Admit it. You’ve spent hours at the practice range, hitting ball after ball with your pitching wedge or 9-iron, looking for that pure contact tour players seem to achieve effortlessly. You’ve sped up your swing, slowed it down, and done all kinds of things with your hands, all in an effort to make the ball fly with predictable trajectory and the backspin to stop your shots by the hole.
But the secret isn’t in your hands, or in the dirt. It’s in your backswing.
“Hitting good short iron shots has nothing to do with speed. It’s about getting the club to come into the ground and the ball on the right angle and path,” says Golf Digest Top 50 Teacher Michael Jacobs. “That means you need more ‘vertical’ in your swing.”
We can learn from two of the best ball-strikers on tour, who led the PGA Tour in strokes gained/approach in the 2019-’20 season—Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa. Though tour players are very good at doing things average players can’t do, we can study how they hit short irons and try to copy their positions.
The first key to finding the center of the clubface with your short irons, Jacobs says, is to forget the idea that you should use the same swing for these clubs as you would for a hybrid or a driver.
“Look at Justin Thomas in the video below. At two-thirds of the way through his backswing, his left arm is in line with the top of his right shoulder, or his collarbone,” says Jacobs.
“For most players, it’s way lower, under where the logo would be on the shirt. The arm that low means the shaft is also low, which might work for a more sweeping swing but won’t help you hit short irons well.”
To work on it, make some less-than-full swings with a short iron where you do the opposite of what you might have heard when it comes to using a headcover under your trail arm as a training aid. Instead of holding it under there for the swing, start with it tucked there and make sure you drop it early in the backswing.
“When you can get that left arm in line with your collarbone—like Collin Morikawa also does, above—the club stays more in front of your body early, instead of getting behind you. You won’t be swinging any faster, but you’ll make much better contact and produce better ball speed and a more predictable launch.”