Why do I top, thin & fat my iron shots?

Miss-hitting iron shots is not fun. You’ve done all of the hard work of getting in range of the green, then you entirely fluff your iron shot. What makes it more frustrating is that two perfectly hit iron shots can be followed by a complete duff, or a thinned rocket that can cleanly remove someones knee caps.

If this sounds like you don’t worry, you are not alone. Learning how to hit your irons is a big goal for many golfers playing the game. I’ve given many lessons on this area, and in my 12 years of coaching here are my biggest tips to super-charge your progress.

If you’re interesting in improving your strike but have already mastered the basics, check out part two: How to strike your shots like a tour pro. Or if you are interest in new equipment, check out our roundup of the best game improvement irons.

Mindset for consistent ball striking

how to irons irons golf mindset

Every time I begin a golf lesson with someone struggling with their striking, I ask them the same question:

“What are you trying to do when you hit the golf ball?”

90% of the golfers I coach give me the following response:

“I’m trying to get the ball up in the air”

Straight away this tells me the route cause of their issue. I know no amount of technical work will improve them, until we help them understand how to hit great irons shots. Most of the faults I see in their swing are a direct result of them trying to get the ball up in the air.

The mindset of “I need to get the ball up in the air” tends to result in the following kind of action.

Now, you can hit some good golf shots with this swing action, but wow it relies on some great timing. This is why some days you hit every shot up in the air, and other days it just seems impossible.

Strike down to get it up

To hit a great iron shot you actually have to hit downward through the golf ball. Your aim is to strike slightly down through the ball (-1 to -10 degrees) and take a nice little divot afterwards. Just in case you don’t believe me I thought I best put a video of someone quite good at it below.

This seems highly counterintuitive to most, but this is how irons are designed to be hit. All the coaching points laid out below will fall into place, as long as you keep the mindset that you are trying to strike down into the golf ball and let the loft on the club propel the ball upwards.

The visual changes you will see below are very subtle, but these are the small changes that are needed. The aim is to take your strike from 1-3 degrees upwards, and change it to 1-5 degrees downwards.

Set up to hit great iron shots

Have a look at the two set ups below. Pictured left is what I see for someone trying to get the ball up in the air. On the right we have someone who is set up well to strike down through their iron shots.

why do I miss hit my iron shots set up
Left shows before and right after. Note the slight change in ball position and shaft lean. Both these changes encourage a slight descending strike. (Stern facial expression optional)

Check the following points in your own set up. Use a mirror, window or video your set up.

  1. Is my ball positioned around the centre of my stance?
  2. Are my hands slightly ahead of the golf ball?

This set up is ideal for a wedge down to a 7 iron, as the clubs get slightly longer (5 & 4 iron), your ball position should nudge slightly forward of centre.

Swing to strike your iron shots

Now you have an understanding of how to hit a great iron shot, and a good set up you are almost there. I could write 10 points about swing changes, but they just aren’t needed.

Take a look at the pictures below. Again, left is where we have someone trying to hit the golf ball up in the air, and right someone striking down through their iron shots. There really isn’t much difference.

how to strike golf shots impact
Note the slight change in upper body position at impact. This shows more weight is placed on the front foot and the upper body is further forward.

How do you go out and make these small changes? I suggest the following.

Practice to hit great iron shots

Aim make a great repetition and a descending strike of the golf matt/grass, with every practice swing you take. I’ve never used bold on this blog before, so it must be important 😉 . As you hit each shot repeat this feeling. With each swing try to get through into a perfectly balanced finished; with your weight on your front foot.

Your aim is to hold your finish until the ball stops rolling. This needs to be done if your ball goes 4.5 feet or 175 yards.  A slow, smooth swing will really help you make the small changes needed to improve your strike.

To start with, take 10 balls and count how many you can maintain a balanced finish with. You have to be able to hold this finish until the ball stops rolling to gain a point. The following time you attempt this game, aim to beat your previous score. Start out with 10 shots with a pitching wedge. Once you can make 7-8 balanced finishes out of 10, add in another 10 balls with a 8 or 6 iron.

That is all you need to do. This drill has two effects. Firstly it helps you get into a great impact position without over thinking it. Secondly, if you pose after every golf shot, you’ll at least look good. This way you can just tell your golfing partners you’re just having an off-day.

Training aids aren’t necessary, but if you want some additional feedback on how to improve your strike, you can check out this article, reviewing the best golf training aids, including a review of the tour striker and impact bag.

Once you’ve mastered the basics of a good strike, come back and read how to strike golf shots like a tour pro or check out our article on the most forgiving irons. Also, if you would like a weekly article sent straight to your inbox to help you keep improving your golf, come join the golf insiders weekly post.

Thanks for reading and happy golfing.

Head back to Golf Insider long game home

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Will is a PGA golf professional, with a PhD in Biomedical Science and MSc in Sports Biomechanics & Psychology. He spent 10 years lecturing part-time at Leeds Beckett University and the University of Leeds in Biomechanics and Motor Control before becoming the Head of Golf for the University of Exeter. He currently runs Golf Insider UK, Sport Science Insider around wider consulting and academic roles in sport performance and motor control.

4 thoughts on “Why do I top, thin & fat my iron shots?”

  1. I constantly hit the ball fat, and my buddies say that I’m crowding the ball. I don’t feel like I’m too close to the ball, in fact, at times it feels as if I’m too far away from the ball. I hate hitting the ground before I hit my ball. I’ll take several practise swings before addressing the ball and as soon as I swing to hit the ball, ground first. I believe I’m dipping down and dropping my shoulder but I’m not sure. Any suggestions for me.

    • Hi Bradley,

      Thanks for getting in touch. Yes – most balance and ‘too much movement’ issues come as a result of poor posture and set up. Have a read of the article below to get some guidance. I think this will also answer your question for how far away to stand.


      Once you have your stance in order aim to keep making positive golf swings through into a balanced finish.

      I would urge you to find a great local PGA pro who makes the game simple. They will be far more use than me from a distance, however I hope these articles set you on the right track.

      I hope that helps.



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