When To Use A 3-Iron In Golf: The 3-Iron Explained

Every golfer knows that golf can be incredibly difficult. On a good day, it’s tough, and on a great day, it’s tricky.

If you’re looking for something a bit more tricky to try out on the course, then the 3-iron might be for you.

While an important club that can have many different uses, many golfers would rather use a 5-wood or a hybrid for the same purposes as a 3-iron.

But if you know how and when to use a 3-iron, you stand a step above the rest.

Knowing how to gap your golf clubs is always an important skill, so if you want to know how, why, and when to use a 3-iron, keep reading as we go over the benefits and uses of a 3-iron.

Let’s get started!

When To Use A 3-Iron In Golf: The 3-Iron Golf Club

What is a 3-iron?

The 3-iron is one of the first irons you might regularly use.

It is also one of the lowest lofted irons available, as indicated by it’s name.

The ‘3’ in 3-iron means that its loft is lower than the other irons in your bag, higher only than the 2-iron.

As you go up in number, through from 3-9, the loft of the club increases, and the average distance achievable with the club decreases.

Due to its low loft, the 3-iron is sometimes seen as a replacement for various wood clubs. Some golfers find it easier to use an iron club over a wood, as they are also shorter than woods and therefore offer more swing control.

When To Use A 3-Iron In Golf: The 3-Iron Golf Club

the Loft of a 3-iron

The average loft of a 3-iron is around 20 degrees.

While this is similar to a 5-wood or a 7-wood, it does not necessarily mean that they are exactly interchangeable, as they have different uses and can hit the ball, on average, different distances.

The length of a 3-iron

The average length of a 3-iron is around 39 inches.

This is also the average length of just about every golf iron, however, it is always worth making sure that your clubs are correctly sized, as an incorrectly sized golf club can cause a number of swing errors.

And while we’re on the subject, it’s also worth making sure that your clubs are clean, as dirty clubs can also negatively impact your game!

When To Use A 3-Iron In Golf: The 3-Iron Golf Club

Distance chart of a 3-iron

As with any shot, distance can be affected by a number of factors, including weather, ball age, and the physical ability of the golfer. 

  • Beginner – 135 yards
  • Average – 170 yards
  • Good – 180 yards
  • Excellent – 205 yards

When to use a 3-iron

A great time to use a 3-iron is if you’re playing in bad weather. High winds and heavy rain can severely alter your ball trajectory mid flight, and affect the ground you’re playing on.

Clubs like a 5-wood, or even a 7-wood, that can be chosen above a 3-iron in certain situations, are great for getting the ball high in the air for long flop shots or getting around hazards.

The 3-iron is great for hitting long, but close-to-the-ground shots. This is because of the low loft on 3-iron, which also makes it one of the more difficult clubs to use.

The 3-iron is also really useful for playing on difficult lies. Playing on a slope can be tough for many golfers as it can affect your swing plane and your stance.

If you’re playing on a tough lie with a lot of distance to cover, try the 3-iron, as it tends to be easier to play of a tough lie with an iron as opposed to a wood.

However, using a 3-iron is not typically recommended to beginner golfers, or to high handicappers.

Getting your swing right and making a good, consistent connection with a 3-iron can be something that eludes many golfers. We would recommend practicing, as much as possible, until you get right.

While it’s definitely a tough club to use, and most useful on tricky lies or in bad weather, the 3-iron can also be used from the tee.

If needed, it’s best used from a tee on a 3-par or a particularly tough 4-par where you need to plan your shots strategically.

When To Use A 3-Iron In Golf: The 3-Iron Golf Club

How to set up with a 3-iron

Since the 3-iron is an especially difficult club for some to use, and since you can use a 3-iron from both a tee and the ground, it’s important to know how to set up properly with it before you make your swing.

So let’s go over how to set up with a 3-iron from both the fairway and the tee.

How to Set Up with a 3-iron from the fairway:

  • When setting up from the fairway, you’ll want to start with your regular golf stance, so knees flexed, waist hinged, and feet around shoulder width apart
  • The ball should be in the center of your position with your clubface resting just behind it.
  • Make sure your shoulders are back and your arms are relaxed before your begin the rotation of your backswing.
  • You can now hover your club slightly off of the ground. This will help you get under the ball in your swing to make sure that the ball gets off of the ground, and can help reduce the risk of hitting a chunk of a fat shot.
When To Use A 3-Iron In Golf: The 3-Iron Golf Club

How to Set up with a 3-iron from the tee:

  • When setting up your tee, set the height to be slightly shorter than you would with a driver or a 3-wood. the average tee height with a driver is around 1 inch, so around half will do. The tee height is higher with a wood as they have less loft and therefore need more help getting the ball into the air.
  • Keep your stance natural, so your regular stance with the ball in the center of your position.
  • Set your clubface so that the ball is positioned in the center of your clubface but slightly lower than the center.
When To Use A 3-Iron In Golf: The 3-Iron Golf Club

How to use a 3-iron

More important than when to use a 3-iron is how to use a 3-iron. You can technically use a 3-iron in any situation on the course, there’s nothing stopping you except common sense. You can even putt with it if you want, though we wouldn’t recommend it!

There are a number of things you should bear in mind when you are using a 3-iron, so let’s go over them.

Lag in your swing

Creating lag in your swing is so important with your 3-iron. Due to the low loft of the club, it can be hard to get the ball of the ground with it in some occasions.

While this can be used to your advantage, you don’t want to hit a thin shot, and creating lag in your swing is a great way to prevent this.

Having lag in your swing means that during your swing, your hands pass over the ball before your club makes connection with it.

Lag in the swing plays a big part in creating lift in the ball so that it is actually hit into the air, rather than rocketing along the fairway and hitting divots left right and center.

One way you can ensure that you get enough lag in your swing is by making sure your wrist set is correct.

Your wrist set is the angle that your wrists take in the backswing and keep throughout the swing. It helps your club coil behind your head in the backswing, and helps you keep your hands in front of the clubface in the downswing.

While you might want to hit your 3-iron low, you still want the ball to get off the ground, and creating lag in your swing is essential for this.

When To Use A 3-Iron In Golf: The 3-Iron Golf Club

Get under it!

Since the 3-iron is a lower lofted iron, many golfers struggle to get the ball off of the ground with it.

To do so, you have to get under the ball with your swing. Or, technically, you need to connect with the ball with the lower central position of your clubface.

This can be especially difficult from the fairway, as the ball is not raised off the ground, and even more difficult on a tricky lie.

Many golfers choose to use a steeper downswing to ensure that they are connecting with the ball with the right position.

A steeper downswing may also be easier for some golfers as it means that you have to rotate less in your swing.

This move takes plenty of practice and may take some time to get right, but it can also be beneficial for getting backspin on the ball, something very important to know for hitting flop shots.

If you have decided to hit a steeper downswing, you may want to widen your stance slightly and open your position more towards the target.

This means altering your foot position so that your front foot is facing more towards where you are aiming, rather than parallel to it. This will both help you control your steeper swing, and provide you more balance throughout your swing.

So, hopefully we have made you aware of the how, why, and when to use a 3-iron in golf.

As always, don’t take a club you’re unfamiliar with out into a real game, make sure you practice before you head out on the fairway, there’s no telling just how much it can save your scorecard!

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Adam is a writer and lifelong golfer who probably spends more time talking about golf than he does playing it nowadays!

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