By Billy Horschel
Photos by J.D. Cuban
A statistician friend and I were going over my performance summaries recently. He said, "I've concluded you make the highest percentage of your birdies when you hit the green in regulation."
We laughed, because he was stating the obvious—there is no substitute for good iron play. And the key to great irons is solid contact, finding the sweet spot consistently. Over the past 18 months, I've worked especially hard with my coach, Todd Anderson, on improving with my irons. It's paying off, and to prove it, there's a wear mark on my irons about the size of a nickel. Here's how you can wear out your sweet spot—and find more greens in regulation as a result. —With Guy Yocom
My address is standard but precise. I position the ball just forward of center, directly below the "R" in "RLX" on my shirt (below). Any farther forward, and I miss it both ways; farther back, and my flight is too low to control distance. My stance isn't especially wide or narrow. I just want my feet far enough apart to give me stability. Alignment obviously is important. I want my arms to hang naturally, making sure my hands are relaxed as I lower the clubhead to the ball. Then comes the real key, what I call a "hand bump." All I do is shift my hands toward the target. The goal is to rehearse the basic conditions I want at impact: hands ahead of the ball, shaft leaning forward, clubface square to the target. The bump not only programs the sensation I want to have when I find the sweet spot at impact, it serves as a useful backswing trigger, a way to get things started smoothly.
The early part of the backswing never seems to get its due. Do it well, and not only will you get to the top perfectly, your downswing will be easier, too. Halfway back, I want the clubhead just outside my hands, meaning closer to the target line than the handle. That helps keep the club on plane going back and makes it easier to swing the club down correctly. I like the clubface to be a bit closed at this point in the swing, the toe leaning a little toward the target line (below). I never want to fan it open. Another thing I check: My left wrist is dead flat. There's no hinging or cupping. From here I simply turn my core. I rotate my shoulders fully, guarding against letting my hips turn too much or allowing my arms to swing back too far. It's a big-muscle backswing that sometimes feels short, but I know it isn't because of how fully I turn my shoulders.
The trend on tour is to swing irons really aggressively. You've seen the way some guys go at the ball. It's pretty impressive to watch, but it doesn't quite work for me. I doubt it will for you, either. The thought of ripping your irons all-out can cause you to get quick and rush down from the top, which is a tendency of mine. So to keep my transition smooth, I let gravity rule that first move down. The club simply falls onto a great downswing plane (below). At the same time, my hips start to unwind, so my arms have room to swing. Instead of rushing down, I let the club and body start moving together with as little stress as possible. This helps everything happen in sync without a crazy amount of effort. I save my aggressiveness for where it counts—through the impact zone. Being a little more laid back early lets me find the sweet spot later on. It's a good trade-off. I can live with that.
The range of my 6-iron is 175 to 205 yards. To control my distances within that wide dispersion, I need to regulate clubhead speed and find the sweet spot. To control speed, I rely on my core. I try to leave my arms and hands out of the equation, and let them respond to what the big muscles are doing. My reference point is my belly button. If I want to take a little off the shot, I think of rotating my mid-section more slowly. If I need to hit it 205, I think of turning my core so fast that my belly button is a blur. I combine speed with a good strike. To do that, I like to picture a dollar bill lying lengthwise just in front of the ball and taking a thin divot that matches the length of the bill. If you hit it fat, or the divot resembles a beaver's pelt, it's a sign you swayed too much toward the target or delofted the clubface. Take a uniform divot, and you'll be on the way to wearing out that sweet spot.