An Expert Guide on How to Hit Long Irons

Published on 06/07/2023 · 9 min readMany golfers dread hitting long irons as they're hard to hit and often inconsistent. But with these tips, you can dial in your long iron game and learn to love them!
David Miller, Golf Expert
By Golf Expert David Miller

Photo by JA Images

”If you are caught on a golf course during a storm and are afraid of lightning, hold up a 1-iron. Not even God can hit a 1-iron." – Lee Trevino

David Miller
Golf Expert

Hitting long irons is one of the hardest things to do in golf. The loft of the club is much lower, and it is hard to get better results without lots of golf instruction. If you are an average golfer, you may have a tendency to hit low-accuracy shots when hitting long irons. This is due to the fact that several elements need to come together for hitting long irons pure, including a full-body rotation; a high level of swing speed in the downswing; and of course, solid contact between the ball and the clubface.

As the name suggests, long irons are lengthier, heavier, and have lower degrees of loft than the other irons in your bag. They also go longer, and while some may consider them less important components of a set than in years past, hitting long irons gives you the ability to reach a par 5 in two, hit a green in regulation (GIR) on a long par 3, and are even options on tee shots and in other unique instances. So after getting rid of some bad habits and gaining new insights into the keys listed below, I believe we can have you hitting your long irons just as consistently as your pitching wedge.

1. Ball Position

Alignment and ball position are forefront when hitting long irons. A common issue I see over and over with them is that players have trouble getting through the ball. This is usually not an issue with an 8-iron or 9-iron but consistently happens with the longer clubs, which affects one's golf swing more dramatically. This often happens when the ball is too far back in your stance, or when you are standing too close to the ball.

I play my long irons in between the inside of my lead foot (the ball position for my driver) and the middle of my stance (the ball position for a club like a 7-iron). In other words, the ball should be around the front-middle of your stance. I do this for multiple reasons, but primarily, because it is comfortable for me. Everyone has a different swing, and that is the way I tend to like it. This ball position plays great for my slight cut and really helps me get the ball in the air quickly.

If you are having trouble with getting through your swing, especially when hitting long irons, try opening up your lead foot by repositioning your left heel. This will often help your right hip get through the ball more easily (if you are a right-handed golfer).

2. Setup

As someone who has had a 3-iron in his bag for multiple years, it is important to note the many uses that long irons can have in terms of the versatility of shots. For instance, if you’ve ever found yourself in the trees of a golf course after a bad drive or a tough second shot, you’ve probably learned that “punching out” and taking your medicine can be your best friend. Using a 3, 4, or even a 5-iron is an excellent tool for this and will save strokes in the long run.

Like with a full swing, setting up for a punch-out is key. As always, make sure you have a steady base, with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Since you are trying to keep the ball low and have it run out into the fairway, you want to put the ball a little bit farther back in your stance, which will decrease the loft on the club. This will keep the ball flight low and allow those run-out shots, which can get you close to the green, for a chance at par-saving up-and-down. Keep in mind that these shots are very different from your average full-swing shot, so while you may not feel the need to practice them on the range, it is important that you realize your tempo, transition speed, and backswing length will dramatically affect the outcome of the shot.

3. Clubhead Speed

Photo by David Miller

As mentioned earlier, some golfers have trouble getting enough swing speed when hitting long irons properly. Due to their lower loft, more speed is needed to get the ball airborne. This is due to many factors. For beginners, a 4-iron has significantly less loft than a wedge. This is why it looks more perpendicular to the ball at address. When swung, a longer iron will go farther, because it is not going as high up into the air. It is important to realize that while it is easy to take a wedge or short iron back to your shoulder and hit a “knock-down” or half swing, that is not the case with a 4 or 5 iron. When hitting long irons, the ball will quickly lose airtime, as longer irons don’t have as much launch as wedges.

4. Swing Thoughts

When I play golf, there are all sorts of things running through my head. However, this section will break down the mind game of hitting a pure long iron. My high school golf coach once told me to make sure you’re swinging through the ball, not at it. It is important to find the middle between hitting down on the ball with a wedge-like swing and hitting up on the ball with a driver-like swing. However, that is exactly the thought process we are looking for with these clubs.

In my humble opinion, turf interaction is an extremely important part of every golf shot, not just for your long irons. This is another thing to focus on when dialing it in from deep. In the case of a 4 or 5 iron, a shallow divot should be the goal. We shouldn’t be hitting fully down on the ball, like with a wedge; but, if we are aiming to just skim the grass, a list of calamities can ensue, including topping the ball, hitting it too thin, or just having trouble getting the ball up into the air. As you swing with your long iron, a good mental picture is that you are driving a nail straight into the back of the golf ball and out through the front of the ball.

5. Long Par 3s

Photo by Courtney Prather

Long par 3s will probably be the holes that you will be hitting long irons the most. While long par 3s can often be the hardest of holes on a course, they can also provide tremendous scoring potential. Unlike wedges, we don't always want to aim right at the pin on a par 3 with a long iron. If you feel good with the club like an 8 iron, and the hole is a bit shorter, that might be a good solution. However, if you are playing a par 3 with a longer yardage, such as one that is 200 yards, and hit your 4 iron that distance, it would be wise to aim at the center of the green.

For longer shots with a 4-iron, I like to pick a target in the distance and err on the side of the better miss. For example, if there's a bunker right of the green, and a nice bailout area left, I'll play my 4-iron just left of the green and try to hit a fade. If the ball doesn't fade and stays straight, I'll be in the bailout area or if it fades, I'll have a good look at birdie. It's all about controlling your misses and keeping that momentum on the golf course!

Options if You Struggle with Long Irons

Photo by Florida Stock

Even with the above tips, it must be noted that hitting long irons isn’t for everyone. Even on tour, iron play is something that will surprise amateur golfers. Every week, more and more Tour pros are taking longer irons out of their bag (specifically the 3 or 4 iron) and replacing them with higher-lofted woods (5 wood, 7 wood) or hybrids (3 hybrid, 4 hybrid). It is easy to take a simple swing with a wood or hybrid for some players instead of a pure iron shot with a 4-iron. Everyone’s game is different, and there’s nothing wrong with switching out for these clubs. As the game of golf has progressed, it is amazing to see how a 4 iron today will have less loft than a set from even a few years ago. This is because as amateurs, we want to achieve maximum distance! As these types of irons have become delofted more and more, they have become increasingly harder to hit which has led to a rise in the use of hybrids and woods. As someone who plays with senior golfers on a consistent basis, I find it amazing how often they tend to gravitate toward hybrids. They truly are a savior as they provide higher launch angles for those struggling to get it off the ground.

Long Irons vs. Hybrids

If you’re having trouble making the choice between long irons and hybrids, I wrote a quick pros and cons list below.

Long Iron Pros

  • Look cleaner at address (thinner topline)
  • More workable (easier to shot shape)

Long Iron Cons

  • Harder to hit consistently
  • Must have higher swing speed to get sufficient spin

Hybrid Pros

  • More confidence-inspiring at address
  • Easier launch
  • More spin

Hybrid Cons

  • May not fit your eye at address
  • Less workable
  • Sometimes may put too much spin on the ball

Long irons are a club that can mistakenly be overlooked. Mastering them is a touch of genius, but doing so will decrease your scores and increase the amount of fun you have on the course! While you may need to put in some work on the driving range or use some special drills, you'll be hitting solid iron shots in no time. If you are looking for more help in this area or anything else, feel free to reach out to me or one of our other Golf Experts here on Curated. We would love to help you out!

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