Hit Long Irons Like Nicklaus’ Iconic 1-Iron

Aaron Ungvarsky

Aaron Ungvarsky

PGA of America Professional, SwingU Instructor

The greatest ever; one of the greatest ever; the second greatest ever… Wherever Jack Nicklaus falls on your list of professionals to play at the highest level, his long game — and specifically his long irons — were the best ever.

Many of Jack’s signature moments in majors came when a perfectly struck long iron found the putting surface, securing the victory.

The final round of the 1972 U.S. Open saw gale force winds and skyrocketing scores for the field, except for Jack. By the time he reached the 17th hole, he had the lead but needed a solid finish to ensure victory and bury the competition.

His iconic 1-iron pierced the headwind and hit the stick, some 220 yards away.

We can learn exactly what it takes to hit long irons with laser-like accuracy from this timeless and perfect shot. Here is what Jack did so well and what you can incorporate to strike your long irons like the Golden Bear.

The Setup

  • The key to long iron play is making the swing more like a fairway wood or driver swing and less like a short iron or wedge swing. Too many amateurs make a steep and descending swing, which compromises contact and power at impact.
  • Take a slightly wider than shoulder-width stance and tilt your spine angle away from the target slightly so the buttons on your shirt are to the right of your belt buckle — or the logo on the left breast of your shirt is centered between your feet. These measures help create a shallow and in-to-out path — the sweeping motion needed to contact the long iron crisply.
  • The ball position is approximately two-to-three ball widths inside the lead foot, allowing for the longer club to bottom out properly.

The Swing

  • Make a wide and smooth arc as you take the club back. Like when swinging any of the longer clubs in the bag, tempo is key.
  • We must maintain the adjusted spine angle throughout the swing. In watching the swing Jack makes, he makes a full turn and loads into his right side as if he were hitting a driver — exactly how we should approach our long irons. Amateurs will tend to under-rotate and without a full turn, a long iron or hybrid will be very difficult to hit with accuracy and distance.
  • Once the transition takes place and we start the downswing, feel like the spine is keeping you behind the ball and your right shoulder is traveling down, rather than moving directly towards the ball. Having the right shoulder drop down to start the move into the ball will shallow the club plane, creating the sweeping path we need.
  • Feel like you have stayed behind the hit and then allow your hands to chase and finish high. The high finish will assist in flighting the low lofted iron, just like Jack. His 1-iron went as high as many players 5-iron.