By C.T. Pan
Photographs by Dom Furore
In pro-ams, my partners often ask what they can do to I improve. My stock answer: Take advantage of your good drives. The funny thing is, I wasn’t doing a good job of listening to my own advice.
Despite good results with my irons in 2018, ranking fifth on the PGA Tour in greens-in-regulation percentage (71.2), I was blowing many easy opportunities to get it close. From 125 yards to 150 yards, I ranked 111th on tour in approach proximity. I don’t care if it’s the PGA Tour or your Thursday-night league, you can’t miss from short range and be successful. That’s why I spend a great deal of my practice time working on short-iron shots—and it has paid off. At my breakthrough win at the RBC Heritage last year, I averaged a tournament-best 13-foot leave distance on my approach shots from that range. And for the year, my leave distance was 2½-feet closer than the previous season. It’s a big reason I was able to make the International team for the Presidents Cup in December.
That’s why I still give the same advice at pro-ams; it matters. Here’s what I did to improve. —WITH JOEL BEALL
A good starting point for better short-iron shots is to make three-quarter backswings. It’s also a good checkpoint to make sure you’re not swinging the club too far inside or outside the target line. Do that, and you’ll have to re-route the club on the downswing to hit an accurate shot. Another great thing about a short backswing is that it develops good rhythm. Most amateurs swing short irons too far back, and they get out of sync. The shorter the swing, the less that can go wrong. And while you’re at it, match your effort to your backswing length. Swing at 75 percent of your max speed.
I have a tendency to lose my posture right before impact. It partially stems from my childhood, when I was in a hurry to see my shot, I’d lift up, and my contact wouldn’t be as good. That’s where the old advice to keep your head down is helpful. You don’t want it locked down, but you should feel like your posture stayed the same until the ball is long gone. It also improves balance and weight shift.
So many missed short-iron shots are a result of making an armsy swing with little body rotation, particularly no hip turn. To get the hips going where they need to go, here’s a drill: Without a club, stick your right arm straight out, like you’re about to shake someone’s hand. From there, rotate your arm and hips like you’re making a throughswing while keeping your left leg planted. Get a feel for how the hips, shoulders and arm move as one unit, and remember it the next time you’ve got a short iron in your hands. Your chance of sticking that shot will go way up.