Teaching golf has not only been my profession for the better part of fifty years, it is also a vocational passion. Any time since 1954, if someone had asked me which clubs were the most important in the bag, I would have quickly answered the driver, the putter, the sand wedge, the three wood, then all the rest, in that order. If someone asked me the same question today – I would without hesitation answer – the #3 iron. Really???? Yep, even though very few people carry one these days, in my opinion, they should dig it out of the closet, or buy one that matches their long irons (I promise that this is leading someplace good where few people have ever been). By the way, I am not talking about one of these new hybrid, easy to hit 3 irons, but an honest to goodness real 3 iron. Next, take it to the practice tee for only twenty minutes a day, and hit 75 balls, as hard as you can swing, with only that club, from your normal swing mode.
Okay David – you’ve always been out there in left field somewhere, but this is a little far off the page, even for you!
I totally agree – but hear me out. About seven years ago, I managed to trip over my big red dog one night in the pitch black dark and tear the medial meniscus in my left knee. It has never been quite the same since. Then last year, right before moving back to Florida, I managed to tear the medial collateral tendon in my right knee, which stopped me from playing golf for about five months. Even after I healed, every time I would try to play or even swing the club, there was a significant ache, either in my lower back or one of my knees. At seventy years of age, my range of motion in my back swing had shrunk to practically nothing, and needless to say, I was not having any fun. It felt like the right time to put my clubs in the closet or on eBay.
The Fountain Of Youth For My Golf Swing
Then a large miracle happened! One day just over six months ago, totally exasperated with the way my body was feeling, and with a sense of desperation hanging over me, I grabbed the #3 iron from my bag and headed for the practice tee. In retrospect, I’m not exactly sure what I intended to accomplish, but it was something along the lines of punishing myself for getting old with grabbing my lowest lofted of the long irons. I took a basket of 75 balls (75 was a totally arbitrary number, but 50 seemed like too few and 100, too many) and began swinging at them with all the core-speed I could muster. That first day I hit about five solid shots, and all seventy-five of them hurt in one part of my body or another! It was like the scene in Jim Carrey’s movie Liar Liar, where he was in the men’s room at the courthouse “kicking his own ass” in an effort to get a continuance on his trial.
For some weird reason, in spite of the pain of day one, I was obsessed with doing it again and came back the following day to torture myself some more. The second day I hit a few more good ones, but was encouraged, and each successive day saw the number of good shots grow. For the first two months, the improvement each day was very noticeable. By that time, I was hitting the ball so well that the progress seemed to slow, yet the shot quality and distance continued to improve. Today was my 185th session in a row without missing a day of hitting my the lowest loft of my long irons, and during each and every week, with no exceptions, I’ve had at least one or more best days ever! Because of the continued improvement, I’ve delayed in writing about this, because truthfully, I don’t yet know where the “end point” in shot quality development and consistency lie.
Here’s the really amazing part and why I am compelled to keep doing this, as well as sharing it with you. Although I spend time daily on my short game and putting, the only full-swing practice that I’ve done during this period has been the 75 daily balls with the #3 iron, yet when I play golf, every club in my bag has improved significantly, from the driver to the wedges. Yesterday, I made the second hole-in-one of my life (the last was in 1965) and had two other shots on par threes stop within a foot.
My conclusions thus far are as follows:
- Most players go to the practice tee and hit a number of shots with different clubs. Each of the clubs has a different shaft length, a different lie, as well as some inconsistencies in vibration frequency and swing weight. Along with those variances, we also have to factor in a different ball position and spine angle for each club. Practicing with what is arguably the most difficult club in the bag to hit (since almost no one carries a #1 or #2 iron), allows the brain to avoid the confusion of club variability, and concentrate totally on the sequencing of the physiological motor program (which is very demanding if you wish to hit powerful, quality shots with a #3 iron). Moving your body parts correctly and consistently is paramount if you wish to know where your ball is going.
- A great pianist preparing for a show or recital would not practice on thirteen different pianos, but that is exactly what we do when practicing golf. If the motor program in your body is good enough to hit consistent shots with a #3 iron, hitting a wedge requires only minute changes and is a snap cinch. My thinking is leaning very strongly toward the opinion that removing the equipment variable, and hitting a significant number of balls with the #3 iron, enables the player to highly improve the quality of his/her physical motor program (swing mechanics).
- Swinging at maximum core-speed is very important. There is a right way to hit a golf ball hard, and countless wrong ways. Hitting your long irons such as #3 iron hard will definitely tell you the difference better than any club in your bag. By practicing at maximum possible swing speed, the brain is forced to deal with countless physiological details that need to be dealt with at a subconscious level in order to achieve perfect rotary equilibrium (balance) at impact. Learning to slow a swing down is far easier than making it go faster (the right way).
- If you wish to play at the highest level, it is my belief that doing this every day is very important. The great Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz, said that if he missed a day of practice, he could hear it. If he missed two days of practice, his wife could hear it. And, if he missed three days of practice, the world could hear it. Ben Hogan said that if he missed a day of practice, his golf swing backed up three days. I fully realize that not everyone can hit 75 balls a day, but remember that it only takes twenty minutes. Even if you can do this only occasionally, it will be beneficial, but doing it every day is bloody awesome! Not being a person who loves going to the gym, I feel as if I’m getting a two-for-one by getting twenty minutes of good cardio and physical exercise, along with the benefit of feeling my golf swing improve dramatically.
Please keep in mind that this is a “road map,” not an order. Many people out there are interested in becoming as good as they can be. This is something I have never seen another golf professional do, nor have I done it in my own personal history (although I wish I had). Although Tom Watson is said to have warmed up with a #2 iron, I don’t know that he hit it exclusively in his practice sessions, nor do I know how many #2 irons he hit each day. Most pros who have worn a spot the size of a dime in the middle of their seven-iron, have a #3 iron that looks like it just came out of the pro shop. I am telling you that doing this every day is making me feel as if my age is reversing, and my golf game is improving faster than at any point in my life. If you are inclined to give this a try, I am inviting feedback and the experience of others.
Next Chapter For My Practice With Long Irons
This article concluded at the end of the last paragraph when I was 185 days into the program. Today, I completed my 303rd session without missing a day and am glad to report that it was my best ball striking day so far. After forty-three weeks, I am still enjoying one or two “best days ever,” each and every week!! When this adventure will end is as yet undecided because I don’t know how long the improvement will continue. My almost seventy-one year old body is definitely feeling better, my distance and accuracy are still improving, and my sensitivity for how to control the sequencing of my swing is going through the roof.
To draw any final conclusions about this approach to developing a high level of swing excellence through the use of long irons, and to write about it with total conviction, is requiring that I personally walk the walk. So far, considering how little time it takes, I have to say that doing this is something I strongly wish I had done every day of my golf life for the past sixty-six years. In my opinion, regardless of your age, it is never too late to start doing this. Had this always been part of my practice regimen, I can only imagine at what level I would have played during my competitive years, and at what level I would still be playing today. Believe me when I say that hitting 75 #3 irons hard, every day, is far, far different than the way anyone practices the game of golf. Only time and the players that agree with my thoughts on this… will tell the tale.
More to follow!….