Among the stories for this year’s Masters, the serious club folks show a serious interest in Bryson DeChambeau, specifically his single-length clubs. This evokes memories for me, as I experimented with a single-length set many years ago.
First a little history. Back in the mid ’80s, a golf pro by the name of Jimmy Shack from Royal Oak Country Club in Titusville, Florida, came up with a concept for a single-length set. He managed to get the Tommy Armour Company interested, and they came out with the EQL irons in 1989. They were a single-length set using the 6-iron length as standard. Despite a strong marketing push, they were relatively short lived and eventually disappeared into the great club box in the sky.
Fast forward to the mid ’90s when I was designing sets for Adams Golf and the idea of single length re-appeared, at least for my personal clubs. I read that Bryson is 6 feet 1 inches tall, and I strongly suspect his height was a factor in his single-length set. Before arthritis and age took their toll, I was 6 foot 3 inches tall, and was facing a personal club-fitting problem. It’s funny, but I clearly remembered my mindset at the time.
“Where was it written that a set of irons had to be based on a 37.5-inch 5 iron? Why couldn’t the 5 iron be 40 inches or 34 inches? Why did the increments have to be 0.5 inches?” I figured it all started with a Scotsman, who was probably 5-foot 9-inches or so, shaping a set of clubs that fit him. As decades passed, it became “standard.”
As I saw it, the objective with a set of irons/wedges was to have a club that went a maximum distance, working back to a club that went the shortest distance. The key factor was an equal gap from one club to another. Given this rather broad premise, I turned to the club-fitting system I had designed to see what evolved.
One of the keys in our club-fitting system was establishing a comfortable position at address. We measured knuckles to the ground standing erect (more consistent than fingertips because of hand size). We combined this with what we called maximum drop — how much the hands lowered gripping the club — the idea being a solid address position before we got into flex, lie, etc.
One thing I learned is all of us are not ideally suited to a proper address position in conjunction with clubs we could play. For example, I am long from the waist up, which means to get a comfortable address position I needed clubs 3 inches over standard length, and they were simply too long. For a guy 6 foot 8 inches to 6 foot 10 inches, no problem, but for me, problem. I used to tell people that not everyone has a body that can handle the required length, so in some cases you have to bend over at address a little extra. Given that I couldn’t automatically fit myself, I started with the maximum distance and gapping and worked backward. It wasn’t about the clubs; it was about ball flight.
I remembered the equal-length story and started to experiment. I liked the length of short irons when I made them all like 6 irons, but 5 iron and down were too short. One thing that I’m taking as a given here is the readers understand the need for different head weights and lie angles. Add 3 inches to a standard PW and it becomes significantly “head heavy.” The playing lie changes, too, and all of those things have to be recognized. As I experimented, my emphasis was also on trying to make a set with constant inertia. I wanted the clubs to all swing the same so I would be more consistent controlling ball flight, even when hitting different kinds of shots.
After much work, I ended up with a “tri” single-length set, which I labeled The Oxymoron’s. My longer irons (4-6) were all one length, my 7-8 irons slightly shorter and the higher-lofted clubs were a little more than 2 inches over standard. I felt comfortable at address, so any gapping issues were attacked with loft. Every club had unusual head weights, and they were all were back-weighted — again, my approach to obtaining constant swing inertia. I didn’t have a 3 iron, because another experiment resulted in a rather odd-looking long iron patterned after the Troon clubs of the 1800s.
How did the irons work out? They were pretty good; I think I would have really liked them with a bit more fine tuning. I’ll never know. We got pretty busy, and I essentially stopped playing for the better part of 10 years, so my inertial irons idea disappeared. We did introduce irons as a company, but they were industry standard specs. We didn’t influence the market; it influenced us. Besides, my clubs were for me and I’m not standard.
I’m not convinced there isn’t a way to improve a set of irons, so at 77 I’m still messing around. Do I think there is a place in the industry for single length sets? I’d say in the general market, no. Possibly in some custom fitting applications where the size of the player is outside normal standards.
In the business, there are things that are nice and play well, but aren’t technically different. And there are ideas that when fully tested identify a technical improvement to making clubs. It’s the latter that keeps us experimenting.