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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The endangered state of Scottish golf
Florida. May 1993. That is the moment I really got into golf. Sure, like most youngsters of that time, I’d had my dad’s old clubs, shafts cut down with insulating tape acting as the grip, and I belted balls around the back garden with no thought of what I was doing. But that family vacation really made it sink in how good this game is. Round-the-clock coverage on cable, golf shops everywhere, and sunshine–what more can you ask for?
My parents bought me my first set of clubs, we had a couple of trips to the range, a quick nine holes, and a lifelong golfer was born. So why did it take a trip to the United States for a nine-year-old from the home of golf, from the relative golfing mecca of Ayrshire, to take notice of this great sport?
It wasn’t as if it wasn’t booming in the UK at that time. Troon and Turnberry, 15 minutes in either direction, had hosted the Open within five years of each other around that time. Englishman Nick Faldo had won 2 Open Championships in ‘90 and ‘92. He successfully defended the Masters in 1990–Ian Woosnam from Wales succeeded him. And more importantly a Scot, Sandy Lyle, had collected his second major in just three years at Augusta in 1988–after becoming the first Scot since the 1920s to win the Open in 1985. Golf in the UK was in a great place, and Scotland had its fair share of success at the time with Torrance and Montgomerie joining Lyle at golf’s top table.
If it took that family intervention for me during that period of golfing supremacy, what hope do the children of today have 25 years on?
I imagine the vast majority that play the game took it up in similar fashion to myself. A push from a playing family member or close friend. Different circumstances or timing perhaps, but similar nonetheless. Some will have looked at Montgomerie, Lyle et al and have taken inspiration from them.
So with participation numbers dwindling and clubs struggling, are the kids now having less influence from within the family to take up the game? Is the drop in adult participation affecting the influx from the juniors? That’s worrying, as it’s never been easier, or more affordable (relatively speaking) to get into a golf club. 25 years ago there was waiting lists and huge joining fees. Not now. You can pretty much join up anywhere with little or no joining fee. This trend looks like continuing with the variety of alternatives out there – with little or no encouragement, what incentive is there for a junior to go out in the wind and rain to learn a game that it is deemed expensive and time consuming, and one that takes years to learn when you know you’ll never master it?
Hopefully some of Scotland’s youngsters could take inspiration from the Scots at the elite level of the game – but who exactly would that be? At the time of writing there is ONE Scot in the top 100 of the official golf world rankings. Russell Knox at 59. The next best placed is Martin Laird who isn’t even in the top 150 at present. Both of these guys are based in the US but their skills were honed in Inverness and Glasgow respectively. In the cold and wet. Like the Lyle’s, Torrance’s and Montgomerie’s before them. We invented this game and that is what we have to show for it?
Can you imagine the outcry if the United States stopped producing football players, the Canadians gave up on their ice hockey, or heaven forbid, the All Blacks became an also ran in the Rugby world? So why do we accept it?
Our best golfing achievement of recent times was Paul Lawrie’s Open Championship at Carnoustie in 1999–recent being 19 years ago–an indication of how far we have fallen. In the period between then and now, only two Scots have even made a top 10 in a major–Montgomerie on three occasions and Alastair Forsyth in the 2008 PGA. Four top 10s in 53 events since Lawrie’s success. Majors are hard. Only a select few can win one, or even contend in one, but four in 53 is poor when countries such as Sweden, Germany, New Zealand, Canada and Fiji–none of which have the history and tradition in the game as Scotland–have produced winners. Take nothing away from those guys, but we must produce more players with better quality to compete again at that level.
We haven’t even fared well as a nation in regular events on the European or PGA Tours in that time. Only 13 players since Carnoustie ‘99 have even been in the winner’s circle, combining for 34 wins in total over the two main tours – Montgomerie claiming a third of those himself. 34 wins in 1,686 events (including co-sanctioned events) since Lawrie lifted the Claret Jug.
The home of golf, the country that has given this wonderful sport to the world has combined to win one in every 50 events, or worse, just two percent of the tournaments played on the two main tours. To further highlight the issue, Only Montgomerie since Lyle has reached the OWGR top 10, peaking at No. 2. Russell Knox is the only other to even breach the top 20, briefly hitting 18th.
Kudos to all of these guys who have got the job done. They’ve achieved what we all dream of. But we need to do more. We have a duty to do more. So how do we achieve that?
We hosted the first ever Open Championship at Prestwick Golf Club and we currently have five of the ten Open Championship courses on the rota. We have staged two of the best Open Championships in recent memory in our country–the Tom Watson story, albeit without the fairytale ending in 2009 and the epic Stenson/Mickelson duel at Troon in 2016. Between them, we’ve hosted a successful Ryder Cup and despite all the buzz around these events, our participation levels haven’t dramatically risen.
That’s the first step–getting more people, primarily juniors, started in the game. Golf is the most frustrating game in the world. Can you imagine trying to start playing now, as an adult? How much more frustrated you would be if you were picking up a club for the first time? The vast majority of people, myself included, would give up not long after starting. As a kid you don’t. It’s enjoyable, you’re more patient and you’re playing with kids of similar ages and skill sets. By the time that youngster develops into a teenager or a young adult, they know the basics, they can understand the game and all its quirks, and they can get round the course with their friends. Simple when you put it like that. How does it work in practice?
Every child in primary school should have free access to golf. It’s that easy. We invented a game which has developed into a multi-billion dollar industry, why can’t we find ways to encourage our own to have the chance to play? Why are we not immensely proud of what we have given to the world? And why as a nation are we not embarrassed about our lack of success at the top in recent times?
According to the Scottish Government, there are 2,056 primary schools in the country, teaching 377,382 kids. Every single one of them should have the chance to play. Many will simply not like it–that’s not surprising, but as the saying goes, you won’t know until you try it. So if even one percent of them continue in the game, that’s nearly 4,000 extra participants. It can be included as part of the curriculum, used as an after school or holiday club negating or at least reducing the childcare commitments and at the very least it keeps kids active–aren’t we always hearing about our obesity and health problems? As they progress, secondary school golf can become a fixture the way soccer or rugby are, local and national competitions can become the norm as it is in other countries. Why can’t we even go even further and include university courses within the golf industry, the way Burnley Football Club are doing within the soccer industry. After all, there is more to golf than teeing it up.
Practically, it needs buy in from the key bodies. Scottish Golf are and should be key. They have appointed a new CEO this year in Andrew McKinlay. Unfortunately their achievements have been tarnished due to previous appointments, and Andrew’s past in the Scottish Football Association will not do much to raise optimism with the average Scottish golf enthusiast. While not trying to decry the new man before he’s finished his first year in office, appointing another executive, rather than someone with imagination and innovation seems counterproductive to the goals we should look to achieve.
There must be enough “executives” within the organization (and generally across the golfing industry in all national programs) to cover executive roles and allow the opportunity for someone younger with fresh, achievable goals in driving forward ideas from the golfing majority which benefit the golfing majority–not the elite level few. Regardless who that person is, engagement should be sought with the Local and National Government on how to best promote it. Local governments should be included to represent their schools, as should great programmes such as Clubgolf who do so much good work with youngsters in Scotland.
A prevalent media marketing campaign wouldn’t go a miss either, perhaps some endorsements and appraisals from the countries golfing legends would help make some noise. At least engage those professionals who’ve risen to the top of the game and seek advice on how to begin addressing the issue. Colin Montgomery and Paul Lawrie in particular have raised this exact issue recently in the media. These guys have traveled the world, competed against and beaten the best of the best and have seen how developing markets, particularly in Asia, are growing the game. It would be foolish not to tap into their experiences.
As with everything, it comes down to who pays the bills. Supply of equipment and facilities would be the main issue. UK Sport is committed to spending £340 million plus ahead of the Olympics in Tokyo. This includes £10 million for Taekwondo, £15 million for equestrian and £84 million on rowing, sailing and canoeing combined – can anyone name more than two participants in each discipline? If Team GB comes back with a similar medal haul (67) than those won in Rio–which included Justin Rose’s golfing gold–that works out as around £5 million per medal. Staggering. Add in the £30m for this years’ Winter Olympics where Team GB won five medals: £6m per medal. What’s the legacy for the outlay here? There aren’t thousands lining up around the local swimming pools or the nearest ski slope.
London 2012 is enough evidence that the effect is short term and for the elite few. This money is earmarked for Olympic sports, that’s fine, but surely a discussion should be had with how this pot of money, dedicated for sport in the whole of the UK, is better spent amongst those who’ve helped raise it? Scottish Government spending on sport this year is increasing to £30m–or to put it into perspective, the equivalent of an Olympic rowing budget. Increased participation and being active should be the key goals in all sport funded schemes, not paying for a handful of elite athletes to bring home a couple of medals.
Taxes imposed on manufacturers selling products on these shores could be ring-fenced to return to the grass roots of the game, and advertising is always a way of adding revenue to the pot. Local and national club makers could be approached to look at ways to introduce to this gap in the market–it can’t hurt these small businesses get a foothold in a market that they will never conquer against the major brands. And it can’t hurt the major brands to be involved in promoting and sponsoring these schemes – it’s small potato for the biggest brands in the world. Think of the visitors alone who flock to Scotland to play and the advertising for these brands would more than pay for any outlay to provide equipment for juniors. Sponsorship of the scheme from a number of sources can be investigated. There are huge companies all over the country sponsoring events and individuals. Approach some of these to see if they wish to be involved in a national scheme – the worst they can say is no. And think how many sets of clubs are lying around the country in garages, closets, lockers and the like: a donation scheme could be investigated.
The benefits are endless. Fitter, more engaged pupils–this goes someway to addressing the health problem we keep hearing of in this country. Kids from a more deprived background have an opportunity to play a game they may never have had previously. And lifelong friendships are formed on the course. It can even be argued that discipline and focus for some children that golf provides is exactly the outlet they need. Additional jobs will be created as a result. Teachers, greenskeepers, course marshals, catering staff–that’s just the start. Approach teaching pros or assistant pros looking to gain some teaching experience–these pupils may be their future. Driving ranges and municipal courses up and down the country are quiet for large periods of the day–make them available for school use, even just for a few hours and you may just have increased your future customer base. It’s not like many of the council run courses (or even private clubs) are thriving at the minute so what is there to lose? Clever marketing, which has started in a few courses, increases interest–free adult with a child, two season tickets for the price of one, there’s plenty that can be done. Again, this isn’t a scheme that can be limited to Scotland–participation around the vast majority of the world needs addressed.
And for children wishing to progress beyond the school programs: give them incentives to make it affordable. If we don’t, some of the good work this scheme could bring will be undone, and these kids will be lost to the game forever. There is a real opportunity here to make a difference, and while all the answers aren’t immediately available, the right people with right attitude will soon come up with them. What a legacy that could be to our game.
We are already at a watershed moment for Scottish golf, with decreasing numbers, clubs closing or fighting for their existence, and elite level Scottish golfers at a premium. Where will be in another 10 years time? Other countries, are thriving off the back of our game; it’s time we at least tried catch up–before it’s forgotten where golf came from.
Don’t know the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics? Here’s why you should
Let’s start with a little college golf quiz: Name the college golfer who, in 2017, won the Nicklaus Award, played a PGA Tour event, won five times and earned a spot on the Palmer Cup? Hint: it’s not Braden Thornberry, Justin Suh or Norman Xiong. The answer is Dalton State’s outstanding freshman S.M. Lee (pictured in the featured image).
For many reading this article, you may be confused. Who’s S.M. Lee and even more importantly, where is Dalton State? If that’s your reaction, great! This article is written to help introduce you to the emerging world of National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, golfers, including players like S.M. Lee, and schools, like Oklahoma City, Texas Wesleyan, Coastal Georgia, Wayland Baptist, Marymount University (California), Keiser University, University of South Carolina Beaufort, Ottawa University Arizona and Dalton State.
Oklahoma City University
When discussing NAIA golf, it is important to note the success of one person: Kyle Blaser. Blaser, the coach of the 2018 NAIA National Champion Oklahoma City University Stars, is a 21-year veteran of the NAIA. During his career, he has won 11 national championships, 11 regional championships, 19 conference championships, and 107 tournament titles.
However, maybe the most important contribution Blaser has made is setting a high bar for other coaches — this year, his team shot net under par for three of nine events including 9 under at the national championship, a team low round of 263, and a team individual scoring average of 71.64 per player or 286.5 per team round.
The standard set by Blaser has resulted in a fiercely competitive group of teams. According to GolfStat, seven teams in the NAIA finished the season with team scoring averages of 73 or better. According to my data, this would put them among approximately the top 60 teams in Division I Golf. This is demonstrated by several schools including Keiser University and Dalton State. Overall, in 2018 Keiser had a 16-3 record vs. NCAA DI teams and 18-3 record vs. NCAA DII. Similarly, when Dalton State had the opportunity to compete in the prestigious Carpet Capital hosted by Georgia Tech in the fall, they finished 12th out of 15 teams, beating Virginia, UT-Chattanooga, and Troy.
NAIA golf is also starting to attract younger, professional coaches. Recently, Johnson and Wales University hired Danny Randolph to lead their men’s team. Randolph’s resume includes time in the Big 12 at Texas Christian University, as well as two team national championships during his time at Lynn University. Randolph follows in the footsteps of individuals like Ben Rickett, who left University of Tennessee Chattanooga to start Dalton State after helping Steven Fox win the 2012 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills on the 37th hole.
Danny Randolph, the head coach at Johnson and Wales, came to the program from Lynn University where his team won back to back NCAA Division II titles. According to Randolph,
“I grew up in the NAIA, first watching and then playing at Bethel College. There are very good athletes and programs at the NAIA level in all sports but especially golf. Many teams travel the country competing on tour level golf courses against very good competition, often NCAA DI and DII schools. Universities invest time and resources, so the student-athletes have a tremendous college experience.”
In 2017, the NAIA also featured 13 players in Golfstat Cup, each with an adjusted stroke average below par. The highest player ranked is S.M. Lee of Dalton State at six. He is also No. 103 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, a two-time Nickulas Award Winner who played in the 2017 Barbasol Championship and will represented the United States in the 2018 Palmer Cup.
Another player of note is Rowan Lester of Texas Wesleyan. A review I did after the fall semester demonstrated his tournament handicap to be +4.5. Pretty impressive, however the NAIA has a tradition of attracting talented players: Jim Renner and Tyrone Van Aswegen are a couple examples of individuals who used NAIA golf as a path to the PGA Tour.
Like teams from other divisions, NAIA coaches spend countless hours searching out the world’s best talent. As a result, a review of rosters demonstrated that many teams have both significant diversity and skill. For example, Keiser University features players from eight countries and seven states and have inked No. 197 on NJGS, Kritchayapol Sinchai and four other players with WAGR rankings for 2018.
According to Keiser Coach Brandon Miller, “the NAIA has been getting stronger and deeper every year. The talent pool of players in our fields and the depth of school’s with talented players are impressive. We are at the point where our NAIA tournaments are deeper and more competitive than the mid-major NCAA D1 events we play. I think many NAIA school’s can offer the same if not more to the student-athlete’s development as a golfer, student, and person in terms of facilities, tournament schedule, academics, and support. NAIA golf is on the rise; it’s exciting to see where we’ll be in a few years.”
Beyond the quality of the play, maybe the most impressive (and overlooked) aspect of NAIA golf is the quality facilities. For example, Keiser University has an on-campus practice facility, as well as access to PGA National, host of the Honda Classic. Likewise, according to Ben Rickett, the head men’s coach Dalton State,
“We have access to so many good golf courses that allows us to draw some quality golfers to the school including The Farm and Dalton Golf and Country Club. We also have The Honors Course (2010 NCAA venue), Barnsley Gardens and Council Fire within an hour.”
I saw the nature of these facilities first hand, as I recently visited Ottawa University Arizona and head coach Clayton Sikorski in Phoenix, Arizona. Between touring campus and learning more about this dynamic new university, we had the opportunity to play rounds at Wigwam and Quintero. I quickly fell in love with Quintero, not only because I won, but because of the immaculate condition and breath-taking change of evaluation. Simply spectacular.
Why not NAIA?
Based on this the question is, “Why not NAIA?” At the root, it’s about stigma: People want the cache of dropping terms like “Division I” and “full scholarship.” However, I hope that readers will consider a different paradox: Schools should not be characterized by division, but instead by funding — either funded or not funded. A student athlete who is serious about pursuing golf should be less worried about the “division” and more about the school’s commitment to funding the program. By having this perspective, student athletes will find a school, coach, and team that is more likely to meet their golf expectations and enhance the experience of college golf.
TG2: Tursky’s big announcement; Bob and Sam Bettinardi on new 2019 putters
Tursky’s HUGE announcement (yes, another!), Knudson has a great conversation with Bob and Sam Bettinardi of Bettinardi Putters. Bob and Sam fill us in on why they love producing putters in the USA and how face milling influences sound and feel.
Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
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