Man's struggle to hit long irons well is always a difficult one and frequently a losing one. These clubs, the two-iron and three-iron, can so discourage the weekend golfer that he gives up hope of using them well. I see two main reasons for all of this trouble with long irons: 1) the great majority of golfers are trying to get along on yesterday's fundamentals when they should be attempting to master some new and proved ones; 2) too many players are using caveman tactics on a shot that requires smoothness and timing above all else. The golf swing used by the country's best players today differs radically from the one favored a decade ago. Wristy swings and complex stances that change from club to club have practically disappeared from the pro tour. Efficiency has replaced gracefulness as the measure of a swing. The touring pros have simplified everything. We now think only in terms of square and straight: a square stance for all shots and a swing that takes the club straight back and then down and straight out through the ball. The reason the tour has so many really able young players is that they have developed a swing that is remarkably simple. The amateur golfer should benefit enormously from these basic changes in the swing, for anything that makes the game less complicated helps the man who has little practice time, but the amateur does not seem to have learned them—at least, not yet.
Because the new swing promotes consistent timing it is especially valuable for long-iron shots, where there is not much margin for error. In this series I am going to explain the important elements of the new swing—some of which may seem unusual—and I am going to show you how to apply these elements when using those treacherous long irons.
The square stance: a first step to success
The initial thing you must do is forget the hallowed theory that says long irons should be played from a closed stance and short irons from an open one. Nonsense. Basically, all shots should be played from a square stance. The next thing you have to do is forget a second theory, just as popular, which says your weight at address should be on your heels. It should not. The weight should be forward on the broadest part of the feet. When you can bounce up and down off both heels while still maintaining a solid, balanced position you have your weight in the proper place.
The term "square stance" applies to more than the position of the feet. It also includes the knees, hips and shoulders. When you have a square stance, imaginary lines drawn across the toes, the knees and the hips will all point toward the target. Also try to align the shoulders in the same manner, though the fact that the right arm is reaching down and across the body to the club usually turns the shoulders slightly to the left of the target. Just as the stance no longer varies from club to club—except for the distance between the feet—neither does the grip. My grip is on the strong side. This means that my left thumb rests on top of the shaft, but just a little to the right of center. The right hand overlaps the left in conventional fashion. Thus the back of the left hand and the palm of the right point slightly to the right of the target.
At address, your feet should be no farther apart than the width of your shoulders, but they can be closer together if this makes you feel more comfortable. You should also feel that the inside edges of both feet are digging into the turf. Above all, remember that you must not plant the weight back on the heels as if you were about to sit down. This restricts the ability of the body to turn and reduces your control of the swing.
With a few unusual exceptions, which I will discuss later, I play the ball off my left heel on every shot. If you have a good pivot you can get maximum control and maximum loft when the ball is in that position. If your pivot is slightly constricted, you may get better results playing the ball slightly back toward the right. But in any event, keep it in the same position for every shot.
A final and perhaps obvious word on being comfortable: be sure that you are. If the stance I have described does not feel comfortable you must practice it and make small adjustments until it does. The stance must be so automatic that you do not consciously think about it, much less get upset by it.
The feet, knees and hips (blue lines) must all he square to the target (brown arrow), and the weight (red shading) forward on the feet.
The one-piece swing: a logical continuation of the square stance and an effortless way to insure consistent rhythm and timing