There is no greater feeling to me than hitting a 4-iron into a guarded green and watching the ball come to rest near the pin. Fairway metals and long irons present the toughest challenge in golf. I usually play courses from the tips, that means I have a lot of long second shots to hit. It's said the average golfer can improve their overall score the most with short game work, but never underestimate the advantage of a good long game.
I'm about to tell you a valuable secret; driving is overrated. Don't get me wrong a big drive sets up a shorter and higher percentage approach shot but an errant drive can cripple you. Being long off the tee carries certain bragging rites, but unless you can recover from a bad drive with a great iron shot you have torpedoed your score.
The good news is by working on your long game you can improve every club in your bag. To hit a 4 iron solid requires a precise smooth rhythmic swing, the kind you should always use by the way. If you over-swing the club your odds of striking the ball solid are minimal at best. Hybrids help to make these shots easier but I still see a lot of knee-knocking on the course. How many times have you seen people at the driving range hitting their hybrids or long irons more than their driver? What I normally see are a few cursory swings at best. How can you possibly trust a club you have very little history with? Long irons and fairway metals should be practiced more than the driver.
Some of the most celebrated shots in the history of golf have been long game beauties. I learned long ago that good approach shots take heat off your short game. Long par threes and par fours can be daunting. Having the confidence to hit a hybrid or long iron well changes everything about your game.
One of my favorite ways to test myself and work on my long game is to play an entire round of golf without my woods in the bag. If you go into it with the right mind set you'll find out that not only is it challenging but it's fun. The same old course that you've played countless times will seem new, and you'll have to hit shots you've never thought of before.
Here's a couple of tips that will make this even more challenging, fun, and productive. Before you go to the course sit down and study the yardages on each hole. Be honest with yourself about how far you hit your clubs and don't just pull your longest club for each tee shot. Don't try to reach the green in regulation, instead pick the shortest clubs you can use to get there with 1 extra shot. For instance if you have a 450 yard par 4, plan to hit two 160 yard shots then pick the right club to get you there in three. Or calculate how you can get there with 3 different clubs. Doing the math I'm sure you realize there are several combinations of shots you could use, the point is don't just rely on always hitting your longest club. You may be surprised how much fun it is to play from the fairway.
Next time try adding your fairway metals to your bag. Again calculate the holes before you start but try to get there in regulation. If need be, swallow your ego and tee off from the shorter tees. This is about improving your ball striking. Remember, each shot dictates the next one so you have to adjust on the fly. There is no better way to learn course management than to change your approach to each hole. You may find that the best way to play some holes is to leave the driver in the bag and navigate the hole differently.
Never forget that golf is a mental game. Never stop using your imagination...