Recently, there’s been a lot of interest in a set of irons where each club is the same length. When a talented young player on the PGA Tour uses clubs this distinctive and different, it is going to generate some headlines. It has also sparked some interesting questions about matching clubs in a set in the golf equipment world. I have some experience in alternative ways to match a set of clubs. In fact, my first project at PING was to build an inertia-matched set of irons. I hope this article provides some useful information about matching an iron set.
The idea of a set of single-length irons sounds appealing: If every club has the same swing feel and can be swung on the same plane, it would seem easier to groove one swing for the majority of shots. However, current sets aren’t just different lengths — they’re also different weights, have different lie angles and generally optimized for length progression. They’re also optimized to achieve good distance gaps between clubs. So to begin this discussion, we need to pinpoint what makes up the feel of clubs.
There are many ways to describe the feeling of weight, especially in an object intended to be swung at high speed. For those wishing to explore this topic in detail, I recommend a book called “The Physics of Golf” by Theodore Jorgensen. It was one of the books I really valued during my first couple of years at PING. Jorgensen describes three ways to measure the feel of weight of a club. To understand, it helps to imagine the golf club as being made of a collection of little 1-gram weights, or masses, all stuck together, as shown in Figure 1. In the diagram, the black circles represent the grip, the grey circles the shaft and the blue circles the head (if it’s not abundantly clear, I’m not employed for my artistic abilities). Hopefully you get the general idea.
Jorgensen’s 3 measures of feel are:
- Mass. You can feel this by picking up the club at the shaft and holding it. It is simply the sum of all the little 1-gram masses in the figure. Adding more mass, whether to the grip, shaft or head, will add to total club mass and make it feel heavier overall.
- The first moment (swing weight). You can feel this by holding the club at the grip and then pointing the head straight out in front of you. You can feel the “weight” of the club pushing down on your bottom hand, trying to rotate. This value is calculated by taking each little 1-gram mass and multiplying by the distance from the pivot point. It’s measured in mass-distance or inch-ounces on a standard swing weight scale. So if you add 1 gram to the head, you’ll feel the effect much more than if you added 1 gram to the shaft. Adding 1 gram to the butt of the grip can even make the club feel lighter by this measure. On an actual swing weight scale, the pivot point is 14 inches from the butt end of the club, for reasons no one is exactly sure about, other than it has worked for the last 20 to 30 years. If you were trying to match a set to a true “first moment,” you’d use a pivot point more like 5 inches from the end of the grip (between the hands).
- The second moment (club MOI). You can feel this better by waggling the club around. It is the moment of inertia (MOI) of the club around the golfer’s hands, and is often called angular mass in other engineering fields. This value is calculated by taking each little 1-gram mass and multiplying by the distance from the pivot point squared. It is really a measure of how spread out the mass is, and is often described as a resistance to twisting. This value is much more sensitive to even a small amount of mass added to the farthest location from the pivot point. You are used to hearing about the MOI of the club head around the center of the face — a measure of the “forgiveness” of the head. In this case, we’re talking about MOI of the whole club around the hands. Same physics principle, but different axis of rotation.
So why do we care about all this? Because there are two somewhat competing priorities: distance and accuracy. In theory, we would match clubs so that it’s easier for golfers to swing all of them accurately and consistently, but golfers also want more distance. Jorgensen starts his chapter on club matching this way: “I thought perfectly matched clubs should all swing the same and therefore… increase the precision of his game. I found, however, that most golfers were interested in clubs that would give them greater distance on the course…”
Our design intent is to find the optimal balance of distance and accuracy through a set of 14 clubs for any given golfer. One of the main levers to alter distance in particular is the length of the club. If a driver is 45 inches and the shortest wedge is 35 inches, that 10-inch differential plays a big role in achieving good distance gaps while maintaining stopping power with each club. For example, a 4-iron at 7-iron length makes it difficult to generate the same height or distance you’d produce with a standard 4-iron. Moreover, as we change length, it’s difficult to match all three feel measurements to get the clubs to truly feel the same. Table 1 shows some typical values of mass, swing weight and MOI for a few clubs in the G family. You can see that swing weight stays somewhat constant, but the mass increases from driver to PW, while the MOI decreases. This is a function of the design trade-offs made for each club in the set.
So, all that said, is there a benefit to having at least the majority of clubs in a set at the same length? It’s a tough question to answer, because the results can only really be built up over time using a single-length set on the course. The trade-off seems to be better consistency when switching from iron to iron in this set, but the driver and fairway woods will feel very different from the irons, and it might be a struggle to achieve good distance gaps in the set.
The fact that at least one player has had good results on the PGA Tour shows that a single-length set can be effective, but that does not mean that it would work for everyone. The most famous current exponent of the single-length iron set also plays extremely upright lie angles, is a dedicated disciple of the Golfing Machine instruction system, and has been working diligently at this for years. His single-length iron set is matched for mass, swing weight and MOI, and allows him to use the same swing plane for all of his irons. However, the metal woods are still longer, lighter and have higher MOI. It’s probably unrealistic to expect that just chopping down your shaft lengths will by itself make a big difference. You can see from Table 1 that to make a standard 5-iron at 7-iron length, we also need to add 20 grams to the mass of the club to make it match.
I suggest the best candidates for a single-length set of irons are higher swing-speed players (who don’t have trouble generating distance) who want to take the time to experiment with their game and determine objectively whether the pros outweigh the cons. I don’t recommend that anyone buy such a set on a whim. It takes a lot of effort to adapt a set designed for progressive lengths into a functional single-length set. If you are interested, at least go and talk to a master club-builder for advice.
In the future I could see this approach working for people just taking up the game. In that case, I foresee a set featuring just a few clubs, all the same length. Out of curiosity, I’m tinkering with some single-length irons and hybrids myself right now. As my scientific training taught me, I’ll remain skeptical until I can verify some measurable improvement in my results.
Clark: A teacher’s take on Brandel Chamblee’s comments
Because I’m writing to a knowledgeable audience who follows the game closely, I’m sure the current Brandel Chamblee interview and ensuing controversy needs no introduction, so let’s get right to it.
Brandel Chamblee, a former PGA Tour player, now plays a role as a TV personality. He has built a “brand” around that role. The Golf Channel seems to relish the idea of Brandel as the “loose cannon” of the crew (not unlike Johnny Miller on NBC) saying exactly what he thinks with seeming impunity from his superiors.
I do not know the gentleman personally, but on-air, he seems like an intelligent, articulate golf professional, very much on top of his subject matter, which is mostly the PGA Tour. He was also a very capable player (anyone who played and won on the PGA Tour is/was a great player). But remember, nowadays he is not being judged by what scores he shoots, but by how many viewers/readers his show and his book have (ratings). Bold statements sell, humdrum ones do not.
For example, saying that a teacher’s idiocy was exposed is a bold controversial statement that will sell, but is at best only partly true and entirely craven. If the accuser is not willing to name the accused, he is being unfair and self-serving. However, I think it’s dangerous to throw the baby out with the bathwater here; Brandel is a student of the game and I like a lot of what he says and thinks.
His overriding message in that interview is that golf over the last “30-40 years” has been poorly taught. He says the teachers have been too concerned with aesthetics, not paying enough attention to function. There is some truth in that, but Brandel is painting with a very broad brush here. Many, myself included, eschewed method teaching years ago for just that reason. Method teachers are bound to help some and not others. Maybe the “X swing” one player finds very useful, another cannot use it all.
Brandel was asked specifically about Matthew Wolff’s unique swing: Lifting the left heel, crossing the line at the top, etc. He answered, “of course he can play because that’s how he plays.” The problem would be if someone tried to change that because it “looked odd.” Any teacher worth his weight in salt would not change a swing simply because it looked odd if it was repeating good impact. I learned from the great John Jacobs that it matters not what the swing looks like if it is producing great impact.
Now, if he is objecting exclusively to those method teachers who felt a certain pattern of motions was the one true way to get to solid impact, I agree with him 100 percent. Buy many teach on an individual, ball flight and impact basis and did not generalize a method. So to say “golf instruction over the last 30-40 years” has been this or that is far too broad a description and unfair.
He goes on to say that the “Top Teacher” lists are “ridiculous.” I agree, mostly. While I have been honored by the PGA and a few golf publications as a “top teacher,” I have never understood how or why. NOT ONE person who awarded me those honors ever saw me give one lesson! Nor have they have ever tracked one player I coached. I once had a 19 handicap come to me and two seasons later he won the club championship-championship flight! By that I mean with that student I had great success. But no one knew of that progress who gave me an award.
On the award form, I was asked about the best, or most well-known students I had taught. In the golf journals, a “this-is-the-teacher-who-can-help-you” message is the epitome of misdirection. Writing articles, appearing on TV, giving YouTube video tips, etc. is not the measure of a teacher. On the list of recognized names, I’m sure there are great teachers, but wouldn’t you like to see them teach as opposed to hearing them speak? I’m assuming the “ridiculous” ones Brandel refers to are those teaching a philosophy or theory of movement and trying to get everyone to do just that.
When it comes to his criticism of TrackMan, I disagree. TrackMan does much more than help “dial in yardage.” Video cannot measure impact, true path, face-to-path relationship, centeredness of contact, club speed, ball speed, plane etc. Comparing video with radar is unfair because the two systems serve different functions. And if real help is better ball flight, which of course only results from better impact, then we need both a video of the overall motion and a measure of impact.
Now the specific example he cites of Jordan Spieth’s struggles being something that can be corrected in “two seconds” is hyperbolic at least! Nothing can be corrected that quickly simply because the player has likely fallen into that swing flaw over time, and it will take time to correct it. My take on Jordan’s struggles is a bit different, but he is a GREAT player who will find his way back.
Brandel accuses Cameron McCormick (his teacher) of telling him to change his swing. Do we know that to be true, or did Jordan just fall into a habit and Cameron is not seeing the change? I agree there is a problem; his stats prove that, but before we pick a culprit, let’s get the whole story. Again back to the sensationalism which sells! (Briefly, I believe Jordan’s grip is and has always been a problem but his putter and confidence overcame it. An active body and “quiet” hands is the motion one might expect of a player with a strong grip-for obvious reason…but again just my two teacher cents)
Anyway, “bitch-slapped” got him in hot water for other reasons obviously, and he did apologize over his choice of words, and to be clear he did not condemn the PGA as a whole. But because I have disagreements with his reasoning here does not mean Brandel is not a bright articulate golf professional, I just hope he looks before he leaps the next time, and realizes none of us are always right.
Some of my regular readers will recall I “laid down my pen” a few years ago, but it occurred to me, I would be doing many teachers a disservice if I did not offer these thoughts on this particular topic!
A trip down Magnolia Memory Lane: Patron fashion at the 1991 Masters
Like a lot of golfers out there, I’ve been getting my fix thanks to the final round Masters broadcasts on YouTube via the Masters channel. Considering these broadcasts go back as far as 1968, there is a lot we could discuss—we could break down shots, equipment, how the course has changed, but instead I thought we could have a little fun taking a different direction—fashion.
However, I’m not talking players fashion, that’s fairly straight forward. Instead, I wanted to follow the action behind the action and see what we could find along the way – here are the 1991 Highlights.
I love the “Die Hard” series as much as anyone else but one fan took it to a new level of fandom by wearing a Die Hard 2 – Die Harder T-shirt to Sunday at the Masters. This patron was spotted during Ian Woosnam fourth shot into 13. Honorable mention goes to Woosie’s gold chain.
There is a lot going on here as Ben Crenshaw lines up his put on 17. First, we have the yellow-shirted man just left of center with perfectly paired Masters green pants to go along with his hat (he also bears a striking resemblance to Ping founder Karsten Solheim). Secondly, we have what I would imagine is his friend in the solid red pants—both these outfits are 10 out of 10. Last but not least, we have the man seen just to the right of Ben with sunglasses so big and tinted, I would expect to be receiving a ticket from him on the I20 on my way out of town.
If you don’t know the name Jack Hamm, consider yourself lucky you missed a lot of early 2000s late-night golf infomercials. OK so maybe it’s not the guy known for selling “The Hammer” driver but if you look under the peak of the cabin behind Woosie as he tees off on ten you can be forgiven for taking a double-take… This guy might show up later too. Honorable mention to the pastel-pink-shorted man with the binoculars and Hogan cap in the right of the frame.
Big proportions were still very much in style as the 80s transitioned into the early 90s. We get a peek into some serious style aficionados wardrobes behind the 15th green with a wide striped, stiff collared lilac polo, along with a full-length bright blue sweater and a head of hair that has no intention of being covered by a Masters hat.
Considering the modern tales of patrons (and Rickie Folwer) being requested to turn backward hats forward while on the grounds of Augusta National, it was a pretty big shock to see Gerry Pate’s caddy with his hat being worn in such an ungentlemanly manner during the final round.
Before going any further, I would like us all to take a moment to reflect on how far graphics during the Masters coverage has come in the last 30 years. In 2019 we had the ability to see every shot from every player on every hole…in 1991 we had this!
At first glance, early in the broadcast, these yellow hardhats threw me for a loop. I honestly thought that a spectator had chosen to wear one to take in the action. When Ian Woosnam smashed his driver left on 18 over the bunkers it became very apparent that anyone wearing a hard hat was not there for fun, they were part of the staff. If you look closely you can see hole numbers on the side of the helmets to easily identify what holes they were assigned to. Although they have less to do with fashion, I must admit I’m curious where these helmets are now, and what one might be worth as a piece of memorabilia.
Speaking of the 18th hole, full credit to the man in the yellow hat (golf clap to anyone that got the Curious George reference) who perfectly matched the Pantone of his hat to his shirt and also looked directly into the TV camera.
It could be said the following photo exemplifies early ’90s fashion. We have pleated Bermuda shorts, horizontal stripes all over the place and some pretty amazing hairstyles. Honorable mention to the young guys in the right of the frame that look like every ’80s movie antagonist “rich preppy boy.”
What else can I say except, khaki and oversized long sleeve polos certainly had their day in 1991? We have a bit of everything here as Tom Watson lines up his persimmon 3-wood on the 18th. The guy next to Ian Woosnam’s sleeves hit his mid-forearm, there are too many pleats to count, and somehow our Jack Hamm look-alike managed to find another tee box front row seat.
You can check out the full final-round broadcast of the 1991 Masters below.
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