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Hit your irons better with these two simple drills

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“I’d like to hit my irons better.” That’s one of the most popular requests when students come for a lesson, so I decided to write an article about it for GolfWRX readers.

Luckily, there are two very simple drills that can help you achieve a more consistent and better quality strike. But before we continue, it’s important to understand one fundamental idea about quality ball striking with your irons. All good ball strikers, with no exception, will consistently produce a negative angle of attack when striking an iron off the ground.

Trackman defines angle of attack as “The up or down movement of the club head at the time of maximum compression.”

Simply, angle of attack (AoA) refers to whether the club head is ascending (moving up) or descending (moving down) into the golf ball. As a general rule, an AoA between -1 and -4 should be targeted with iron shots; this means that the club head will be moving on a line between 1 and 4 degrees downward when striking the ball

Low Point

An easy way to visualize a negative angle of attack is to take a look at the pictures below, provided very kindly by a friend of mine, Adam Young.

Low Point Ahead

In this first picture, the lowest point of the swing (low point), marked by the black line, is positioned ahead, or target side of the ball. This naturally allows the club head to move downwards into the ball.

Low point behind

This second picture shows what most amateur golfers struggle with: a low point behind the ball. In both Swing A and Swing B in the second picture, the low point is positioned behind the ball. And when this happens, you will encounter problems with your irons.

  • If you are lucky, you may just skim the ground (Swing A) at the low point and in fact still get some amount of club on the ball, often just catching the bottom 2 grooves and hurting your fingers on a cold morning. With this pattern, however, it is also likely that you will hit a lot of thins and tops, as your club moves “up” into the ball.
  • If you aren’t so lucky and your swing arc is only a touch lower (Swing B), your club will hit the ground at the red star, resulting in big divots before the ball.

Now, from a technical prospective, I believe there are two main issues that often cause this striking problem. The first is when there is an “early release” or “casting” of the club from the top of the backswing. This happens when the angle between the lead arm and the shaft is lost too EARLY. Secondly, and the biggest issue for many club golfers, is when the body mass is too far back at impact, as players “get caught” on the trail, or back foot. This often happens when players go with their instincts and lean back while trying to lift the ball into the air. As a result, the positioning of the upper body at impact is poor and as with the first issue, it makes it very difficult to achieve a low point ahead of the ball.

So how can golfers combat these two issues?

Towel Drill

In this drill, place a thin towel about 6 inches behind the ball. Then, attempt to hit the golf ball while missing the towel. A good positioning of the towel will make it very difficult to not move the low point ahead of the ball, as a low point too far behind the ball will only result in hitting the towel.

Toweldrill

Please Note: I recommend a thin towel, as opposed very thick towel, which will encourage you to “chop” steeply onto the ball. Remember, a subtle angle of attack of around -1 degrees (down) is often ideal. Golfers do not want to go digging and get the club head moving down -10 degrees!

Alignment stick drill

In this exercise, if you are fortunate enough to practice from short-cut grass, place an alignment stick as shown. Then, take your normal setup position with the club resting at the end of the stick. From there, make some swings and look to make some marks on the grass in Zone A. By this, I mean bruise or brush — maybe even take a shallow divot — but don’t go making big craters!

Alignment-stick-drill

Any marks in Zone B mean that the low point occurred behind the ball, instead of ahead. Once satisfied that you can make some marks in Zone A consistently, have a go with a ball while attempting to replicate a similar swing movement.

Note: If you cannot access a grass driving range, use this same drill on a mat but instead of trying to mark the mat, place a small tee peg in Zone A. Then, try to hit the tee peg cleanly to again ensure that the low point is ahead of the ball.

Can it be really be that simple?

You will hopefully notice that the drills given involve ZERO technical information regarding positions or movements. Instead, they use something called a “task constraint.”

A TASK CONSTRAINT IS A BOUNDARY THAT ENCOURAGES THE LEARNER TO EMERGE WITH CERTAIN BEHAVIORS.

In simple terms, the constraint of the towel and alignment stick will allow your technique to evolve from the exercise, as opposed to deliberately thinking about it. For example, you will seriously struggle to miss the towel if you “release early” or “get stuck” on your trail side. The real beauty of this type of exercise is that you can often make the movement change without getting caught up in a barrage of swing thoughts. Ironically, it is excessive “attention” on your swing that will often result in bad shots.

Unfortunately, your friends on a Saturday morning may not allow you to use a towel in the weekly medal. With this in mind, do not become too reliant on the drills and vary up the usage in your practice sessions. Make sure to let go of your technical thoughts, and you’ll be amazed how quickly new, better habits can be formed.

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Thomas is an Advanced UKPGA Professional and Director of the Future Elite (FUEL) Junior Golf Programme. Thomas is a big believer in evidence based coaching and has enjoyed numerous worldwide coaching experiences. His main aim to introduce and help more golfers enjoy the game, by creating unique environments that best facilitate improvement.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Pingback: Hitting The Golf Ball Too Low With Your Irons? Here’s How To Hit It Higher - (MUST READ Before You Buy)

  2. Steven

    Apr 27, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Great Advice Thomas. I know one of the things I am working on right now is improving impact position. Anything to help get the divot on the correct side of the ball will help me.

    I also think this article illustrates an important point in instruction. Instructors know the end results (well balanced swing, etc.), but many of them will get there a different way. I like this drill because it helps me visualize where to hit the ground. The added benefit is my weight shift and lag should improve. Others may teach it a different way, but I personally like this one.

  3. Dave T

    Apr 26, 2016 at 7:40 am

    Whatever you do don’t mix up these two drills! I was doing the ‘towel” drill but using an alignment stick instead. After each successive shot I kept moving the stick closer and closer to the ball. BAM! I hit the stick and helicoptered it out into the range! Talk about walk of shame going out to retrieve it. Oh, and if you hit driveway markers hard enough they will break!

  4. Steve

    Apr 26, 2016 at 6:14 am

    One of the better instructional articles I’ve read in a while. Nice job.

  5. Brad

    Apr 25, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Love it! I used to lay a tee against the backside of the ball and think about hitting the tee instead of the ball…think I’m going to try the towel drill after work

  6. Michael

    Apr 25, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    So with the alignment stick drill, I assume that the golfer straddles the alignment stick.

    • TheCityGame

      Apr 26, 2016 at 11:42 am

      that’s how he diagrammed it, but there’s no reason not to put the alignment stick on the other side so you don’t need to straddle it. Or a tee. No need for a alignment stick. Just want a visual cue for where you place the ball to make sure you’re taking a divot in the right spot.

  7. Mike

    Apr 25, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    My instructor would have a pocketful of dimes and place one an inch or two in front of the ball. The goal was to swing through and clip the dime, with the ball just getting in the way. It helped me, as I would be guilty of leaning back ever so slightly to add loft on a shallow swing.

  8. parker

    Apr 23, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    I think this is the single most important drill anyone can do (towel drill vs alignment stick drill… its really the same thing). The technical points of a golf swing lose their impact if you can’t get your club on the ball properly.

    To add my two cents, I recommend spending time on this drill before working on a new swing move, to make sure you are indeed starting with a solid strike, and then doing it again after working on the new move, to make sure you don’t take a step backwards in your striking.

    The other good thing about this drill is that it provides real feedback and ignores whatever you feel. I use CB irons and I swing very hard, and I find that slightly fat or thin shots still feel solid, but come up a little short. If my clubs are going short on the range, I’ve learned to check this drill first before trying to mess with my swing. For me, it’s usually a simple posture and balance issue that messes up my low point, instead of something more mechanical.

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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 2)

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Golf is very much a monkey-see-monkey-do sport. If you ever go to the local range, you are sure to see golfers trying to copy the moves of their favorite player. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. While I understand the logic of trying to mimic the “secret move” of the most recent winner on tour, I always balk when the person trying to create their best impression fails to realize the physical differences between them and the best golfing athletes in the world.

Read part 1 here. 

In addition to most golfers not being at the same fitness levels as the best players in the world, they also do not have bodies that are identical to their favorite player. This single statement proves why there is not one golf swing; we all are different sizes and are going to swing the club differently due to these physical differences.

You have to understand your swing

The biggest reason I believe that golfers are better than they think is most golfers I meet do not understand what their swings should look like. Armed with video after video of their golf swing, I will always hear about the one thing that the golfer wishes they could change. However, that one thing is generally the “glue” or athleticism of the athlete on display and is also the thing that allows them to make decent contact with the ball.

We are just coming out of the “video age” of golf instruction, and while I think that recording your golf swing can be extremely helpful, I think that it is important to understand what you are looking for in your swing. As a young coach, I fell victim to trying to create “pretty swings”, but quickly learned that there is not a trophy for prettiest swing.

It comes down to form or function, and I choose function

The greatest gift I have ever received as an instructor was the recommendation to investigate Mike Adams and BioSwing Dynamics. Mike, E.A. Tischler, and Terry Rowles have done extensive research both with tour-level players as well as club golfers and have developed a way to test or screen each athlete to determine not only how their golf swing will look, but also how they will use the ground to create their maximum speed. This screen can be completed with a tape measure and takes about five minutes, and I have never seen results like I have since I began measuring.

For example, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a golf swing that tracks more to the outside during the backswing and intersects the body more towards the trail shoulder plane during the backswing. A golfer with a shorter wingspan than height will have a swing that tracks more to the inside and intersects the body closer to the trail hip plane. Also, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a more upright dynamic posture than a golfer with a shorter wingspan than height who will be more “bent over” at the address position.

Sport coats and golf swings

Have you ever bought a sport coat or suit for a special occasion? If so, pay attention to whether it is a short, regular, or long. If you buy a long, then it means that your arms are longer than your torso and you can now understand why you produce a “steeper” backswing. Also, if you stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your middle-finger tips touching the top of your kneecaps, you will have perfect dynamic posture that matches your anatomy. If it appears that you are in a taller posture, then you have your second clue that your wingspan is greater than your height.

Translation to improvement

Using this and five other screens, we can help the athletes understand a complete blueprint of their golf swing based off their anatomy. It is due to the work of Mike, E.A., and Terry that we can now matchup the player to their swing and help them play their best. The reason that I believe that most golfers are better than they think is that most golfers have most of the correct puzzle pieces already. By screening each athlete, we can make the one or two adjustments to get the player back to trusting their swing and feeling in control. More importantly, the athlete can revisit their screen sheet when things misfire and focus on what they need to do, instead of what not to do.

We are all different and all have different swings. There is no one way to swing a golf club because there is no one kind of golfer. I encourage every golfer to make their swing because it is the only one that fits.

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How golf should be learned

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With the COVID-19 pandemic, golf is more popular than ever. Beginners being introduced to the game often find that golf is very hard, much harder than other sports they have played. To simplify the golf swing and make the game easier, it needs to start with a concept.

Golf should first be learned from a horizontal position. If the ball was placed four feet above the ground on a large tee, players would naturally turn in an efficient direction with the proper sequence to strike the ball on the tee.

Take for example, a person throwing a ball towards a target. With their eyes out in front of them? having an awareness to the target, their body would naturally turn in a direction to go forward and around towards the target. In golf, we are bent over from the hips, and we are playing from the side of the golf ball, so players tend to tilt their body or over-rotate, causing an inefficient backswing.

This is why the golf swing should be looked at as a throwing motion. The trail arm folds up as the body coils around. To throw a ball further, the motion doesn’t require more body turn or a tilt of the body.

To get the feeling of this horizontal hitting position or throwing motion, start by taking your golf posture. Make sure your trail elbow is bent and tucked with your trail shoulder below your lead shoulder.

From here, simply lift your arms in front of you while you maintain the bend from your hips. Look over your lead shoulder looking at the target. Get the clubhead traveling first and swing your arms around you. Note how your body coils. Return the club back to its original position.

After a few repetitions, simply lower your arms back to the ball position, swing your arms around you like you did from the horizontal position. Allow your shoulders, chest and hips to be slightly pulled around. This is now your “throwing position” in the golf swing. From here, you are ready to make a downswing with less movement needed to make a proper strike.

Note: Another great drill to get the feel for this motion is practicing Hitting driver off your knees.

Twitter: @KKelley_golf

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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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