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A Level Approach Will Lead to Long Iron Success

By Keith Stewart, PGA
Published on

Sungjae Im of Korea plays a shot on the sixth hole during the second round of the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course (South Course) on June 18, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Launching long irons and hybrids off the turf is one of the more difficult challenges in golf. US Open course setups require these world-class players to use their longer scoring clubs. Make sure you take advantage this weekend and watch the competitors at Torrey Pines use their long irons as they try to take on this major-sized golf course. 
Longer clubs have very little loft. Loft is very helpful in trying to get the ball airborne. Golfers holding a long iron with a straight-looking face inherently feel a subconscious need to help the ball in the air. Trying to scoop the ball at the bottom causes the club to change levels. The result can be heavy shots where we hit the ground too early or thin shots where we barely catch the top of the ball. 
Keeping the club on a shallow approach to the ball is the most successful way to get those long clubs airborne and the ball traveling with some speed. Before this gets too complicated, just imagine two letters. YOU are trying to strike those long clubs like the letter “V.” The club is traveling down toward the ball at a very sharp angle and trying to go back up just as quickly. Now imagine the letter “U.” A capital U has a much smoother curve or arc at the bottom. This is how you should envision the bottom of your golf swing. Especially the bottom of those long iron and hybrid shots. 
The easiest way to try and create a more level swing arc at the bottom is to raise the ball. Here’s a very simple drill you can use the next time you’re on the practice range. Place the ball on a tee at the same height you would for your driver. It should be a couple inches off the ground. Now grab a 4 iron or a 4 hybrid. If you don’t have one of those try any long iron or hybrid. Grip down on the club from the end about an inch to an inch and a half. Your hands should be close to the middle of the grip.
Setup to the ball as you normally would. Raise the clubhead behind the ball and hold it in midair hovering behind the ball. Take a swing and see how you do? Chances are you swung under the ball and the top of the clubface made contact. Observe what happened because that’s the direction you’re moving vertically in the actual swing. Try again and this time keep the swing wide and turn more with your body. This will drastically help keep that club level through the bottom of the arc. 
Once you catch the ball powerfully at impact, you now have the feeling of a shallower approach to the ball. Keep practicing at that height. The more reliable your contact becomes start to move the ball lower to the ground. Eventually, the goal is having the ball rest on the grass and you confidently swinging through impact with a much shallower approach. This will lift the ball and launch it with speed and height toward the target. 
Leveling out the bottom of your swing will help with all your clubs, but the most significant impact will be felt with those longer ones. That new feeling will certainly resemble the wonderful long iron strikes we all get to see this weekend in the third men's Major Championship of the season.

Keith Stewart is a 5-time award-winning PGA Professional with 25 years of experience in the golf industry. His network of players, coaches and insiders provide him with a unique perspective on the game. He's a writer on PGA.com and host of the ProShow on ESPN 920 AM Friday afternoons at 3:00pm EDT. Check out his PGA Coaching articles archived here or his conversations on air with this link to his website The ProShow.