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The Facts About Single Length Irons

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There has been a LOT of discussion lately about single-length iron sets. So much, in fact, that as a club builder and fitter single-length irons have become a daily topic of conversation.

Most of this buzz about single-length irons has been created by reigning U.S Amateur and NCAA Division I Individual champion Bryson DeChambeau, who has been very successful using a custom set of single-length irons made by Edel, a boutique equipment company in Texas.

Related: Bryson DeChambeau WITB 2016

Edel isn’t the first company to build a set of single-length irons. Tommy Armour built and marketed a set called the EQL’s in the 80’s, and there have been a few other niche companies who have been building these sets for a long time, including One Iron Golf. Recently, Tom Wishon and Jaacob Bowden released a set of single-length irons. Named Sterling Irons, they’re designed to be built shorter than others. At 36.5 inches, they’re each about the length of an 8-iron.

SterlingIrons-cavity

Related: Learn more about Sterling Irons

All of the sets listed above have one thing in common; they were designed with the sole purpose of being built to a single length. With this trend gaining more interest from the general golfing public the most popular questions are:

  • Can single length irons work for me?
  • Can I make my current set into a single-length set?  

I’m going to explain the differences between a standard set of irons and single-length irons, why it’s difficult to convert a standard set of irons to single length and what is needed to make sure proper gapping is achieved throughout the set.

According to DeChambeau and the team at Edel, his set took many attempts to get just right. And as a club builder who is getting requests for this type of set, it’s difficult to explain the small nuances involved to golfers, especially those players looking to do this to either an existing set or to a new one built from scratch using standard OEM components. It’s also difficult to fit a golfer for this type of set because of the cost associated with having enough club heads of varying lofts to properly fit for distance gapping.

The other piece of information that I don’t believe has been mentioned enough as it pertains to the average golfer is that DeChambeau is a finely tuned athlete who swings his 45-inch driver at more than 120 mph. Most club players can only swing that fast in their dreams, and DeChambeau’s speed gives him a distinct advantage with his irons.

If you give a golfer five clubs of the same length, shaft flex, total weight, and swing weight, they will swing them at almost exactly the same speed. Give that golfer a traditional set of irons that are built with shafts that get approximately 0.5-inches longer as the iron number decreases (with the same shaft, shaft flex, swing weight and a decreasing head weight of 7-to-10 grams per club), however, and they will likely swing each club 2-3 mph faster as they move up the set.

The increased clubhead speed translates into faster ball speeds in the longer irons, which is needed to maintain a consistent peak height from the lower-lofted clubs, also know as a consistent flight window. Smash Factor also slowly increases, because the reduced loft will transfer more energy into the ball (the contact is less “glancing” or oblique), creating faster ball speeds with the longer clubs.

Distance gapping can become an issue in the longer clubs with a single-length iron set, because swing speed does not stay the same as loft is reduced. That’s why DeChambeau’s custom Edel set uses bigger loft gaps (5 degrees) in the longer clubs. Wishon’s Sterling irons do not have this design, but he addressed the issue by making the faces of his long irons “hotter,” which has the same effect.

trackman_pga_vs_lpga_data

Here is where things become very difficult from a building perspective. Standard head weights for irons are not designed to be built to the same length. They are engineered for a company’s specific length progression, generally 0.5 inches between clubs.

The chart below demonstrates the difference in club head mass between standard head weights of a set built to roughly D3 and a set of single-length irons.

Single_Length_HeadweightsAlso, the lies and loft of standard irons are not designed to be bent past a certain point, which can cause detriment to the playing characteristics of the club head.

DeChambeau plays his entire set at 73-degree lie angle, which is more upright than the lie angle of most off-the-rack putters! Trying to bend a set of standard iron heads to these angles would either totally mar the hosels or cause them to break, especially considering many irons now are made of multiple materials and advanced constructions. DeChambeau’s Edel irons, on the other hand, are forged and more easily bent.

It should also be noted that DeChambeau’s irons are manufactured so there is no negative effect on performance. And his extremely upright lie angles are the result of his unique swing mechanics, and are not necessary to use a single-length iron set.

The chart below demonstrates standard lie angles vs. DeChambeau’s Clubs.

Single_Length_lie_Bryson

Going back to the issue of gapping, with a set of single-length clubs, lofts need to be adjusted accordingly to make sure that golfers have proper yardage gaps between clubs. With any player, the gapping will depending on swing speed.

The Trackman data below shows some interesting information based my testing a set of single-length irons (37.5 inches) and a set of irons built to standard lengths with frequency matched shafts, matching swing weights, and built in 0.5-inch increments.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The conclusion is that single-length irons might be the perfect solution to creating more consistency in your golf game, but just like buying a new driver or standard set of irons, be sure to visit a proper club fitter. It will take some time to find the right components to fit your needs.

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Ryan Barath is a club fitter and master club builder who has more than 15 years experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour professionals. He studied business and marketing at the Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf located in Toronto. He now works independently from his home shop in Hamilton and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers, including True Temper. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf, from course architecture to physics, and share his passion for club building, and wedge grinding.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Bruce Gerhold

    Mar 18, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    I used conventional club heads and fabricated a set of MOI matched clubs using a 2 length concept. This could be an alternate set that a player would find useful: I have played these for several months no plans to return to variable length, variable weight clubs.

    I hold advanced degrees in Mechanical Engineering where I studied the science and mathematics of moving bodies. My career was in R&D work so tinkering with club fabrication is a natural. I’ll outline my fabrication below.

    The clubheads are a cavity back design with and undercut behind the face ( Hireko Prophet CB cast perimeter with a forged, hardened stainless face Note the lofts are 1 club number lower than conventional to artificially add length but I refer to conventional loft club numbers below. http://www.hirekogolf.com/golf-components/clubheads/golf-irons/dynacraft-prophet-cb-iron-clubhead.html ). I selected these based on excellent feel of the forged face inserts and the undercut offers a convenient place to add weight that is well supported mechanically and will remain on the club head. The 2, 3, 4, 5 irons are same length, same shaft, same shaft trim (5 iron), same grip. I used two techniques to add weight to the club heads so they all equaled the 5 iron ( 263 g) : first, I mixed tungsten powder and shafting epoxy forming a self leveling mix, then put the mix in the cavity allowing it to settle to the bottom of the undercut and distribute evenly. When greater than 10 grams is required, I used 1/4 oz “egg” shaped lead fishing sinkers that were flattened to fit into the undercut – one in the toe and one in the heel. I then used the tungsten powder + epoxy to trim the weight and pot in the lead pieces. Both methods function well with no weight lost while playing and practicing. The long irons are 37 inches long.
    The 6, 7, 8, 9 are made similarly with weight equal to the 8 iron ( 284 g ), shaft trim of an 8 iron and no weight on the 9 iron (simply made it 3/8 shorter for constant total club MOI). The short irons are 36 inches long. Since the short irons are shorter, but with increased head weight, the club MOI equals that of the long irons as measured with a pendulum technique. Note: the MOI is the moment of inertial of the entire club about the point between the hands (pivot point for club release which is what generates speed). The concept of swingweight is not supported by science and I (and many others) take as meaningless.

    I find that even though I have 2 club lengths, the ball position is roughly the same for the 2 lengths with the longer clubs played one ball forward of the short clubs.. The common set up tremendously simplifies your game and leads to solid iron play. I flattened lie angle somewhat on the 5,4 and 8,9 but hesitated to bend too much because they are a cast body (2 degree max bending recommended). My 2 length clubs play just fine with minimal lie adjustments because the 2 lengths effectively give a lie adjustment.

    My results show NO SHOT DISTANCE PROBLEMS. The length of a shot depends on club loft, club momentum (speed times MASS), and hitting the sweet spot. The added club head mass compensates for the shorter shaft, and I hit much more solid shots due to a controllable club length. 9 iron 120 and 2 iron 195 with normal type spacing for the intermediate clubs.

  2. Lawrence Savage

    Mar 18, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    I bought a set of 1 Iron clubs because I thought it sounded like a really good idea. These were the problems I experienced:
    1. The look on some clubs (3i, 4i and particularly wedges) was a bit off putting
    2. I hit shorter shots in general, even though the lofts were nearly identical to my previous set. This was an absolute confidence killer. My swing speed is very middle of the road and I found that 3i and 4i were barely longer than 5i
    3. I found the shafts in the wedges a little bit whippy, which may have contributed to reduced distance
    4. The larger grips took a bit of getting used to, and I went from hitting a relatively predictable draw to an semi-controlled fade
    5. Chipping was much harder from Kikuyu grass because of the low bounce of 3° (except SW at 6°) – certainly it was awkward-feeling chipping with a 7i-length LW at first
    6. The grooves absolutely mashed the golf balls covers. In fact if one were super particular it would be one shot one ball, so much was the scuffing. This was a real sore point since the ZAR:USD exchange rate has made decent balls very expensive now
    7. I went out six shots on handicap over five months – this was the death knell for me

    I eventually went back to my old set and after a year I recovered my old form, in fact I reached my lowest hcp. It was a really expensive experiment, but super glad I tried it. Maybe when I’m older I would consider them again.

  3. Ash

    Mar 18, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    The article ‘borrows’ heavily from members comments in the forums. A key point left out is that Bryson D, with Edel Golf, have adjusted heads so that the weights are IDENTICAL. Missing that vital point renders this article worthless.

  4. Gisle Solhaug

    Mar 17, 2016 at 10:25 am

    The advantage of single length sets of irons is that your muscle memory will only have to learn one swing for your set of irons rather than one swing for each club. The same can be achieved on a standard set of golf clubs by optimizing the weight of each club by adding a specific weight to the grip end of the club. As the ball position and club length differ on a traditional set, so must the weight of each club. The calculations to obtain this exact weight is complex and involves building a computer model of your body swinging each of your clubs. You will then have the same swing for every club in your bag, except the putter of course. By making every club the same length, the ball position will be the same for every club at setup. Therefore, the clubs will be perfectly matched when they all have the same weight and MOI. And they will all have the same Swingweight, for those of you that care about that. The disadvantage of a single length set of irons is that you still need to apply a different swing for all the other clubs in the bag. What if you could have the same swing for all the clubs? That would make the game a lot easier. Those who are interested can learn more at http://www.rational-golf.com

    • Large chris

      Mar 18, 2016 at 1:47 pm

      Not according to the book ‘physics of golf’ by Jorgenson as referred to by Dave Tutelman.
      Perfectly balancing a conventional 1/2 inch progression set of irons requires specific weights added both at the butt and midway down the shaft. It can’t be done by just adding different weights at the butt only, as it is not possible to equalise the first, second and third moments of the club without adding weights at the midpoint.
      Also you seem to be suggesting you can achieve the same swing with different length clubs…. Patently impossible as the lie angle is changing ie the angle your wrists are pointing at to ground out the club.

  5. KK

    Mar 16, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    Very interesting but I do agree this this probably for the higher swing speed golfer. Maybe two lengths for slower swing speeds? That would be a nightmare for fitters, lol.

  6. Tony Wright

    Mar 16, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    Thanks for the informative article Ryan. You mentioned Tom Wishon’s single length iron design. I know that he worked for 2 years to develop it, in partnership with a very good European player. It will be very interesting to see what happens with his design once it gets into the hands of golfers through custom club fitters. I know that he has already sold out 4 orders of single length iron heads through his supplier – the first shipment of heads from Tom to custom fitters will happen sometime later in March, and the 4th set of orders will not occur until sometime in June. None of this says that single length is going to catch on – and Tom himself says it will not be for everyone – but we will see!

  7. Snowman9000

    Mar 16, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    Regarding your dispersion graphic: At least one of those club numbers should have been effectively the same in both sets. Maybe the 5 iron, maybe the 6. Yet every SL club was worse. Are you comparing an ill-fitted SL set to a well-fitted conventional set?

    BTW I don’t disagree with your assessment of the obstacles involved. I have custom made 3 SL sets. Even going so far as to remove or add weight in the right places as to improve the flighting of the irons. My last set was my best, and it’s pretty good. But I still find that the “short” irons (9 & wedges) fly too high. I feel it’s because the attack is shallower. My irons are only 6 iron through wedges, so the rest of the objections don’t really come into play. I can see a 5 iron, but I can’t see any reason today for a recreational golfer to play a 4 iron, no matter the length. So for 5 or 6 irons through wedges, it’s not that hard to do, and there are definite benefits in consistency, once the right fitting is found.

    With an SL set, you don’t have to fret about whether to match the clubs via swingweight, or MOI, or MBI, or balance point, etc. Which is good, because some golfers do better with descending swingweights, some with steady swingweights, some with ascending weight shafts, some with constant weight shafts, some with unitized (descending weight) shafts, etc. But the amount of testing, and of required discernment ability by the fitter and golfer, and randomness of swings during fitting, make it extremely unlikely that the golfer comes out of the fitting with the true right heft and balance for him, throughout the set. MAYBE for the test club, yes. Hopefully so.

    In the SL set, all that goes out the window. If the test club is truly a good fit, so are the others.

    Again, I admit that this has to be balanced against the downsides, which are distance gapping and flighting. Many golfers, if they played an SL set that truly matched their swing, might find better results even despite the gapping and flighting issues. Might.

  8. Jason

    Mar 16, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    Golfers are funny. Every top 100 player in the world uses a standard set of clubs and some guy shows up out of nowhere (albeit BC is a great golfer and he obviously has had tremendous success) with a single length set and now everyone is considering changing years of familiarity for them. The lifelong equipment search for golfers continues…

  9. Robert A Parolisi

    Mar 15, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    Add tape to build up the taper in the shaft, then grip down on the iron.

  10. Al

    Mar 15, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    I’ve tried to do this with 2011 Tmag tour preferred MC (they have exchangeable weights and ebay allowed for a variety of options), I went with a lighter shaft Nippon 950gh HT. Basically, I had the 8-LW the same length. The 3,5 and 7 same length, didn’t use the 4 and 6 for gapping purposes. Had the 3 bent to 20, the 5i to 25 and 7i to 30. I added a heavier weight plate to the back as well as brass shaft tip weights. I was able to get them to C9-D2. Overall it was fine, I actually had some solid rounds and scored well too. Mentally I struggled looking down at the 3 and how short it was. I played the 8-LW at a length of 35.5″ and 3-7″ at 36.5″. Unfortunately I reverted back to normal lengths. I regret it now and wish I would have stayed with it longer. I have another set of shafts I can play with if I get the itch.

  11. Scooter McGavin

    Mar 15, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Sounds like something you’d need to go to a specialty shop for, because I doubt the local Golfsmith or Golf Galaxy would have the equipment or know-how to accommodate.

  12. Bob

    Mar 15, 2016 at 11:23 am

    I’ve known Ryan for many years and he knows the mechanical aspects of club building as well as anyone I’ve met in my 37 years in and around the golf business. He an excellent synopsis of the positive and negative aspects of the single length approach, IF in the hands of an athletic player like Dechambeau.

  13. TOM

    Mar 15, 2016 at 10:49 am

    the last paragraph sums it all up.

  14. Ryan

    Mar 15, 2016 at 10:46 am

    I’m not quite ready to switch to a single length set of irons, but what do you think about a single length for wedges? It’s something I’ve been considering for awhile.

    • devilsadvocate

      Mar 15, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      Single length wedges are the norm on tour… Highly recommend not only single length wedges but single swing weight , total weight, and lie angle throughout your wedges… Only difference would be loft (obviously) and bounce… Then when you practice short game you develop a consistent bottom of the arc with your wedges… Kind of important haha

    • Aaron

      Mar 15, 2016 at 3:33 pm

      I have played my wedges (46,50, 55, 60) at the same length (off the pw) for years. The consistency is definitely easier to have when they all setup the same. It will feel only a tad odd at first on your lob wedge when you are gripping it normal and you will gain some extra yardage in that club as well, but I have found it to be easier to control them because the setup and feel is the same throughout. I don’t know that I would go to a single length set though… The idea of increasing length shafts allows you to have an increased swing speed as you go towards the long irons without the addition of actually swinging harder. The other thing that comes into play is “working the ball”. The flatter lie angle on the lower lofted clubs makes it easier to create draws and fades. I tend to change my swing quite a bit to suit the shot shape I am attempting and I don’t play the robotic swing style like Bryson. If you are someone who views golf in straight shots and the same swing as much as possible in a round I think the single length set could be advantageous.

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UYGP: Stop killing your score, here’s how to fully commit to every single shot

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Coach Will Robins explains the mindset you need to be able to commit to each and every shot during a round of golf, and avoid huge mistakes throughout the round. Learn how to make better decisions and become your own caddy. Some of the best pros and amateurs in the world use these tactics!

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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What makes Bryson DeChambeau so good? A deep dive into the numbers

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I can relate, in a way, to this mad scientist of golf. When I had the idea to create a better method of analyzing golf by comparing each shot to a computer model of “scratch” performance 29 years ago, I was considered quite strange. My idea is now what is known as strokes gained analysis and has become the accepted standard for golf analysis. If you are interested in my journey, read The History of Strokes Gained on my website, ShotByShot.com.

Given Bryson’s recent success, will we all soon be switching to 7-iron length irons and practicing Bryson’s one-plane swing? I doubt it, but it is clear that Bryson is here to stay, so I decided to see exactly how his recent winning performance compares to that of other winners on the PGA Tour. Accordingly, I ran my analysis of Bryson’s ShotLink data for his three wins (The Memorial, The Northern Trust and the most recent Dell Technologies Championship). I compared this analysis to a similar analysis of all of the PGA Tour winners in 2017. For added perspective, I ran the same analysis for the entire 2017 Tour and for all the players that missed cuts in 2017.

As Bryson’s data sample is only 12 rounds on three courses, one might question how the numbers might be skewed by the differences in relative course difficulty as well as the relative strength of the fields. I believe we can agree that Bryson has won on relatively difficult courses and against very strong fields. Accordingly, I will overlook these factors.

Tee Game: Driving

Bryson’s driver is normal length. It is his irons that are all 37.5 inches long, or about the length of a standard 7 iron – why do the TV commentators always say “6 iron”? Anyway, Bryson’s unique one-plane swing produces long, straight drives. He averaged over 300 yards, 15 yards longer than the field, and hit more fairways than the 2017 winners.  Further, Bryson (Blue arrows below) had 35% fewer driving errors than those made by the 2017 winners. So LONG and STRAIGHT! Perhaps we all should be working on our 1-plane swings?


Approach shots 

I put Bryson’s approach game as not quite as good as the 2017 winners. His strokes gained relative to the field’s is not as strong (perhaps this can be attributed to stronger fields?). Bryson did hit more greens-in-regulation (blue arrows below). BUT remember he hit more fairways and made fewer errors. Finally, Bryson’s proximity when he hits the greens* is closer to the 2017 Tour average than it is to the 2017 winners.


*I look at “Proximity” much differently than the PGA Tour. The Tour’s proximity to hole includes approach shots that miss the green within 30 yards of the green’s edge.  I believe a miss is a miss and should not be counted at all.  For more on why, read my 2/26/18 GolfWRX article:Is Tiger’s “No.1 Proximity to the Hole” a meaningless stat?

Short Game (shots from within 50 yards of the hole)

Again, Bryson’s wedges are 7-iron length, about two to three inches longer than a standard sand wedge. His short game data would indicate that the extra length does not present an issue from the sand. I chalk this up to the fact that for the most part greenside sand shots tend to be full swings. It is the shape of the swing that controls distance not the length.

Chipping and pitching, on the other hand, require a myriad of different swings and touch shots. The longer shafts seem to have a negative impact here which has been mentioned many times in the TV coverage. Below (Blue arrows) show that Bryson’s strokes gained around-the-green are about half the margin from the field’s as the 2017 winners. His chipping and pitching results are nowhere near the 2017 Winners. Perhaps Bryson should consider at least one normal length wedge for use around the greens? To support this, Bryson was ranked No. 118 in strokes gained around the green, with a negative .034 strokes gained thru the Well Fargo Championship (more than half way thru the season). He has improved since to No. 63 and a +.15 strokes gained in this category.


Putting

Bryson’s putter is 39 inches long, about three inches longer than standard, and he rests the grip against his left forearm. Personally, I believe his stance and stroke look very stiff and mechanical, which may account for what I discovered in his putting stats. Bottom line, he is outstanding from fairly close range (inside 20 feet), but very average from 30-plus feet. Bryson has almost TWICE as many three-putts as the 2017 winners from 30-plus feet (.5/round vs. .29/round for the 2017 winners). This makes sense to me as stiff and mechanical do not seem compatible with “feel” and optimal distance control.

That said, his success from close range might more than offset his apparent long-range weakness. Note below that Bryson’s one-putt success is noticeably better than the 2017 winners from every distance up to 20 feet. Incidentally, these ranges represent 68 percent of Bryson’s first putt opportunities. Very impressive! I may look more closely into Bryson’s short putting technique.


In conclusion, while Bryson DeChambeau is a maverick, he has found a unique method that works for him and has now made the entire golf world take notice. Will he change golf? Possibly. If he continues to have success, and I believe he will, I can see the aspiring, young players trying to adopt his methods just as many started to learn to putt while anchoring. As an aside, I firmly believe that the ultimate ban on anchoring had little to do with those of us that were struggling with the skill but everything to do with the fast-growing number of juniors that were having success using OUR crutch.

That is not to say that anything that Bryson is currently doing could be construed to be illegal. But he is clearly being watched. His side-saddle putting was thwarted by the USGA, and more recently, his use of a compass to help read his putts. Who knows what he will come up with next? I will be watching too!

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The Gear Dive: Accra Shafts — Finau’s proto, “What is the function of the shaft in a club head?”

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Accra Shafts’ Ken Thompson and Gawain Robertson chat with Johnny Wunder on the challenges of the shaft industry, what makes their shafts the best in the business, and Tony Finau’s custom set up.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

3:45 — What makes Accra so special
5:30 — The origin of Accra
8:45 — The importance of TOUR Validation
15:10 — What is the function of the shaft in a club
17:30 — The TOUR ZRPG
23:40 — Mock Fitting for a specific player profile
31:00 — Accra Iron shafts
36:55 — Ryan Palmer
39:45 — Tony Finau
43:10 — Matt Kuchar
53:20 — S3 BluePrint Technology

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