Use your lead knee to help make the choice.

Xander Schauffele has been in the top three in one of the PGA Tour’s key ball-striking stats in each of the past two seasons – strokes gained/total. A big reason for that is his iron play. He knows how to adjust his swing to create the desired shot, and I’m not just talking about drawing it or fading it.

You can see that Schauffele’s body looks subtly different as he reaches the top of the backswing in these two images – check the left knee. In one photo [far left] that knee dives in. In the other it remains fairly stable. If you move the lead knee inward and towards the ball as you take the club back, even letting that foot’s heel come off the ground, you’ll be able to make a deeper, longer backswing. That adjustment translates to farther and higher iron shots, because you’ll be able to create more speed in the downswing and put more spin on the ball. Remember this move when you need to get it over a tree or clear something fronting a green.

When you don’t need to max out on distance, go with Xander’s stable-knee backswing for better accuracy. Keeping the left foot planted and the knee fairly still restricts lateral movement of the body and shortens the length of the backswing, making it easier to hit the ball with the centre of the clubface. Along with a ball position that is slightly farther back, a quieter lower body also promotes a lower ball flight and reduces spin, leading to straighter shots. 

When you play the ball farther back at address for this controlled shot, your swing path will be more from inside the target line. To adjust for that, it’s helpful to set up slightly open in relation to the target. – with Ron Kaspriske

Josh Zander, a Golf Digest Teaching Professional, is at Stanford University Golf Course in California.

Photographs by J.D. Cuban