"When your shot has to carry over a water hazard, you can either hit one more club or two more balls." - Henry Beard
Over the years I've played in hundreds of pro-ams, and I've noticed that most amateurs consistently come up short with their irons. Very seldom do amateur players hit their approach shots to the pin. They either come up short of the green altogether or they leave themselves a long putt to the hole.
In fact, the question I hear most often from amateur players in pro-ams is, "How do you always end up at the pin?" My answer is that I always take enough club. I know my yardages and I play to them. And if I have a question about which club to use, I almost always take the longer one.
I'm convinced most players struggle with their approach shots simply because they are underclubbing. They are using the iron they believe to have the right distance, but more often than not, it leaves them short of the target. This happens because most players don't make solid contact with the ball. The club they are using would be the perfect distance with the right swing and connection, but even a slight mis-hit will cause the shot to lose power and come up short. In my clinics I explain that a ball struck squarely by a clubhead going 80 miles per hour will go further than a ball struck slightly off center at 120 miles per hour. Timing and control in the swing are more important than speed.
On the practice range, players usually hit balls farther than they do on the course. They are more relaxed and at ease, and their swings tend to be fluent and smooth. They tend to get spoiled on practice ranges, because each shot is hit from a perfect lie, and the range has no trees, lakes, or bunkers to get them into trouble. As a result, they swing easier and hit the sweet spot more often. But when they get on the course, their bodies tense and their swings become slightly more tight and rigid. This causes them to have less flexibility, which in turn slows down their clubhead speed. The result is their irons lose the distance they need.
I encourage players who struggle with this problem to simply take more club than they need with each approach shot. Eventually as they begin hitting the target more often, they will grow in confidence and their bodies will begin to relax again, which will help them gain more accuracy. When this happens, they will find they carry over the pin on occasion. This is because they are hitting the sweet spot more consistently. With time they will need to start clubbing back down. But until that time, they should continue to use more club than they think they need.
In the words of Abe Mitchell, one of the greatest players and teachers from the early 1900s, "Never underclub is a good motto; or perhaps I should say, 'When in doubt, overclub.' The more you learn to play within yourself the better will your game be."