Pros: Custom-fitted, single-length irons drastically simplify swing thoughts and reduce setup adjustments throughout the set.

Cons: It takes time to get used to the feel and appearance of longer short irons and shorter long irons. Shotmaking and trajectory control can suffer with short irons.

Who they’re for: Single-length irons will appeal to serious golfers who are searching for consistency and precision in yardage gapping, but the “system” can suit anyone who’s comfortable hitting a 7 or 8-iron.

Review

Like most golfers, I’ve played my entire golfing life with what’s considered a standard set of irons; the 9-iron is longer than the pitching wedge, 8-iron is longer than the 9-iron, and so on, up to a 3 or 4-iron. Actually, I’d never even considered another way of doing it.

That changed when Bryson DeChambeau started winning big tournaments, which shook up the golf equipment world. As the 2015 NCAA Individual and U.S. Amateur Champion, he not only gave credence to the concept of single-length irons, but put it on the map for golfers everywhere.

Related: Bryson DeChambeau WITB

The thing with DeChambeau is, as golf announcers and writers never fail to mention, he was a physics major at SMU and a very high-IQ golfer. Because of that, average golfers can dismiss single-length irons, thinking they need to be a genius or an equipment geek to play them. Admittedly, that thought crept in my head, too. In fact, if I weren’t writing this review, I would have never actually gotten fit for a set of single-length irons.

SterlingSingleLength4

I played NCAA Division I golf, and always considered myself a feel player. Of course, every now and then I’ll put my swing on camera and see how my planes, technique and tempo look, but on the course I like to play golf with my eyes and hands. I’m more of a “that looks like a 9-iron even though the yardage says 8 iron,” than a “the yardage says 153, so I will hit a 3-quarter 8 iron” kind of player. I play a far different game than DeChambeau, who carries a chart with algorithms to calculate different yardages.

That’s why I didn’t think single-length irons would be right for me, but I was wrong.

While single-length irons may be good for the super technical player who wants to dial in his yardage gaps, they’re also good for a player like me. Rather than having a set of irons and wedges, I simply had a bunch of 8-iron-length clubs in my bag — with different lofts, of course.

Since every Sterling iron/wedge was the same length, lie and swing weight of my 8-iron, I could simplify my swing thoughts to say “just hit an 8-iron.” Whether I’m 125 yards out with a sand wedge, or 215 hitting a 5-iron, I’m thinking the same exact thing: “Just hit an 8-iron.”

Most golfers, like myself and Tin Cup, consider the 7-iron, or maybe the 8-iron, the easiest club to hit in their bag. You won’t believe the amount of stress it relieves to go through a round of golf thinking this way.

That being said…

The first time you put a 5-iron in your hands that’s the length of an 8-iron, it will feel like it’s from a junior set. It’s just plain weird to have an 23-degree club measuring only 37 inches. And holding a 37-inch sand wedge with 55 degrees of loft is equally as weird. It feels like if you hit it full, the golf ball is going to hit you straight in the forehead.

Sterling Irons 7 iron (left) vs. Callaway Apex 7 iron
Sterling Irons 7 iron (left) vs. Callaway Apex 7 iron

Trajectory control did prove to be a slight issue in the higher-lofted irons and wedges. Hitting the low, “dead-hands” shot just feels more difficult to execute when giving up inches of control. Of course, choking down helps, but that does effect swing weight and feel.

On the flip side, trajectory control with the longer irons felt easier than ever. I felt more “on top of the ball,” and never felt like I’d balloon the shot as I do with the longer-length long irons of a standard set. It really feels like you’re getting 8-iron control with 5-iron distances.

The biggest problem I found, however, is hitting clubs outside of the set. When I switch to my shorter lob wedge, or to a driving iron or even driver, the difference in feel is drastic. I have to segment my swing; I have an iron swing, and then an everything-else-swing. This would surely be less drastic with a fitting to adjust my other clubs to feel more like the Sterling irons (lie angles, swing weight, length, etc.). It’s an entirely new system of swinging, and adjustments should be made to the other clubs, as well. This is a change I will make going forward, as I’m committed to gaming the single-length irons throughout the summer.

Related: Barney Adams on his single-length iron experiments.

Around the greens, there can also be issues with single-length clubs. Shots like greenside bunkers or flop shots are basically out of the question with an 8-iron length sand wedge (in my opinion, at least), which is why I still plan to bag a standard-length 56-degree and a 60-degree wedge. Also, yardage gaps between your longest iron (5 iron in the Sterling set) are inevitable, so you’ll need to fill that in with either a longer iron, driving iron or hybrid.

SterlingSingleLength3

As for the Sterling Irons themselves, I would recommend them to a prospective single-length iron user. Also, as Mark Crossfield says in his review of the Sterling Irons, the set could be a great tool for beginners because of their bigger size profile and faces.

Let’s see how they performed.

The Numbers

For testing, I took my old set of irons (specs below) and I hit them against the set of single-length Sterling Irons. I also have a 60-degree wedge in the bag, but did not hit it because I normally would not hit a 60-degree wedge full. But I will typically use it up to about 95 yards, and for most of my shots around the green.

Irons: Callaway Apex UT (2 iron), Callaway X Forged ’13 (3-PW)
Shafts: True Temper Project X 6.5 (+0.5 inches)
Specs: Standard lie angles, lofts 1-degree strong

Sand Wedge: Titleist Vokey SM5 (56 degrees)
Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shaft
Specs: Standard lie angle

Yardage Gapping

GapGraphic_SterlingVCally
To see a full break down of the results, scroll down to the bottom of the story.

Looking at the carry distances above, you might be wondering how it’s possible that a Sterling 5 iron that’s 3 inches shorter than my Callaway X Forged 5 iron can fly almost 5 yards farther? That’s the magic of Wishon and Bowden’s design.

The short irons (8-PW, SW, GW) are made from 8620 carbon steel, while the long irons (5, 6 and 7) are made with a multi-material, high-COR design. Wishon/Bowden gave the 5, 6 and 7 irons in the Sterling set hot faces (HS300 variable thickness steel alloy face plates, which are welded to their 8620 carbon steel bodies) and progressively moved their center of gravity rearward to produce a higher trajectory. If gapping is still an issue, Wishon offers a 23-degree 5 hybrid that will produce more height, and possibly more distance.

Related: Read more about the tech and specs of Sterling Irons, designed by Tom Wishon and Jaacob Bowden. 

SterlingSingleLength17

As the numbers show, the high-COR design works to maintain distance and height you’d expect from longer irons, at least for me. The 5, 6 and 7 irons do, however, have an audibly louder “tink” sound at impact, which is different than the softer, duller sound of the shorter irons and wedges. Listen to the sound here in Crossfield’s Sterling Iron review.

The prices for a customized set of Sterling Irons are as follows:

  • Sterling Irons 5 hybrid: $250 with graphite shaft only
  • Sterling Irons #5, 6, 7 High COR Irons: $138 each with graphite, $128 with steel
  • Sterling Irons (8-PW, GW, SW): $117 with graphite, $106 each with steel

But remember, do not purchase a set of single-length irons without first being FIT.

The importance of fitting

A proper fitting is important for any club or set of clubs, but with single-length irons it’s especially important since the weight, lie angle, length and shaft will be identical for all of your irons. If something is slightly off, then it will be slightly off for every single iron in your bag. So make sure to get it right.

Here's JR Robert and I going through a full fitting at his facility in Windsor.
JR Robert and I going through a full custom fitting at his facility in Windsor.

Luckily, I had an extremely knowledgable and talented fitter recommended to me by Tom Wishon: JR Robert of JR Golf in Windsor, Canada. His golf shop has all of the necessities, including a Mitchell digital-bending machine, a “green machine” spec gauge, a turf putting green, a Foresight GC2, a Flightscope, and a hitting net where you can hit any club in the bag.

step0003

Since the Sterling Irons are made from 8620 carbon steel, JR was quite pleased with the ease of bending (it’s no surprise that an irons designed in part by Tom Wishon would be fitting-friendly).

Click here for other approved Tom Wishon-approved fitters.

SterlingSingleLength19

Here’s the specs of the clubs JR built for me after my fitting

  • My irons are 37-inches long, but play just a hair shorter after having bent them upright. I also choke up a little on my clubs, so my irons effectively play 36.5 inches.
  • My swing weights are D4, which JR said will make the irons play around around D1 because I grip down roughly half an inch on all shots.
  • The shafts are True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 (0.370-inch parallel)
  • Standard grips (with 2 wraps)
  • Lie angle: 66.25 degrees
A Sterling Irons 7 iron
A Sterling Irons 7 iron

Here are my lofts

  • 5 iron: 23 degrees
  • 6 iron: 27 degrees
  • 7 iron: 31 degrees
  • 8 iron: 35 degrees
  • 9 iron: 40 degrees
  • PW: 45 degrees
  • GW: 50 degrees
  • SW: 55 degrees

But how will a set of single-length irons coexist with the “standard” length clubs in a set? I show you how I’m doing it below.

WITB Setup

It should be noted that after testing, and extensive on course work, I will be keeping the 60-degree wedge in the bag from my old set. While I like the concept of single-length irons on longer shots, it became obvious that I had more control and felt more comfortable with a lob wedge outside of the set around the greens. Also, since I have the room, I will keep the driving iron in the bag, as well as a 4-iron for yardage gapping purposes.

Therefore, my WITB going forward for the year will be as follows:

  • Driver: (10.5 degrees) — 290 yards
  • Strong 3 Wood: (12 degrees) – 270 yards
  • Driving Iron: Callaway Apex UT (2-iron) — 255 yards
  • Long Iron: Callaway X Forged (4-iron) — 240 yards
  • Irons: Sterling Irons (5-PW, GW, SW) — 120-225 yards
  • Wedge: (60 degrees) — Around 95 yards
  • Putter

This setup leaves me with 14 clubs, and consistent gapping throughout the set.

The Takeaway

Your knowledge of single-length irons may not be the same as Bryson DeChambeau’s, but do not be intimidated by his reputation as golf’s resident engineering genius. Single-length irons are a legitimate option for golfers of all skill levels and backgrounds.

The biggest hurdle in purchasing a set of single-length irons might be that you won’t know for sure if single-length irons are right for you until you go through a complete fitting, purchase the set, and play and practice with the clubs for enough time to get comfortable with the concept. For that reason, I suggest single-length for lost golfing souls who are looking for a drastic change, or super technical and analytical type golfers who want to exact their yardage gaps or any golfer who wants to simplify the game of golf with reduced swing thoughts and setup adjustments.

DO NOT switch to single-length irons without getting fit. If you’re interested in the idea and are near the area, I suggest you get fit for Sterling Irons by JR Golf in Windsor, Canada.

For more information, visit http://www.sterlingirons.com

Expanded Testing Data

SterlingVCally_2-5SterlingVCally_6-9SterlingVCally_Wedges

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Andrew Tursky is the Assistant Editor at GolfWRX. He played on the Hawaii Pacific University Men's Golf team while earning a Masters degree in Communications. He also played college golf at Rutgers University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.

66 COMMENTS

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  1. So I think I was probably the first one to buy a set of these through their website sterlingirons.com, but I had been following the progress of these for quite some time before that. I have been playing them for almost four months now and all I can say is wow!
    I was a very good golfer when I was younger, and I maintain about a 3-4 handicap right now. My struggle as a true feel player was consistency. Not playing as much now I very easily “lose it” between rounds without some practice. Sterling irons have helped out immensely with that issue.
    I bought the 5-GW,SW set at 7 iron length, that have the S2S Superlite Steel in S flex. I was so excited about these irons that I couldn’t wait to be fitted, and bought with just providing general info to the website the first day they were available. Also the closest master fitter I have to me is 95 miles away. My plan is to play with these for a year and then go get a full fitting.
    I also ordered a 59 degree LW from Edel and had them grind and match the swingweight and L/L of the Sterlings.
    Every comment made about the sound and feel and look are correct, these are not for the utter traditionalist. I say that because a short five iron in your hand takes some getting used too. And on the other side a long SW also has the same effect. But in my opinion the look is spot on. So many “Outside the Box” golf ideas stray to far from traditional golf looks so they have small effect and then fade into the background. These irons look great and the differences only exist to improve performance, from a straight up looks perspective, these are very eye pleasing, and in my opinion as traditional looking as they can be without sacrificing performance.
    The only real issue I have had is getting used to short game shots with longer clubs, but it has actually got me excited about practicing again which is a nice bonus. Another smaller issue is a tendency when you first use them to try and over swing the lower irons to make them go farther. But once you get used to the feel and see the length is not an issue that goes away too.
    All in all, Sterling irons have got me excited about playing golf again for the first time in many years, and if you have the time to get used to them, well worth the investment.

  2. The majority of golfers who take up the game, particularly seniors, always have problems with hitting consistent 5 and 6 irons. The reason is obvious. It is because you are farther away from the ball and there is more chance of poor strikes. Probably some of this is in the mind?
    The Wishon concept really is great.They are game improvement irons and if golfers can overlook their vanity for player type irons, all golfers down to single figure handicaps could benefit.
    I have just gone back to Ping Karsten irons from i20’s and my scoring and consistency has improved measurably.

    • I understand the Tommy Armour EQLs included a driver that went shorter distances, had distance gaps bunching between clubs, and also had trajectory issues with low-lofted clubs flying too low and high-lofted clubs going to high and far.

      When we went to work on this project, Tom Wishon and I had the advantage of him remembering what happened to Tommy Armour, the modern day Internet for research, experience in the existing single length market, and technology like Trackman and robots for hit testing to really dial in the design. Because of that we were able to retain the inherent benefits of single length while fixing a lot of the historic problems.

      It will be interesting to see what happens this time around!

      • Jaacob, is anybody home at your swingmangolf.com website? I asked for a password reset several days ago and got a blank email posted to me. I have not received a response to my emailed enquiries.

        I’d really quite like to get what I paid for!

  3. Looking at the numbers, seems like the longer irons are going to fly lower with less spin and the scoring irons are flying higher with more spin. Isn’t this the opposite of desired ball flights? You won’t hold greens with your long irons and will have too much spin on the short ones.

  4. I own a set of BOTH Apex and Apex Pros:
    The Callaway Irons Pictured Look Like Apex Irons NOT Apes Pros’.
    The Apex Irons are Multimaterial (Maraging Steel Faces with Forged Bodies)
    The Apex Pros’ are a forged Iron i.e their aces are NOT Maraging Steel.
    Either fix the Picture or the DATA Slides.

    • Richard,

      We photographed the Apex side by side with the Sterling irons because they have a similar size.

      We tested the Sterling irons against Callaway’s X Forged ’13 because they were the author’s “gamers.”

      Sorry for the confusion, and I hope that clarifies things.

  5. What I find more interesting is how badly gapped the current Callaway X-forged ’13s are. Have you checked the lofts lately, or is that just how they have always played?

  6. I know a gentleman that has sold 10 sets of the Sterling irons. I asked him about the comments from people after playing them and he said it was all positive. Everyone came back and bought a gap wedge and sand wedge after playing with them. Makes sense to me. If you can make golf a little easier for the masses, why not?

  7. OMG, Just grab a set of clubs off the rack and hit the damn ball. Way to much mumbo jumbo. If ya can’t hit the ball play another sport. Man o man nothing like taking an easy game and making it as hard as possible. Swing the club, hit the ball and get in your cart and go your holding up the course.

  8. Can I please just get comfortable with the 14 clubs and AP2’s I just bought? Now we got single length clubs from Godess knows where! Has anyone won a major, club championship with these things yet? Next thing we’ll know, all the one length clubs will be 4 iron length…….then 5 iron. Sheesh! So what, now you’re telling me my 2016 AP2’s are obsolete? ARGHHHHHH!!!!

    • Tom Wishon and I would classify these as game improvement. Roughly 75% of the market swings a driver between 85-105 mph. So to minimize risk and also make the most amount of difference, we really tried to dial the clubs, distance gapping, etc in for this golfer profile. That being said, since they are middle of the road, both beginners and better-players/professionals can play them too.

  9. Make the 4, 5, 6 irons of your current set to the same length, lie angle and swing weight as your 6 or 7 irons (4 degrees of loft gap), and leave all the remaining clubs untouched. Then all the cons you mentioned will be resolved.

    The single length idea has been around for 30 years, it is just the golf media and Bryson make it pop up recently.

    • This wouldn’t work. The reason the Sterling irons go as far as the do I because they are high COR designs. You wouldn’t get the distance out of the long irons from a normal set

    • Won’t work. You’d want to equalise your 8-iron and down if anything. Leave the gaps in the 7 and up with a “normal” set. As Jared pointed out, it’s the long irons that get “confusing” if you use stock heads.

    • Smash factors for irons should not be even approaching 1.5, unless the loft is incredibly strong or it is a non conforming club or just a smothered swing. Tour average for smash factor for a driver is 1.49~. 6 iron average on tour is 1.39~ with varied manufacturers. I would be highly suspect of an iron that could produce a smash factor of 1.5 routinely

      • Well the numbers are right there. The Wishon irons have a COR of .83, which tranalates to a smash factor of 1.5. Why can’t Callaway’s premium distance iron do that? I’m genuinely curious.

        • Where in the review did the author mention hotspots? Actually, where in anyone review has anyone mentioned hotspots on these SLI? Actually, where has anyone ever mentioned hot spots on any Wishon high COR irons? Never? Oh, ok thanks.

          Again, why can’t Callaway make irons with a 1.5 COR face?

        • Nick is right. Loft is a factor in the maximum achievable smash factor.
          From Tutelman:
          SF = Vball/Vclubhead
          = (1 + CoR)/(1 + Ball Mass/Head Mass) * cosine(loft) * (1 – 0.14*miss)
          From that you can see even with an equal CoR, the higher loft limits the achievable SF of an iron to less than of a driver.

        • I would beg to differ. You may want to do your research as to who Tom Wishon is before making a credulous statement. The Sterling SLI do indeed work , in fact, very well. Will they be everyones cup of tea? Maybe not.. The fact is that Tom amd Jaacob have taken the SLI concept to the next level of peformance and the ability to professionally fit them to every aspwct of a players swing…and we will more than likely once again, the brand name companies using Toms kowledge of design and the industry to create another product of mass production.
          Golf balls originall started of without dimples and those guys probably got heckled as well for carving nicks in their balls..that just sounds wrong, i know…

  10. I have a set that is standard Sterling settings made to 8 iron length. Getting fit is a confidence builder but IMO not necessary. If your favorite iron is a 7 or 8 iron then the ordering the Sterlings with this in mind will fit you fine. I did order mine 2 degree flat because through many years of playing found that is what fits my swing.

    The biggest difference I have found that for me has been a mental adjustment. I have found that when hitting the 6 and 5 irons I have a tendency to try to hit them harder because of the short shafts. I am still fighting this tendency but will work it out. I carry normal length SW and LW, finding that the Sterling irons were too long for me to finnese.

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