A lot of times you'll hear golfers say they're hitting good short-game shots but struggling with the full swing. Or the opposite: They're puring their irons but can't hit a pitch to save their lives. The reason you can do one and not the other is probably because you don't make the necessary adjustments in your swing when you transition from full-swing shots to short-game shots. To achieve perfect impact on both types, it's all about lag. Should the clubhead lag behind your hands into impact, or should your hands lag behind the clubhead? It depends on whether you need a powerful shot or a soft touch. Let me explain the difference.
Adjust your lag for power—or touch
What is it? You can see here that I'm simulating impact with a 6-iron. This is a great way to get a feel for the type of lag you need to hit the ball flush on full swings. Notice the clubhead is trailing behind my hand position; this allows me to deliver power to the ball with a downward strike. My hands are closer to the target than the ball is, my right wrist is slightly bent back, and the clubshaft is in line with my left arm.
What is it? This is what impact would look like on a short wedge shot where I'm trying to get maximum loft around the green. Notice my hands are just a touch behind the clubhead. The shaft is leaning slightly away from the target and is nearly parallel to my right arm. My right wrist is slightly bowed. These positions allow the back edge of the club's sole to slide along the turf and under the ball, which pops it into the air.
TEST YOUR FULL-SWING LAG
Can you hit shots out of a divot? Put a ball in a divot hole, and try to hit it out with your 6-iron. The only way you can catch the ball solidly and get it in the air is to swing into impact with your hands passing over the hitting zone before the clubhead reaches the ball. If you release your wrists too soon on the downswing and the clubhead catches up to your hands, you're probably going to hit the shot fat or thin.
TEST YOUR SHORT-GAME LAG
Can you hit a high pitch off a tight lie? Take a lob or sand wedge that has very little bounce (8 degrees or less), and place a ball on hardpan or in an area where the turf is very firm. The only way you can pitch the ball high and soft off this kind of lie is to get the clubhead to reach impact at approximately the same time as your hands, or slightly before them. To do that, you have to release your wrists earlier than on a full shot.
DRILL FOR FULL-SWING LAG
DRILL FOR SHORT-GAME LAG
Hit pitches with a 6-iron. To improve your short-game lag, try to hit high, soft shots with your 6-iron. Drop a ball in light rough, then open the clubface so it's pointing toward the sky. Take a super-wide stance, and lower your hands so the shaft is as low to the ground as possible. Swing back, and try to sling the shaft in line with your right forearm. It will feel like you're throwing a Frisbee sidearm with your right hand.
JOSH ZANDER, a Golf Digest Teaching Professional, is based at Stanford (Calif.) Golf Course and Presidio Golf Course in San Francisco.