Tip #17: Should You Swing The Same?

Here's one of the most difficult questions in golf: "Should you swing any differently on a 5-iron than on a driver?" It's difficult because the answer is both yes and no. Yes, the swing for the 5-iron -- in fact, for each of the irons -- is different than for the driver. And no, you should not try to swing any differently.

When you stand to the ball with a shorter club in your hand, several aspects of your address position automatically change, and these pre-swing adaptations immediately alter the nature of your swing.

First, you have to bend over more, to lower your hands down to the shorter shaft. The shorter the club, the more you have to bend from the waist and counterbalance that tilt by sticking out your rump.

Hit it Through the Wind
As you address shorter and shorter irons, you should gradually decrease the width of your stance. That's the only intentional change I recommend.

With the shorter clubs, you'll also be standing closer to the ball. It will be only a foot or so in front of your toes, as opposed to nearly three feet on the driver. This will result in your hands being closer to your body. See for yourself. Without even taking a club, pretend you're addressing first a driver, then a wedge, and notice how on the driver your arms extend out toward the ball much more than on the wedge, where they hang down near your thighs.

Along with these natural changes in address position, you should make one intentional change. As you address shorter and shorter irons, you should gradually decrease the width of your stance, bringing your right foot progressively closer to your left while keeping your ball position constant.

All of these address adaptations have the same effect. They set you up for the more vertical, U-shaped swing that shorter clubs require. On the fairway woods and long irons, the differences from the driver are minor. These clubs, after all, are nearly as long as the driver. The resulting swings are therefore similar to the big, wide sweep for a tee-shot.

As the shaft shortens for the middle irons, however, both the nature of the shot and the nature of the setup and swing change visibly. On these clubs, you don't want to maximize your distance, you want to control it just as surely as you want to control the direction the ball flies. The narrowed stance will help you do this, by reducing your leg action and encouraging more of an arm-and-shoulder swing. And even that armswing will be a bit less powerful because, with a shorter club, you'll have less centrifugal force at work.

As you move down to the short irons and wedges, where the stance should also open up a couple of degrees, your narrow, more crouched setup will pre-program a markedly more vertical swing that will produce a down-and-through impact that is in vivid contrast to the horizontal sweep of the driver.

Having made that point, let me say that you should never intentionally try to swing the club in a horizontal or vertical way. Never try to fit your swing to the club in your hand. After all, it's tough enough to master one golf swing without having to manipulate a dozen of them. Just remember to narrow your stance. The clubs themselves will cause you to do the rest.

Once I'm in the address position, I make no conscious swing changes whatsoever. In fact, I disagree strongly with teachers who suggest that you should use a shorter or less purposeful swing on the fairway woods and irons than on the driver. I take my club back to a position at or near parallel at the top of the swing, whether that club is a driver, a 3-wood, a 3-iron, a 7-iron, or a wedge. And except when I'm trying to play some sort of specialty shot, I maintain the same swing tempo and rhythm for every club in the bag.

With a shorter club in your hand, you will automatically have less clubhead speed, so there's no need to throttle-down your swing. Besides that, swing-shortening is a very mechanical way to play golf and it tends to undermine your rhythm. The minute you start trying to calibrate your swing length, you introduce unnecessary, unnatural wrinkles to an already complex movement.

If, for instance, on a 5-iron shot you try to take six inches off the length of your backswing, your muscles sense this forced stopping of the club. At the top, you subconsciously doubt that you've stored the correct amount of power in your swing; as a result you may jerk the club down, you may decelerate, or who knows what. You undermine your rhythm and your overall confidence.

I've been told that when my game is on, my swing has an automatic "swish-click" look on every shot. If I had to attribute that to anything, I'd say it's the consistency of my swing length and rhythm from club to club.