting any loft with my irons, even the short irons. The trajectory is flat and often only a few feet off the ground. What should I do?
The answer, according to golf instructor Michael Lamanna (director of instruction at The Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz.), is to think about impact position. We posed the trajectory question to Lamanna, and he responded by providing a checklist for golfers struggling to get their iron shots up into a higher trajectory:
Low shots are the result of a faulty impact position (the position of the clubface as it strikes the ball) that de-lofts the clubface. Impact is the moment of truth in golf. Ben Hogan said, "The ultimate judge of your swing is the flight of the ball," and impact determines ball flight. If your shots are too low, there must be a flaw in your impact position.
At impact, the shaft of the club must not lean too far forward (toward the target) or too far back (away from the target). Every degree that the shaft leans toward the target reduces the loft by the same amount. In other words, if the loft on the club is 42 degrees and the shaft is leaning 10 degrees toward the target at impact, the effective loft at impact is 32 degrees.
Here are some checkpoints to help achieve a better impact position and increase the heights on your shots:
1) Make sure that the ball is positioned correctly in your stance. Play your short irons (wedges, 9 iron and 8 iron) in the center of your stance. Your middle irons (7 iron, 6 iron and 5 iron) should be positioned one ball-width forward of center and your long irons and fairway woods two balls forward of center. Play your drives off the inside front heel. Moving the ball back of center in your stance encourages a low hook or push.
2) Tilt your spine slightly away from the target so that your head is behind the ball. All tour players tilt slightly behind the ball from approximately 2 degrees with short irons to a full 10 degrees or more for driving. This "up-hill lie" position should help you launch the ball higher. It is imperative that your head stay behind the ball for a powerful impact. Jack Nicklaus always said, "I hit (make contact with the ball) past my chin." If your chin is behind the ball at impact, your shots will be higher and more powerful. For more, check out our guide to a great golf setup position, which covers posture (as well as the ball position mentioned in No. 1).
3) Continue your swing to a full, high finish. A long, high finish helps you release the wrist angles through impact. When your wrists hinge and re-hinge through and after impact, the shaft is less likely to lean towards the target. The rule of thumb for trajectory control is finish high and full for high ball flight and finish low and short for low ball flight.
4) If your shots hook and are low, choose a weaker grip. Just as with shaft lean, a closed clubface reduces the effective loft of the club. A weaker grip (thumb and forefinger "V's" more towards the middle of your body) will encourage a square or slightly open clubface. For more, see The Golf Grip.
Remember: Impact is the moment of truth. If your impact position is fundamentally sound, you can master the flight of the ball.