Before the invention of modern driving ranges and high-tech ball sweepers, golfers or their caddies had to retrieve their own balls. Because they supplied the balls on their own dime, golfers would try to hit them in tight circles to keep from losing them.
Golf history is rich with stories of caddies barely having to take a step to retrieve golf balls on the range. Creamy Carolan, who caddied for Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer, used a baseball glove to catch balls on the fly. These caddies were the launch monitors of the past, and information flowed between caddy and player on accuracy and distance. I imagine that some of the language would have been quite colorful if the caddy was made to run around and work harder.
Driving balls to a precise spot on the range helped players improve both their directional accuracy and distance control. Because today’s players don’t have to worry about finding their own balls on the driving range, they practice hitting the ball straight, but don’t work as much on controlling the distance.
Improve your distance control by practicing like some of the all-time greats and picking up your own balls. Although finding a driving range that will allow it may not be easy, some clubs that still aren’t modernized will let you can shag your own balls. You may also consider an empty park with multiple sport fields. Football fields are great, and distance marked every 10 yards is a huge bonus. Start aiming for small circles, and your iron play will get sharper than it's ever been.
Take your distance practice with Phil Mickelson's Iron Distance Drill.