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Hybrids or Long Irons? A Teacher’s Perspective

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In golf instruction, there’s no more important position than impact. It’s called “the moment of truth” for a reason. If you have a good impact position, you’ll hit good shots. It’s as simple as that. When we’re talking about impact, most of our discussions will revolve around three things: angle of attack, club path, and face angle. They’re all very important, and with proper instruction they can be manipulated rather quickly.

One thing that’s very hard to change, however, is club head speed, and it’s the most important factor for golfers to consider when they’re choosing between a long iron and a hybrid.

When hitting a shot from the turf, golfers need to be able to first and foremost get the ball airborne. And when it comes to hitting effective long-iron shots, that takes ample club head speed. Most golfers fall short in that department, which is why hybrids were created. By design, hybrids are easier to get in the air. They create a higher launch angle, more spin, and more ball speed — all good things for golfers who don’t have a lot of club head speed.

I teach a lot of golfers who fall in the lack-of-speed category. I find that many of them are still trying to hit their 4 iron, or even 3 iron, from the fairway. This generally leads to poor habits — for example “hanging back,” or tilting the spine away from the target to help the golf ball in the air. In fact, using the wrong clubs is one of the leading causes of “hanging back.” It has the same effect as using shafts that are too stiff.

Long irons are for high speed players, plain and simple. When I’m asked how much speed, I’ll usually offer a vague answer like, “enough.” But when I considered it more carefully, I decided to design the following guidelines for my students. They can act as a reference for selecting the clubs that should make up their sets.

Hybrid/Long-Iron Guidelines

  • If you hit a 7-iron 140 yards or less, a 6-iron should be the longest iron in your set.  The 3, 4 and 5 should be hybrids. Even the 6 iron is marginal.
  • If you can hit your 7-iron 150-160 yards, think about nothing longer than a 5 iron; 3 and 4 should be hybrids.
  • If you can hit your 7-iron 160-170 yards, nothing longer than 4 iron; 3 should be hybrid.
  • If you can hit a 7-iron more than 170 yards, you can use any set make up you choose.

Speed is vital to lift, and the design of the hybrid can be a huge help. There are, of course, other swing issues involved in hitting the golf ball too low, but this chart is a start for what clubs should be in your bag.

Not sure if your clubs or your swing is the problem? For a video analysis of your swing, visit my website.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

49 Comments

49 Comments

  1. Crazy About Golf

    Dec 14, 2017 at 11:16 pm

    Single digit handicaps can certainly game either long irons or hybrids….it’s a matter of personal preference. I sometimes substitute my 16-degree hybrid for my 15 degree fairway wood, depending on the day. Hybrids generally offer better distance, loft and foregiveness compared to long irons. However, the difference is more notable for persons with higher handicaps or slower swing speeds.

  2. Geoff

    Nov 26, 2017 at 12:28 am

    Man, what a dumb article.

    The number on the bottom of the irons is such an arbitrary number. My 7i is 34* and I hit it 155-160 yards. Most 7is now are closer to 30*. Which loft are you referencing, Dennis? By your logic, I shouldn’t be carrying a 4i, but here’s another flaw, what loft of a 4i should I not be carrying? The 24* lofted 4i in my bag, or the 20* standard 4i available in most sets. Come on man. Maybe you should spend a little more time thinking about the content of your articles and whether your thoughts are ideas are backed up with numbers.

    • That guy

      Dec 23, 2017 at 8:34 pm

      Sounds like you can hit your long irons just fine regardless. So what is your point?

  3. Matt

    Nov 21, 2017 at 1:04 am

    Hybrids are excellent. Am on the cusp between irons and hybrids – got on really well with a Titleist 585 3h in the past (par 5 tamer) and an X2hot 4h is currently in the bag next to my 5 wood. Planning to try a current model 5h soon, and if it saves me a few strokes will add a 3 and a 4.

  4. Dennis

    Nov 19, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    Can’t hit my iron 4(19°) further than my i6 (27°) from the fairway, which is 170 yards carry max My #3 Hybrid (21°) flies higher, but not further. My i4 flies 200 yards carry from the tee – I can’t hit my driver further than that. Stuck in Bogeygolf I guess…

  5. Ross37

    Nov 16, 2017 at 11:08 am

    Will you clarify the loft of the 7 iron you mention in your guidelines. I play an older set of irons, and typically have to reach for more club than my playing partners.

  6. Woody

    Nov 15, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    Any type of general guide will not fit all…but this is a really good article and guideline for most…I hit my 7 iron 180 and carry 3-PW and have never been concerned about getting the ball in the air..other people I know who hit the ball not as far I have recommended replacing their long irons with hybrids and woods just for the reasons outlined in this article.

  7. Brian

    Nov 15, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    I’m 78 with a low swing speed. Lowest numbered iron in my bag is a #7 and I use a #7 wood off the fairway in lieu of long irons or hybrids. Works for me

  8. Dave R

    Nov 11, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    I’m 68 years old index is 5.3 I hated my hybrids but now since I’ve learnt to hit them properly never going back to long irons . These are so easy to hit have a 5 hybrid with a 4iron length shaft goes 185 to 195 it’s set to 19 degrees. Have another 5 hybrid set to 21 degrees and is good for max 175 yards. This set up workes good for my slower swing speed.

  9. TGK

    Nov 10, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    I am 76 years old, handicap 18. I have not used a 3,4, or 5 iron in 5-6 years. My swing speed with driver is 80mph. I have become much more consistent since i have been using hybrids. Looking for a lefty 6 hybrid in Canada & can’t find one. Anyone?

  10. Dennis Clark

    Nov 10, 2017 at 4:54 pm

    Author’s note: The piece is addressed to low-speed players and is from observations of my students and the feedback i get from them and on Trackman numbers. Thx

  11. Bob Jensen

    Nov 9, 2017 at 5:30 am

    Took me awhile to figure this out. I’m 60, and play to a 12. I added a 5 hybrid last year, and grudgingly a 6 this summer, but it has made a big difference.

  12. JJC51

    Nov 8, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    I’m a 14 handicap and I hit my 3 iron much better than my hybrid. Can’t believe that I haven’t snapped that damned hybrid in two by now, worst club in my bag.

  13. Alan Bester

    Nov 8, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Very informative article, Dennis, but could you also comment on differences in staff stiffness between high speed and lower speed swings?
    Surely shaft stiffness is an important factor for swing speed and ball flight.
    Do hybrids have softer and longer shafts than long irons? I suspect they do.
    Thanks.

    • Dennis Clark

      Nov 10, 2017 at 4:48 pm

      Sorry I was away for bit, but here goes…Yes shaft stiffness, length, loft etc all make a difference. But don’t misunderstand me here. This is an article about DESIGN, IOW the Hybrid is designed to hit the ball higher all things being equal. When the center of gravity is recessed from the hitting area the golf ball goes higher. And yes I think the iron-like length makes them easier also. For 99% of my mid-high handicaps, they are the best thing going. Thx

  14. Willie

    Nov 8, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    I am not sure i really agree with this. for most golfers maybe, but definitely not all.

    I hit my 7 iron 160. fairly weekly lofted Bridgestone DCP’s. I used to have a hybrid in place of my 4 iron and then a 5 wood and 3 wood. once upon a time i had a hybrid replacing my 3 iron but couldn’t hit it for the life of me.

    I did some testing, and found that I am much better off with a 3 and 4 iron. the 3 iron is a safety club off of a tee. I found that the 4 iron, even when mishit would still go fairly straight. a miss with the hybrid had the potential to go way offline. i would rather miss and be 30 yards short of expectation than dropping or taking a stroke and distance penalty. thats just me though.

    worth noting that i dont think my swing speed is high enough to get the most out of long irons, but they stay low enough that they will roll out to a decent distance

  15. ScottK

    Nov 8, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    This article is perfectly true for me but it took me 2 years to figure it out. I hit my 7 about 155 and always struggled with my 5 (already had hybrids for my 3 and 4). Finally, I checked my ego and swapped it out with a hybrid and haven’t looked back. Golf is much more fun when I’m not dreading a 175 yard shot. My father has followed the same advice and gone down to a 6 hybrid. It’s helped him tremendously.

  16. Jordan Robert Anderson

    Nov 8, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Hit my 7 iron 183. Carry 2-P

  17. Aren van Schalkwyk

    Nov 8, 2017 at 8:32 am

    This guideline is misleading to say the least. I play the 718 CB’s, which obviously have “weak” lofts compared to the AP1. I hit my 7 iron 150 carry, my 4 iron 180 and my 3 iron 190 yards carry. On top of that, I hit the 3 and 4 irons very well. As a matter of fact, they are some of my favorite irons. I do hit the AP1 7 iron 165 on the fly, which is to be expected with a loft of 30*, compared to the CB with a loft of 35*. I’m so over “knowledgeable” people pushing the hybrid narrative. Hybrids may or may not suit certain players, for example someone with a super slow swing speed and beginners may find them to be to more playable than a 3 or 4 iron. But as someone with a “slow”/”moderate” swing speed and as a low single digit handicap, I’m long past the stage where other people tells me what I should play because of how fast my swing speed is or how far I hit a particular club. The bottom line is, play what works for you, not what some other person may think will work for you.

    • Chopper

      Nov 8, 2017 at 10:41 am

      guide·line
      /???d?l?n/
      noun
      plural noun: guidelines
      a general rule, principle, or piece of advice.
      synonyms: recommendation, instruction, direction, suggestion

  18. Ward Wayne

    Nov 7, 2017 at 11:25 pm

    A better answer is “get fitted” because any guideline is too general. Manufacturers can’t even agree what is a 7 iron. The shaft also makes a difference and let’s not talk about the ball. Oh and by the way that TaylorMade 5 iron you bought is about the loft as your fathers Wilson Staff 2 iron so there goes your guide.
    Above all, play what you like because life is too short and live with the consequences! Remeber the game is about putting the ball in the hole with the least amount of strokes not distance!

  19. Dylan

    Nov 7, 2017 at 9:31 pm

    It might help to include what loft you’re talking about here. People’s carry with a traditional 36* 7 iron will vary enormously to a 28* shovel from TaylorMade.

  20. Fitted 5-times

    Nov 7, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    Very helpful and practical guidance. I also find the old school advice of not playing an iron stronger than 24 degrees and longer than 38” very useful.

    What are your thoughts on using utility irons like Ping G400 Crossover in place of 5i and/or 4i before moving to hybrids or high lofted woods?

  21. The dude

    Nov 7, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    Nice article….it amazes me how many players don’t take heed!!

  22. Acemandrake

    Nov 7, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    Also…You need fewer irons & more hybrids if the distance gaps between clubs are getting smaller due to a slower swing speed.

    If you hit your 5-iron the same distance of your 6-iron then why are you carrying the 5-iron?

    Loft is my friend 🙂

  23. DrRob1963

    Nov 7, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    Good article!
    I carry 3 & 4 Hybrids usually, but which 7-iron do you mean?
    My Mizuno bladed MP-68 7-iron has a 35* loft and goes a comfortable 145yds. (The most gorgeous clubs on the planet!)
    My Callaway Xhot Pro 7-iron is 0.25″ longer & has 31* loft which I can get out to 160yds.
    And there are even stronger iron sets with jacked up lofts & lengths (“super-shovels”) – TaylorMade has a 28* 7-iron!!!
    The OEM space-race for the longest iron ever has made these mid-iron comparisons almost impossible.

    • Crazy About Golf

      Dec 14, 2017 at 10:57 pm

      As a fellow Mizuno lover, I have to say that, while the MP68 is superb, the MP4 is the best looking iron ever made…..I currently game MP18s, mostly because they have a brushed finish and are less distracting than the chrome finish on the MP4/MP68. Just wanted to lob that out there to be a pain in the a$$.

  24. pb

    Nov 7, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    Well… My Ping G25 7i goes 160 yrds and my Ping Eye2 7i goes 150 yrds. Modern clubs have stronger lofts. 5i is the highest iron in my bag (both sets) and then I carry a 4H, 3-wood, and 5-wood. works for me! Overall, good points made in this article. No shame in using hybrids over long irons for the average golfer.

  25. TvGuyJake

    Nov 7, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Generally sound advice; but some irons are more “forgiving” than others. I just switched to a more’modern’ set of Pings and picked up 10-12 yds. per club with moderate swing speed. In my case the only reason to carry a 4-iron is off the tee or punch-outs from the woods. 5-iron is not any more difficult than a 6i, unless your using blades or a forged iron set.

    • Chris

      Nov 8, 2017 at 3:39 am

      Forged irons are not more difficult to hit than cast irons. It’s just a method of manufacturing. Epon 7-series are among the easiest irons out there to hit.

  26. Bob Castelline

    Nov 7, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    I like this article for its practicality. I know there are conversations about MOI and dynamic loft and all that, but most of us need simpler thumbrules. As one person said, it’s a gauge. It’s not completely scientific, and it’s not set in stone. One person might hit a 7-iron 160 but still carry a 4-iron. If it works, great. But for others, hybrids are a great choice. They are for me. Also, hybrids aren’t just for people who hit the big ball first. I hit hybrids with a bit of a divot, and I have great success with them. Everybody’s different as far as what they feel comfortable with. But the ideas in this article give you a nice place to start if you don’t have access to sophisticated launch monitors (or don’t care to go that deep).

  27. Bob Jones

    Nov 7, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    My 7-iron goes 145 yards. I can hit a 2-iron 200 yards off a tee, but forget about the fairway. The 3-iron is useless. Both of them have been replaced with equivalent hybrids. I can hit a 4-iron well, but the equivalent hybrid is so much easier. 5-iron on down, OK.

    • Stephen Finley

      Nov 7, 2017 at 11:10 pm

      Geez, Bob, I though you called these cleek, mashie, and mid-mashie. What gives?

  28. Guia

    Nov 7, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    I think the article is right on. Too many people use long irons because of ego. Hybrids are easier to hit.

  29. Dennis Clark

    Nov 7, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    As always, this is a general GUAGE…nothing cast in stone! Another consideration might be weather: On windy days you may not want the ball in the air, and on clam days, you may? Course: elevated protected greens consider hybrids, flat unprotected greens longer irons might not hurt. Lots of considerations.. Resistance to angular acceleration is another help, on toe and heel hits, less so on angle of attack. In general, hybrids have made my senior days in golf A LOT more fun. Glad it helped may of you! Thx.

  30. Greg V

    Nov 7, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    What’s a hybrid? I’ve gone to a 7-wood… and I like it.

    • Brian

      Nov 15, 2017 at 10:05 pm

      Me too. Usual selection in my bag are a driver, 4wood and 7 wood.

  31. Andrew

    Nov 7, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    So say one is a 2-10 hcp and hits their 7i 165 and carries a 3h. This makes a 2h and 13-15d 3 wood seem incorrect. What’s next? 16-18d fwy wood, 3h, and 4 wedges? Where can this golfer save the most strokes?

  32. John

    Nov 7, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    This is a great article. 20 years ago I read an article that said you shouldn’t hit a 3I unless you were single digits, never swung one again. Then I replaced my 4I as part of 2H/3H/4H (due to high risk). Right now my 5I is almost never swung (180 vs. 175 6I at significantly greater risk) which was a go-to club 10 years ago (probably losing swing speed). So I’m at 2H (195), 3H (185), 5I (180), 6I (175), 7I (165) and carry extra wedges. I save a bunch of money only buying 5I-9I when I upgrade too.

    • James

      Nov 9, 2017 at 2:35 am

      If you take the five iron out of the bag and bend the 6 iron a touch strong you’ll have great yardage gaps and a lighter bag to boot!

  33. Brewdawg

    Nov 7, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Useful advice, and helpful to those that don’t know their swing speeds. Probably good advice for most, but after years of hitting a 4 hybrid, I’ve ditched it, and started using my 4 iron again. I hit a 7I about 155 yds. When I caught it right, the 4H flight was a thing of beauty, but I wasn’t near as consistent with it- I may be wrong on the reason, but it seemed the longer shaft gave a greater margin of error. My misses could be REAL bad, rather than off a little. A missed 4I is much less punishing for me. But then, I’ve never been normal.

  34. Theo

    Nov 7, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    IMHO launch angle depends on dynamic loft at impact. If you have an iron with the same loft as the hybrid the launch angle will be identical.
    The advantages of a hybrid are: higher MOI of clubhead hence more forgiving and less loss of clubspeed when hitting turf before hitting ball.
    I would phrase it as follows: for golfers who hit ball-divot, mostly irons will do the job.
    For golfers who regularly hit the big ball before hitting the small ball: use lots of hybrids.
    Now the golfers who hit ball-divot are mostly the better golfers with higher clubhead speed, so there is a little bit of truth in your explanation.
    With due respect I disagree with the reasoning: check it with your LM like I did.
    Best Regards.

  35. JJVas

    Nov 7, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    I’m a 2-hcp that hits a pretty weak-lofted 7i 165 yards, and at 41, I finally decided that this would be the year I would replace the 4i with a hybrid (I play D-3W-5W). Too often, these high-end qualifiers play at 7000 yards with rough and firm greens, and mean that I better have an A+ driving day if I’m going to get anywhere. Kids can rip a 7i 180y out of the rough and hold greens that I can’t get to from 200y out with a 4i. For the most part, it’s been a pretty good move, but the fact is that when it’s all on the line, I would still much rather hit a 4i on a long Par 3 or on a risky approach. Even anti-hook hybrids are still a lot easier to turn over than a 4i by accident. My final move was to leave the 4i in the car, and base my decision on the course and situation. Maybe at 50 it’ll stay home.

  36. jeff monik

    Nov 7, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    This is the one of the best things I’ve read….trying to hit long irons leads to bad habits.

  37. Matt-78

    Nov 7, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    Dennis,

    Great article! I would think these 7 iron yardages are somewhat relative to what club you play. I play Mizunos that have traditional lofts and don’t have hot faces. A typical easy 7 iron shot is 155-160 carry. However, if I pick up a Callaway Apex 7 for example it is certainly longer. What do you think?

    • Daniel

      Nov 7, 2017 at 1:39 pm

      Great feedback. I also think there’s some nuances at play with longer irons that should be talked about here. For example, I hit my 7-iron somewhere between 165-170 yds with Titleist 716 AP2’s (project x 6.0 shafts). I play a 3 and 4-iron but they’re Taylormade UDIs with C-taper lite stiff shafts. I am more accurate with irons than hybrids, and much more accurate with those UDI long irons than traditional hybrids. But the lighter shaft and wider sole provide more forgiveness than my AP2’s.

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Opinion & Analysis

A day at the CP Women’s Open

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It’s another beautiful summer day in August. Just like any other pro-am at a professional tour event, amateurs are nervously warming up on the driving range and on the putting green next to their pros. As they make their way to the opening tees, they pose for their pictures, hear their names called, and watch their marque player stripe one down the fairway. But instead of walking up 50 yards to the “am tees,” they get to tee it up from where the pros play—because this is different: this is the LPGA Tour!

I’m just going to get right to it, if you haven’t been to an LPGA Tour event you NEED to GO! I’ve been to a lot of golf events as both a spectator and as media member, and I can say an LPGA Tour event is probably the most fun you can have watching professional golf.

The CP Women’s Open is one of the biggest non-majors in women’s golf. 96 of the top 100 players in the world are in the field, and attendance numbers for this stop on the schedule are some of the highest on tour. The 2019 edition it is being held at exclusive Magna Golf Club in Aurora, Ontario, which is about an hour north of downtown Toronto and designed by noted Canadian architect Doug Carrick. The defending Champion is none other than 21-year-old Canadian phenom Brooke Henderson, who won in emotional fashion last year.

From a fan’s perspective, there are some notable differences at an LPGA Tour event, and as a true “golf fan,” not just men’s golf fan, there are some big parts of the experience that I believe everyone can enjoy:

  • Access: It is certainly a refreshing and laidback vibe around the golf course. It’s easy to find great vantage points around the range and practice facility to watch the players go through their routines—a popular watching spot. Smaller infrastructure doesn’t mean a smaller footprint, and there is still a lot to see, plus with few large multi-story grandstands around some of the finishing holes, getting up close to watch shots is easier for everyone.
  • Relatability: This is a big one, and something I think most golfers don’t consider when they choose to watch professional golf. Just like with the men’s game there are obviously outliers when it comes to distance on the LPGA Tour but average distances are more in line with better club players than club players are to PGA Tour Pros. The game is less about power and more about placement. Watching players hit hybrids as accurately as wedges is amazing to watch. Every player from a scratch to a higher handicap can learn a great deal from watching the throwback style of actually hitting fairways and greens vs. modern bomb and gouge.
  • Crowds: (I don’t believe this is just a “Canadian Thing”) It was refreshing to spend an entire day on the course and never hear a “mashed potatoes” or “get in the hole” yelled on the tee of a par 5. The LPGA Tour offers an extremely family-friendly atmosphere, with a lot more young kids, especially young girls out to watch their idols play. This for me is a huge takeaway. So much of professional sports is focused on the men, and with that you often see crowds reflect that. As a father to a young daughter, if she decides to play golf, I love the fact that she can watch people like her play the game at a high level.

There is a lot of talk about the difference between men’s and women’s professional sports, but as far as “the product” goes, I believe that LPGA Tour offers one of the best in professional sports, including value. With a great forecast, a great course, and essentially every top player in the field, this week’s CP Women’s Open is destined to be another great event. If you get the chance to attend this or any LPGA Tour event, I can’t encourage you enough to go!

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TG2: New podcaster Larry D on his show “Bogey Golf”

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GolfWRX Radio welcomes a new podcast, Bogey Golf with Larry D and we talk to Larry. He lets us in on his show, who he is, why he loves the game, and even what’s in his bag! Rob missed his member-guest and Knudson got a new driver.

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

Getting to know Payne Stewart

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Ever since that final putt fell in Pinehurst in 1999, Payne Stewart’s memory has enjoyed mythical qualities. A man of complex charm, but many of us who grew up without him recognize only his Knickerbocker pants, his flat cap, and his W.W.J.D. covered wrist wrapped around that United States Open trophy.

I had a wonderful opportunity to play a round of golf with two men that know a lot about Payne. One through friendship and the other through journalistic research.

Lamar Haynes was Payne Stewart’s close friend and teammate on the SMU golf team. He’s full of stories about Payne from the good old days. Kevin Robbins is an author who just finished a new book on Stewart’s final year of life, set to release to the public for purchase this October. He works as a professor of journalism at the University of Texas but has also enjoyed an impressive career as a reporter and golf writer for over 20 years.

We met at Mira Vista Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, to talk about Payne. Robbins is a solid golfer who spends time working on his game, which tells me a lot about his personality. He is one of us.  As for Haynes, the guy hasn’t lost much since those SMU golf team days. He can still swing it. Fantastic iron player. And both men are wonderful conversationalists. They offered a unique perspective on Stewart—the golfer I grew up idolizing but never really knew. There’s a good chance you don’t really know him, either. At least not the whole story.

“Most golf fans now know the story of his ’99 U.S. Open win,” Robbins said.  “What they don’t know is where he came from.”

Robbins’ book, The Last Stand of Payne Stewart: The Year Golf Changed Foreverchronicles Payne’s last year on earth with dramatic detail, covering his triumph at Pinehurst and the Ryder Cup at Brookline. And, of course, it tells the story of that tragic plane crash that took our champion from us. What the book doesn’t do is hide any of the blemishes about Payne’s life that have either been forgotten or pushed aside by brighter moments and memories.

“I thought that the other Payne Stewart books, while they have a place, they didn’t tell the whole story,” Robbins said.

The whole story, from what I read, was Payne being brash. A poor winner and sometimes a poor sport when he lost. He often said things he shouldn’t have said and then made those mistakes again and again.

“He had no filter,” remembered Haynes.  “Several close friends on tour had a hard time with him when he won his first Open. He didn’t take into account any of the consequences his words could create. He had a huge heart. Huge heart. But at times there was just no filter. But he grew a great deal over the last 2 or three years.”

It’s most certainly is a book about a change. A change in a man that was better late than never. But also a change in golf that began at the turn of the century and hasn’t really slowed down since.

“The 20 years since his death, to see the way golf has moved, what the tour looks like now,” Robins said.  “There was an evolution that was taking place in 1999 and we didn’t know how it would manifest itself. But now we do. So when you see Brooks Koepka hit a 3-wood in the US Open 370 yards, well that all really had its beginnings in 1998 and 1999. The Pro-V1 ball was being tested in 1999 and being rolled out in 2000. Fitness and equipment, sports psychology, nutrition. All of those things that a guy like Payne Stewart really didn’t have to pay attention to.”

But that change that occurred in Payne, culminating in his final year of life, is something worth learning. It’s a lesson for all of us. A guy on top of the world with still so much to fix. And he was fixing it, little by little.

“He was authentic,” Haynes said. “And he learned a lot later in life from his children. With their Bible studies. You saw a change in him. Very much. He had a peace with himself but he still would revert to his DNA. The fun-loving Payne. Raising children and being a father helped him tremendously.”

Payne was passionate about so many things in life but his children became a primary focus. According to Haynes, he would be so loud at his daughter’s volleyball games…yelling intensely at the referees…that they gave him an option: Either he wouldn’t be allowed to watch the games anymore or he needed to become a line judge and help out with the games. So, Payne Stewart became a volleyball line judge.

Lamar brought the head of an old Ram 7-iron along with him to show me. Damaged and bent from the crash, the club was with Payne on his final flight. He had it with him to show his guys at Mizuno as a model for a new set of irons. That Ram 7-iron belonged to Haynes and Payne had always adored the way it looked at address.

“Payne also used my old Mizunos the last year of his life,” Haynes said.  I had received the MS-4s 10 years earlier from Payne in 1989. They were like playing with a shaft on a knife. The sweet spot was so tiny on the MS-4. They made the MP29 and 14s look like game improvement irons. Payne used those. Then Harry Taylor at Mizuno designed him an iron, which later became the MP33. The 29 and 14s were very sharp and flat-soled. Well, Payne loved this old Ram iron set that I had.. He asked for my Ram 7-iron for Harry Taylor to model his new set. He liked the way it went through the turf. He had it with him on the plane. This is the club that started the MP33.”

It was Lamar Haynes, the man who seems to know just about everyone in the golf community, that set Robbins on this writing journey. Robbins had written one book previously: The story of the life of legendary golf coach Harvey Penick. But this book came a bit easier for Robbins, partly due to his experience, partly due to the subject matter, and partly because of Lamar.

“There’s a story here,” Robbins said. “With any book, you hope to encounter surprises along the way, big and little. And I did. I got great cooperation a long the way. Anybody I wanted to talk to, talked to me thanks to this guy Lamar Haynes.”

“Lamar said the first guy you need to talk to is Peter Jacobsen,” Robins said. “And I said ‘great can you put me in touch with him’ which became a common question to Lamar throughout the process.” Robbins chuckled.  “Literally 2 minutes later my phone rings. ‘Kevin, this is Peter Jacobsen here.'”

“Peter told me the story about the ’89 PGA championship in our first conversation. So literally in the first 10 minutes of my reporting effort, I had the first set piece of the book. I had something. Lamar made a lot happen.”

Lamar Haynes and Kevin Robbins

The book is not a biography, though it certainly has biographical elements to it. It is simply the story of Payne’s final year, with a look back at Payne’s not so simple career mixed in. The author’s real talent lives in the research and honesty. The story reads like you’re back in 1999 again, with quotes pulled from media articles or press conferences. Anecdotes are sprinkled here and there from all of Payne’s contemporaries. The storytelling is seamless and captivating.

“I was pleasantly surprised how much Colin Montgomerie remembered about the concession at the 1999 Ryder Cup,” Robbins said. “Colin can be a tough interview. He is generally mistrustful of the media. His agent gave me 15 minutes during the Pro-Am in Houston. This was in the spring of 2018. I met Colin on the 17th hole and he had started his round on 10. Just organically the conversation carried us to the fifth green. Just because he kept remembering things. He kept talking, you know. It was incredible. Tom Lehman was the same way. He said “I’ll give you 20 minutes” and it ended up being an hour and a half at Starbucks.”

The research took Robbins to Massachusetts, Florida, and Missouri—and of course, to Pinehurst. He met with Mike Hicks, Payne’s former caddie, there to discuss that final round. The two ended up out on Pinehurst No. 2, walking the last three holes and reliving the victory. It gives life to the story and fills it with detail.

“Part of what I hoped for this book is that it would be more than just a sports story,” Robbins said.  “More than just a golf story. The more I started thinking about where Payne began and where he ended, it seemed to me…and I’m not going to call it a redemption story although I bet some people do. People when they are younger, they have regrets and they make mistakes. They do things they wish they could take back but they can’t. So, what can they do? Well, they can improve. They can get better. That’s what Payne was doing with his life. He was improving himself. It was too late to change what he had done already. So what could he do with the future? He could be different.”

“It was accurate,” Haynes said.  “I had a tear when I finished it. I texted Kevin right afterward. I told him I couldn’t call him because I’m choked up so I texted him.”

So here’s two men who knew Payne Stewart, albeit in very different ways. They knew he was flawed in life but he got better. Was Payne Stewart that hero at Pinehurst, grabbing Phil Mickelson’s face and telling him the important thing is he’s going to be a father? Yes. But he was so much more than that. He was so much more than I knew before I read this book. Most importantly, Payne Stewart was always improving. A lesson for all of us, indeed.

If you want to hear more about my experience, tweet at me here @FWTXGolfer or message me on Instagram here! I look forward to hearing from you!

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