Woods versus Irons–Same swing , just a different feel

When I was learning the game, I was told by every coach I worked with , that the SWING is the SAME for the woods and the irons. This was a bit confusing for me – because I tended to do very different things for woods than for irons. Here , I will try to explain what the coaches meant (basically, they were correct, the swing IS the same – it just feels a little STEEPER for irons and a little FLATTER for woods). There are also some minor SETUP differences – especially with the SHORT irons compared to the LONGER irons.

Turning the back to the ball

In both cases (woods and irons),  the body must at least START turning away from the ball. Once the BODY turn starts, the club starts moving in an UPWARD and AROUND motion (around the body). And herein lies the chief difference between iron play and wood play.

In iron play, your UPWARD motion (club’s upward motion) will be more pronounced (than the around motion). i.e. The swing will feel STEEPER. In wood play, you should feel more of an AROUND the body motion – a FLATTER swing.

Keep in mind that your BODY is doing the EXACT same thing in both cases. It is simply a question of WHEN to call it a COMPLETE backswing. In the case of irons, as soon as you feel the upward motion, your back will already be TURNED to the ball (without you having to execute too much of around the body). With a 3 wood (or a 5 wood or a driver), the upward motion is not enough to turn your back fully to the ball. You also need an AROUND the body component.

Instead of THINKING of doing these pieces individually (up and around), you should simply be concerned about turning your back to the ball.

These motions will take care of themselves – as long as you follow the ONE checkpoint described here.

Short Irons versus Medium and Long Irons

There is ONE small setup variation that you may need to make when using the SHORT irons versus the medium and LONG irons. Before I explain that variation, there must be a general understanding of ALIGNMENT in golf.

There are three FOOT stances when addressing the ball.  OPEN, SQUARE and CLOSED – which are typically described by the left foot’s position. However, this is slightly misleading – as what is REALLY opening (or closing) with the left foot – is your left HIP and left SHOULDER. In fact, all ALIGNMENT in golf – is shoulder based. The ball will go where your SHOULDERS finish (line up at the end of the swing) – not WHERE your feet or hips end up. It is as simple as that.

SHOULDERS dictate alignment (for a SIMPLE golf alignment technique , try this post).

Now that we know how to ALIGN our shoulders (OPEN, SQUARE or CLOSED) , we are ready to get back to our small setup variation for the small irons. If you setup CLOSED with a short iron, you will find it impossible to turn your back to the ball. Likewise with SQUARE (it will be somewhat possible – but again not an ideal, complete back turn). With an OPEN stance, you will find that you are able to TURN COMPLETELY to the ball – just as you need to.

And therein lies the small setup variation.

For short irons, setup with an OPEN Stance (shoulders OPEN to target line).

You will find this to provide a full back turn (and full power)- which is what will produce a STRAIGHT shot.  For medium irons, you can continue setting up with the OPEN stance, however as the irons get longer, the stance gets a more SQUARE. Long irons – are better off with a SQUARE stance, however, if you are EVER in doubt (for those tricky uphill , downhill lies), choose the OPEN stance for all iron play. The OPEN stance will enable you do THE MOST IMPORTANT part of the golf swing – turning your back to the ball. And remember, to NOT USE your FEET for alignment, use your SHIRT BUTTON as described in the post above.

At what point does the swing start feeling ROUNDISH (flatter)?

For me, right at the 4 iron. Up to the 6 iron, it still feels more up than around. At 4, it HAS to be flatter (more rounded) than upright. 5 iron is the dividing line – where the swing is AS ROUND as it if FLAT.


Iron play and wood play have a lot in common. The SWING elements are the same – how to initiate a backswing, how to turn to the ball, how to start (and finish) the downswing. However, the LENGTH of the woods (and long irons), makes two things different. The SETUP is somewhat different (especially for short irons). And the SWING for woods FEELS a bit different – because it involves a larger ROUNDING (around the shoulders) component, than the irons.

Once you get the hang of this slightly MORE ROUND THE SHOULDERS, the SWINGS should start feeling exactly the SAME – which is what golf coaches have been trying to explain (ineffectively , in my experience) all along.

Amateur golfer with no real claim to fame (unless club championships count). Sharing knowledge obtained from (far too many) golf lessons – from far too many pros.

Golf Tips – who has written posts on Anuj Varma, Technology Architect.

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