PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club

Approach Shots

Groove Your Irons

By Zach Johnson Photos by J.D. Cuban
December 25, 2012


You might have noticed a lot of tour pros carrying colored sticks in their golf bags lately. They kind of look like driveway markers, but they're a lot more useful than keeping a snowplow from destroying your curb. We use these rods or sticks almost every time we're on the range for various drills or to ensure we're hitting the ball where we aim. You can buy them or are two websites that sell them--or you can make your own with broken shafts or dowel rods. They don't have to be anything fancy. Once you get them, take a look at three of my favorite ways to use them. I think they'll help you improve your iron play.


Swing the club over then under

Many good ball-strikers take the club back on plane--so they don't have to re-route it on the way down--then approach the ball from the inside. This drill will groove that move. Stick an alignment rod in the ground right behind the ball, pointing back and to the inside, at a 45-degree angle to a second rod across your toes. The rod's angle to the ground should be roughly the same as your clubshaft's lie angle at address. With a 5-iron, make slow swings--don't hit the ball--sliding the shaft up the rod going back (below, left) and under it coming down, so it hooks under the bottom of the rod (below, right).



Use a cross to help hit it flush

Lay a rod across your toe line to check alignment, and another rod in the middle of your stance and perpendicular to the target line to monitor your ball and hand positions. For a standard shot with most irons, I want the ball about middle, slightly forward for longer irons. Notice how the orange rod is in line with the ball but my hands are slightly closer to the target (below, left). That's a good setup to help hit the ball flush. At impact, your hands should be even closer to the target (below, right). Pay attention to your hand position relative to the rod when you hit practice shots.



Check your aim, curve your shots

I practice with a rod 10 yards in front of me for two reasons. First, it serves as an intermediate target and reminds me to pick my line from behind the ball and trust it, because as soon as I address the ball (below, left), the target will appear to have moved left--called parallax error. If I subconsciously adjust to this distortion, I'll probably pull the shot. Second, the rod helps me shape shots. Golf is a game of visualization, then execution. I see the shot in my mind (below, right), then as a drill, I try to start the ball on one side of the rod and curve it to the other. My body naturally adjusts my swing to do it.