1. Know your yardage
With any club it’s important to know not only how far you are capable of hitting it, but how far you tend to hit it.
With long irons this can differ as much as 50 yards and with the flight lower and running on impact with the ground, this can bring all kinds of hazards into the equation.
So take the time to step out the yardage of a dozen balls hit on the practice range to find your average distance with each club. And don’t just pick a calm day, try different shots downwind and into wind and make a note of the results.
2. Ball position
The shaft of the club is up to an inch longer than the short and medium irons in your bag so position the club accordingly in your stance. Make sure you have a look at US Open champion Justin Rose's top tips for ball position who says it's crucial for consistent ball striking.
For a long iron the ball should be towards your front foot (level with the inside of your left heel for a right-hander) to allow the bottom of the arc of your swing to sweep the ball away. With the ball in the middle or too far back it will tend to steepen your approach into the ball. You’ll tend to chunk it and lose distance.
3. Keeps legs out of it
A common fault with handicap golfers is to chase into their long iron shots using their knees for extra leverage.
Keep the legs quiet through impact. This will help maintain your height through the ball and encourage a sweeping action.
Too much keg movement will make it hard to make good contact with the ball and can cause you to catch it fat or thin.
4. How to hit a low curler
If you find yourself in the left hand semi-rough about 150 yards from the green with an overhanging tree preventing you hitting a high mid-iron to the green, try this low runner.
Grip down on a 4-or 5-iron with feet a little closer together. With shoulders and the line of your feet aimed into the fairway, point the clubface at the target and re-grip.
Keep the legs ‘quiet’, make a hands and arms swing along the line of your feet and watch how the ball flies forward on a gentle right to left arc and rolls towards the green.
It’s a useful shot to have in your armoury when a wayward tee shot tends to block out an orthodox approach.
5. Be smart, think ‘straight face’
Just because a hole is between 300- and 400 yards don’t automatically reach for your driver or 3-wood for your tee shot.
The long iron is such a versatile club to help you plot your way round and get you in prime position.
Chances are there are bunkers and trees strategically positioned to catch the unsuspectiing mid-handicapper who lets his heart rule his head with the big stick.
While your colleagues have found trouble, there’s no better feeling than clipping a crisp iron into Position A – if a tad shorter than a perfect shot with a driver – to set up an ideal view of the centre of the green.
6. Why long iron’s a chipping gift
Faced with a 40-yard chip from a well trodden, bare lie in front of the green, the pro will invariably reach for a sharp-edged wedge to get the ball to pitch, spin and check up to the hole.
But they spend hours and hours practising those shots. They ought to be good at them.
For the amateur choking down on a long iron can be just as effective, if not as spectacular or even nowadays rescue clubs can be used for chipping just as effectively.
Grip down almost on the metal of the shaft with a putting grip and without breaking the wrists play back and through like a long putt. With a little practice your pals will watch you get irritatingly close almost every time!
7. Class shot from a trap
One shot that gives as much pleasure as any is the long iron nipped from the surface of a fairway bunker.
The pros rarely make a hash of these because they never try to hit them too hard just like Phil Mickleson who shows us in the this video how to play from a fairway bunker.
Given a reasonable lie and no sharp lip less than five or six yards in front of you, you can play a classy shot that will bite and spin just like the pros.
Settle your feet well into the sand to give a firm anchor and grip down a little on the shaft. Concentrate on the front of the ball – eyes on the back of it tends to encourage a steep attack – and keep your height through the shot.
Keeping the legs passive, make an easy swing; don’t scoop; finish high.
8. Keep your rhythm
The secret to consistent long iron success is to reproduce short iron rhythm.
Take up your 3- or 4 iron and grip it down the shaft, imagining you are playing a simple chip with a wedge. Grip a little higher, as if with a 5-iron and swing it with that smooth action you usually adopt with the scoring mid-irons.
Finally grip the handle at the top and try to retain the same rhythm and you’ll find the long irons far less of a problem than you would expect.
9. Tee it up on par-3s
Always use a tee peg when the opportunity presents itself for par-3 tee shot with a long iron.
It’s tough enough from a tight lie so don’t try to be cute to get more left to right spin.
Especially into wind you will have a good chance of striking a solid shot with more penetration if you tee the ball up a little.
10. And finally...
The secret of consistent iron play is to swing within yourself.
By that we mean don't get tense; don't rush it. Stand tall, complete your backswing and stay balanced through the shot and watch it fizz off in a straight penetrating flight.
There's no better feeling.
First published April 2003. Updated September 2013.