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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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Opinion & Analysis

I’m practicing. Why am I not getting better at golf?

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We all want to improve our golf games; we want to shoot lower scores, make more birdies and win bragging rights from our friends. As a result, we practice and invest many hours in trying to improve. However, do we improve as quickly as we want to? Is there something we’ve been missing?

“The secret is in the dirt,” Ben Hogan said. And he was right. To date, not one golfer has become an elite player without investing thousands of hours in improving their golf game. And yet, there are thousands of amateur golfers who practice every week and don’t get better. What is the difference? To me, this is a very interesting question. What underpins how or why we learn? Furthermore, how can we super-charge our rate of learning? 

To super-charge our learning, we must first realize that practice itself does not make us better at golf. This is an empty promise. It is close to the truth but incorrect. Instead, practice, when done correctly, will cause changes in our body to make us more skillful over time. This is a subtle, but important difference. There is no magic type of practice that universally builds skill, however, there are a handful of factors that can speed up, slow down or even stop your progress.

Remember: “You are not aiming to hit 50 balls; you are trying to become more skillful.”

There are the two major factors that stop golfers improving. Try not to view them as switches that are on or off. Instead, view both factors as sliding scales. The more you can fine-tune each factor, the faster you will improve your golf.

1) Give your body clear and precise feedback

What is 2 + 2? Imagine if you were never given the answer to this question at school. If you weren’t, you would never know the answer. Similarly, imagine you made a golf swing and the instant you hit the golf ball it disappeared. How would you know what to do on your next attempt to hit a straighter shot?

In both cases, feedback is the missing ingredient. Feedback comes from the shot outcome, watching the ball flight and many other sensations we get during our golf swing. As soon as our body does not have clear and precise feedback our learning will stop.

When we first learn to play golf, the feedback required to improve is simple – did the ball move at all, and did it get airborne? As we progress, we then need more precise feedback to keep developing our skill.

As a 20 handicapper, we need to know if the ball finished 10 or 15 yards right of our target. When we become an elite player, the requirement for feedback becomes even more stringent. The difference between a wedge shot landing 103 or 107 yards becomes important. This type of feedback, known as knowledge of results, is focused on the result of your golf shot.

“If your body can’t tell the difference between two outcomes, you will not make any changes – learning will not occur.”

To learn, we also require another form of feedback, known as knowledge of performance. In essence, your body needs to know what it did to cause “x.” Relevant practice drills, training aids and videoing your swing are all useful ways to increase feedback on performance. The best form of feedback, however, is an internal understanding of your swing and how it causes different ball flights. This is an implicit skill all great golfers master, and a by-product of many hours of diligent practice, refinement and understanding.

Many golfers hit a brick wall in their golfing journey when their practice stops providing the precise feedback they need to keep improving. They may not have enough information about their shot outcome, or they may not understand how the golf swing causes various shots. Both will completely halt your golfing progress.

Next time you practice, think of ways you can obtain clearer feedback. You don’t need Trackman by your side (although this can be helpful), but pay attention to where your shots finish during putting and chipping practice and note these trends. Find landmarks behind your golf range to gauge the lateral error of your long shots.

If you’re working on your swing path through the point of impact, one way of obtaining feedback on your performance is to place a bottle or a second ball on the ground. To put it simply, if the bottle/ball flies, you’ll know you’ve made a bad swing. Another way, if you are trying to improve your iron striking, is to place a towel one inch behind the ball to indicate whether or not you have hit the ground before the ball. These ideas are not mind-blowing, but trust me; they will speed up your rate of learning.

2) Make your practice suitably difficult

When you first go to the gym, lifting the lightest weight you can find is fine. But how much would your fitness improve if you were still lifting that same weight 12 months later? Now think of how your golf practice has changed over the past 12 months. If you were asked, could you explain the level of difficulty of your practice?

The reason many golfers can’t answer this question is they don’t have a good measure of success when they practice. Most golfers don’t have a quantifiable way to say “that shot I just hit was or wasn’t good enough.” Even fewer golfers have a way to say “this week my practice performance was 20 percent better than last week.” If you fall into this category, try the following game the next time you practice your long game.

Structure your practice so that you have set target zones (10 yards and 20 yards wide) with points for hitting each zone (3 and 1 points respectively). Take a set amount of balls (20 balls) and see how many points you can score with a 6-iron and a driver (10 balls with each). Each week, play this game and track your progress. We’ll call this game the “WRX Range Challenge.”

Set a goal for how many points you want to achieve. This goal should be challenging, but not impossible. When you reach this goal, make your target zones smaller and repeat the process. This way you can track your progress over time. As you make the target zones smaller and smaller, your body has to continually refine your swing to make it more effective.

Summary

We all want to improve our golf. We all want to get better at a quicker rate. The two factors discussed here are obvious and yet are not addressed by many golfers when they practice. Next time you head to the range or practice ground, ensure you have clear feedback on your shot outcome and golfing technique. Make your practice measurable, suitably difficult and enjoy watching your scores progress.

If you do try out the WRX Range Challenge, let us know. Post your score and a photo: #WRXrangechallenge @GolfWRX and me @golfinsideruk on Twitter and Instagram.

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The 19th Hole: What it’s like to play golf with a goat caddie

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Live from Silvies Valley Ranch in Oregon for the Grand Opening of McVeigh’s Gauntlet and the debut of its goat caddies (yes, goats), host Michael Williams shares his experiences using a goat caddie. Guests include course architect Dan Hixson and Seamus Golf founder Akbar Chistie.

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

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Opinion & Analysis

Bobby Clampett: “The 2 big problems with club fitting”

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Four million golfers are still quitting golf in the United States each year. My concern about this trend has led me to write several recent articles for GolfWRX. I’ve shared my thoughts because I believe much can be done to help golfers better understand the game, and most importantly, improve their games in ways that are not being done today.

The high frustration level of golfers is a leading cause of their giving up the game. I’ve talked about how I’ve learned this playing in over 200 pro-ams in my five years on the Champions Tour. I’ve discussed the sources of this confusion: style-based golf instruction with an over-abundance of swing tips, as well as confusing and conflicting swing theories offered on television and internet sources, etc. Another cause for concern that no one seems to talk about involves the way club fitting is typically done in our industry. While there are many examples of how improper club fitting causes issues and frustration, there are two main areas that desperately need to be addressed by fitters and even club manufacturers.

Problem 1: Clubs Designed to Correct a Slice

The first culprit is clubs that are designed to correct a slice. I’ve had several first-time students take lessons with me this season who had been recently fit for clubs from a wide range of club fitters. Some of these students had significant out-to-in swing paths through impact and all were chronic faders/slicers of the golf ball. The clubs recommended to them were “anti-slice” clubs. All the grips were small (standard size), and the woods (especially the drivers) were upright with the sliding weights put in the heel. The irons were “jacked-upright” as much as 8 degrees. All of these adjustments were made for the purpose of building in the ability to hit hooks.

Many of the woods with today’s improvement in technology can be easily altered with sliding or interchangeable weights. Adding weights into the heel slows the heel down through impact and allows the toe to close faster. Thinner grips also encourage the golfer to have more active hands and forearms causing the toe to close faster. While some of today’s adjustable woods do allow for a small bit of upright lie adjustment, it would be good if manufacturers went back to longer hosels that can be more lie-adjusted.

If the lie of the club is upright, more “hook” is built into the club through the principle that “loft is hook.” Additionally, the more the available “loft” of the club, the more the upright angle increases hook. So a set of clubs built 8 degrees upright has a very different directional profile with the 4-iron than with the wedge. This is a fact a well trained and experienced club fitter will take into consideration and properly apply.

Without correction, a wedge that is 8 degrees upright will really go left, while the 4-iron won’t have as much correction. Additionally, the uprightness of the club significantly reduces the sweet-spot, making the club less forgiving by increasing the chance that the ball will be struck lower in the face (which has a worse effect on long irons than short irons). Gear effect has now been proven to exist even in irons, and low-in-the-clubface hits will cause a gear effect fade, magnified with lower lofted clubs, even if the face and path are square. So, the uprightness of the club creates a bigger pull/hook in the wedge and the effect doesn’t really work in the longer irons. If fitters are going to use this approach, then short irons should be bent less upright and long irons more upright, but even so, this will reduce the sweet-spot in the longer irons and most golfers will really struggle to get the ball into the air since most of their hits will be low on the clubface.

I’ve had playing lessons with some of these students and have clearly seen how much farther to the left shots go when teeing the ball up, such as on a par-3. With the contact higher in the face, the contact has “zero” gear effect. The upright lie angle, combined with the loft of the club, sends the ball with a pull-hook way off target. This alone is enough of a source of confusion and frustration to send some golfers home, back to the tennis courts, to the card room, or whatever else might take the place of golf.

Additionally, golf clubs that are set to “lie angles” that are not square will not cut through the grass (when taking divots) as they are intended to do. For example, using the example above, if the lie angle of the club is set too upright and the shot is hit a little fat, the heel of the iron will dig or hit into the grass first, usually causing the heel to slow down while the toe of the club speeds up, thus closing the face and causing a big pull/hook. Different grass types, different firmness of grasses and different density of grasses can have differing effects, leading to increased inconsistencies of golfers and greater frustration levels.

Some club manufacturers have built game-improvement irons with bigger sweet-spots (with lower CG’s and higher MOI’s). When club fitters make the lie angle “off-square,” this improvement immediately is canceled and, in most cases, completely nullifying any benefit the game-improvement design can provide. The poor golfer who just spent thousands of dollars getting new equipment comes to the realization that the clubs didn’t work that well after all, and his/her 16 handicap is not dropping.

The real answer to game improvement lies in improving the golfer’s impact first, then getting clubs to match his or ideal impact or the impact they are striving to attain. Then, and only then, will the golfer get the full and just reward for improving one’s impact. Simply trying to buy a new game by getting a new set of clubs just doesn’t work. One must work with an instructor who truly knows what proper impact is and is diligently directing the instruction to improve their impact first. Then they can have a knowledgeable club fitter fit clubs to that proper impact. Unfortunately, in our industry, instructors and club fitters rarely work together. Golfers are continually being fitted to their improper impact and thus effectively playing with clubs with smaller sweet spots that are ill-designed for what they were originally intended to do.

Problem 2: Fitting Irons for Distance

The second problem that seems to be growing in the industry is the focus on increased distance with the irons. I don’t mean to be too blunt here, but who cares how far you hit an 8-iron! Today’s pitching wedge is yesterday’s 9-iron. My pitching wedge is set at 49 degrees, and my 9-iron is 44 degrees (about the standard loft for today’s pitching wedge). The only two clubs in the bag that should be designed for distance are your driver and your 3-wood. All the other clubs should be set for proper gapping and designed to improve consistency and proximity to the hole. That’s why my pitching wedge is at 49 degrees and I only hit it 120 yards (exactly 16 yards farther than my 54-degree sand wedge). Most of my students hit a pitching wedge 20 yards farther than I do, but I drive the ball 30-40 yards farther than they do. When they get into the 7-irons through 4-irons, their gaps narrow. They have a 175-yard shot, and they don’t know what club selection to make since the 7, 6, 5, and 4 irons all go somewhat similar distances.

When I dig a little deeper, I start to find significant differences in spin rates. Like most pros on the PGA Tour, my 7 iron spins about 7000 rpm, I launch it around 17.5 degrees and carry the ball about 158 yards with 88 mph of clubhead speed. OK, I’m retired from playing competitive golf and I’m 58 years old, so I don’t have that youthful club head speed anymore. When I try some of the new products that are the top sellers today, I start launching the ball slightly higher but my spin rate drops below 6,000 rpm. Suddenly, I’m hitting my 7-iron 170 yards like my 6 iron. But is this better?

Yes, my peak height gets slightly higher (I do like that), and the ball won’t roll out much differently, even with the lower spin rates. So, what’s the problem you ask? When I start to look at distance control numbers and proximity to the hole, I clearly see higher distance dispersions and thus proximity to the hole gets worse. Learning to hit the ball flag high is one of the key separators between top PGA Tour Players and those a notch or two below. It’s also a key element in lowering scores. So, greater distance with my irons actually makes my game worse and it does the same with my students, too, because accuracy and ability to get the ball consistently closer to the hole is negatively impacted.

What avid golfers are really wanting is game improvement. They want to see their handicaps go down, shoot their lowest scores, create personal bests. Sure, there is a bit of “wow factor” they like to have with the new, shiny equipment, but the people I give lessons to and have played with in all these pro-ams want a better game! How are they going to get that when the golf industry separates teachers and club fitters? Where can golfers go to get the whole experience of tying in their swing improvement that creates better impact with their equipment properly set up?

If you want to see your scores get better, the best way to do so is to work with a qualified golf instructor who knows how to improve your impact while keeping your style of swing. You want to work with a club fitter who understands that the lie angles of the irons should be set to square, and that proximity to the hole is more important in the irons than distance. Only then can you get the biggest game improvement and take full advantage of hitting better shots with a better impact.

Improve your impact, improve your game; it really is that simple!

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