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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 writer & the Digital Content Creation Lead for GolfWRX. He also hosts the "On Spec" Podcast on GolfWRX Radio discussing everything golf, including gear, technology, fitting, and course architecture. He is a club fitter & master club builder who has more than 16 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. 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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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: Sounding off on your favorite golf pet peeves!

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Steve and Knudson weigh in on your favorite golf pet peeves. From not fixing ball marks, to slow play, to guys telling you “good shot” when you make a quad! Knudson shot a 33 in his league and still thinks he isn’t a sandbagger.

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

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

Justin Thomas talks TrackMan numbers, when he’ll switch to Titleist 620 MB irons, and more

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Fresh off his dominant BMW Championship win at Medinah, Justin Thomas joined Johnny Wunder for a Special Edition Gear Dive chat.

Here are a few highlights from JT and JW talking through some of Thomas’ Titleist equipment, his straightforward approach to fitting, changing clubs, his stock distances, and more.

On choosing his Titleist 718 MB irons

“My rookie year I picked up an iron they were testing…I was like, “is it possible to get irons like this?”…Ever since then, I’ve never wanted to use anything else…they look good, and they’re nice.”

On the reason why he put a Titleist T100 4-iron in the bag recently

“That’s exactly right. [that he put the iron in the bag for height]. I kind of was struggling getting the 4-iron up in the air, and I wasn’t really holding greens very well…this club is really unbelievable. You can really do a lot with it. I can hit it as far as I need to and hit it low if I want.”

On switching to the new 620 irons

“It’ll be very easy…I’ll throw ‘em in the bag [when I start practicing again after the season ends].”

On his elementary approach to choosing a fairway wood shaft 

“I went to the fitting. I hit it. It looked good, and the numbers were good. They said that was about as good as I could get, and I said, “sounds good.”

On not knowing that his wedge shafts were different from his iron shafts 

“I found out last year that I have different shafts in my irons and wedges. I had no idea.”

On Titleist as a whole 

“First and foremost I think it’s the best equipment across the board…I’ve used Titleist my whole life, and I’m just lucky now I get to get paid by them…I would use it if I wasn’t getting a dime from them…I like the people, I trust in them…they’ve just a great all-around company.”

On tinkering

“I think a lot of…people get in trouble trying to change too much…the game is hard enough, you don’t need to make it any harder.”

On switching putters

“For me when I putt well, it’s all about speed…I was struggling there for a bit, so I just kind of wanted to look at something different, but it was a bad decision…I should have stuck with what’s won me all of my tournaments [Scotty Cameron X5-style putter]”

Stock carry distances (4, 7, SW) and TrackMan numbers with driver 

Driving range 4-iron: 231 (“I can get it up to 240 in the air”)
7-iron: “185 is normal; I can get it to low 190s”
57.5 wedge: 112

Clubhead speed: 118-120
Ball speed: mid-to-high 170s

“When I hit up on it, I can carry it 320…but when I hit that low bullet, it’s probably only going to carry 270.”

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

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The Wedge Guy: Time for you to talk and me to listen

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I’ve really been enjoying sharing thoughts and insights with all you GolfWRX readers the past few months. And as I expected, I’ve “won a few and lost a few” with regard to offering what you consider useful information. It is always difficult writing for an audience so diverse in experience, attitudes and opinions, but your feedback keeps me on my toes…as it should be.

So, this week the GolfWRX leadership agreed to allow me to give you a chance to tell us more about your own game and how you play it. At the bottom of today’s post is a link to the first “Wedge Guy/GolfWRX Survey.” I hope you will find the questions interesting and that you will share your own insights into the intricate relationship with golf that you all certainly enjoy. Please make note of your answers so that you can compare them to your fellow GolfWRXers when we begin to share the results of the survey in a few weeks.

On a current event note, however, I found Monday morning’s stories about Justin Thomas’ convincing victory over the field and Medinah #3 this weekend quite interesting. In comparison to his 25-under destruction of venerable old Medinah, Lou Graham won the U.S. Open there in 1975 with a score of +3, with the course just under 7,000 yards. Since then, Medinah #3 has hosted several other major championships—getting ever longer but still seeing the scores go lower and lower. It would be hard to argue that Thomas (and the field) completely dismantled the old girl at 7,600 yards, with the course record tied, then broken by two shots, then broken by two shots again. All in one weekend.

Some leading pros made very telling comments about the fact that “long” is not an obstacle for these guys anymore; that the drivers and balls of today are so forgiving they just swing as hard as they can. Add in “soft”, and they have a green light to tear down flags and shoot these ultra-low scores. This is just the way the game has evolved at the highest level—hit driver as hard as you can, find it, hit a towering short iron or wedge into a soft green, like throwing darts.

It’s just not the same game as was played at the highest level when the major venues challenged the golfers’ entire games—driver to long irons to wedges to putting. When was the last time we saw tour professionals tested at the long end of their bags? In contrast, when Johnny Miller won the U.S. Open in 1973 at Oakmont, I think he could only reach one par 5 in two shots and hit something like 13 or 14 approach shots with a 5-iron or longer…and he shot 63! That’s pretty amazing, huh? And a far cry from the short iron and wedge dominance of approach shots today.

Anyway, I’m not saying it was better or worse back then…just that it was a different set of challenges for the professional golfer. But I believe the rest of us pretty much play the same game as back then—testing every club in our bags every round we play.

But back to the Survey. Please take a few minutes and give thought to the 27 questions about you, your long game and your short game, and how you play the game in general. I think it will be quite insightful for all of us at GolfWRX, and for you all too, as you compare your answers to your fellow GolfWRXers.

Here’s the link to the survey. Thanks!

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