Generic Hybrid

By Chris Nickel

GolfWRX Contributor

Archilochus said “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Sometimes you want a fox and sometimes you want a hedgehog. Sometimes you’re not sure, so you want them both!

Golfers of all levels have long struggled with what exactly to do with the long-iron conundrum. There is an inevitable transition from woods to irons, but for anyone not named Tiger, Rory or Jack, there has not been a consistent answer.

Even more limiting were the choices… It was basically a 2 iron or 5 wood; or the choice between looking like a “player” and looking like someone who couldn’t hit a 2 iron. Essentially, you did not bag a fairway wood beyond a 3 wood unless you did not have the ability to hit a long iron. If fact, during the Nicklaus and Palmer era, players carried 1 and 2 irons almost exclusively.

Tour pros of today, however, have the benefit of rotating multiple clubs in and out of their 14-club lineup depending on the set up of a particular course.  You’ve seen Tiger and Rory win majors with 5-woods in the bag and you’ve also seen Tiger dissect a British Open course relying heavily on long irons. Pros don’t need a “do everything” tool like a spork, when they can simply choose a spoon or a fork depending on the situation. However, for the average golfer, this golf club roulette is a cost prohibitive tactic.

Click here for more discussion in the “Equipment” forum. 

Even better for the touring professional is that all of the options cost exactly the same: nothing. Pros can add a club, drop a club, swap shafts, regrip and it’s all on the house. Some courses play firm and fast and place a premium of placing tee balls in the fairway (think Oakland Hills, Baltusrol and the Lake Course at Olympic Club). In this situation, a 2-iron makes it easier for a player to shape shots from right-to-left or left-to-right. But is very difficult to hit a long iron extremely high, and therefore hold firm greens. A tour player is more likely to find a long par-3 or a reachable par-5, both of which might call for a high, soft approach shot.  In this instance, a 5-wood with a thinner face (higher ball speeds and longer carry distance), and lower CG (higher trajectory) fits the bill. 

Trevino’s famous quip that “not even God can hit a 1 iron” reminds us that even golf’s greatest players can struggle to hit their long irons consistently. Enter 1975 and Cobra’s baffler. With a patented railed sole-plate design, this club broached a new category and set the stage for future hybrids.

In 2002, TaylorMade debuted its Rescue Series (with some guidance from TV analyst and former player Gary McCord), which offered both a hybrid and fairway model. Originally designed to replace the hard to hit long irons, these clubs offered a lower CG, higher MOI and more consistent ball speed than the irons they replaced. The lower CG (Center of Gravity) promoted a higher initial trajectory and a higher overall ball flight. For players who struggled to elevate the ball, it was a situation where physics was working in their favor!

Moment of Inertia (MOI) is a measure of a club’s resistance to directional change at impact. The higher the MOI, the less a club will twist on off-center strikes and the straighter the shot will be. Unfortunately, for the better player, older hybrids also tended to have closed faces and heel weighting. Translation: Das ist ein hook machine.

Again, the industry adapted and one company in particular, Sonartec, received publicity money simply could not purchase. Todd Hamilton used the company’s 17-degree Sonartec Md hybrid (bent to 14 degrees) in several crucial situations to defeat Ernie Els in a four-hole playoff in the 2004 British Open. Unfortunately for Sonartec, the company didn’t have the infrastructure to capitalize on this newfound and unexpected onslaught of demand. They had the figured out the most difficult part of the equation: knowing how to make hybrids that worked for the best players in the world. However, through missteps big and small, they never again got the question just right.

The real validation for hybrids came when many touring pros decided to drop their 2 and 3 irons in favor of some type of hybrid/long iron replacement.  In 2004, Darrell Survey Company reported that 7 percent of consumer golfers used a hybrid. By 2007, over 65 percent of pros carried at least one hybrid during the season. In 2011 Mark Wilson routinely carried two hybrids (Ping i15 – 17-degree and 20-degree) and at the 2011 Transitions Championship there were 127 hybrids in play. Not bad for an event with 144 players.

Heck, even Tiger has played a more forgiving cavity back in 2012, a 3 iron that is bent to the loft of a 2 iron. In preparation for this year’s British Open, Tiger put a Nike VR_S Forged 3 iron in the bag to be his fairway-finding precision instrument at Royal Lytham.

It wasn’t long ago that Tiger was on the wrong side of hybrid history. The iconic shot of the 2009 PGA Championship victory was  Y.E. Yang’s approach on the 18th hole of the final round. The club — 3-hybrid. Yang was 210 yards away in the left rough.  An ominous cluster of trees sat before him, but Yang pulled off the shot of his life. He knocked a towering shot stiff (6 feet to be exact), buried the birdie putt and went on to become the first Asian born player to win a major. In doing so, he also ended Tiger’s perfect record in majors when leading after 54 holes.

If you could hit a hybrid like that, what else could you possibly want? Or more importantly, what else could you possibly need?

Between 2004 and 2011 this segment of the equipment market exploded and OEMs vied for market share. Hybrids had become the SUV of the golfing industry. Everyone and their mom had their version, and OEM’s continued to refine designs and aesthetics to attract different styles and types of players. And they were successful — wildly successful. In the end, they were perhaps too successful. As more and more players put hybrids in their bags it became increasingly clear what these clubs could do, but more importantly what they couldn’t do.

Since its inception, the hybrid has suffered from an identity crisis — not entirely a fairway wood and certainly not an iron. The hybrid, aptly named, was to fit somewhere along this continuum. It looks like a wood, but is supposed to be hit like an iron. Some hybrids were larger and more robust. Some were thinner and sleeker. Some were geared to higher handicap players (think Adams OS series) and some to competitive amateurs and pros (think Taylor Made Rescue TP and Titleist). Some performed a bit better if you hit down on it like an iron and some preferred a shallower sweeping impact. Regardless, a majority of offerings did exactly what they were designed to do: hit the ball higher, offer increased forgiveness and give players some better options out of the rough and awkward lies.

Now, they’re on their way out… or should I say, down. Better players and high-ball hitters have come to realize that while hybrids hit the ball higher and land softer, they don’t do a good job in windy conditions nor do they offer the ability to work the ball nearly as well as long-iron replacements.

An example of popular long-iron replacements that are finding their way into the bags of PGA Tour players are: the Callaway X Utility, the Bridgestone J33 Airmuscle, the Mizuno MP Fli-Hi (and the recently released MP-H4) and the “Tour Only” Titleist 712U.

Click here for more discussion in the “Equipment” forum. 


Moreover, the “long-iron replacement” category is quickly becoming the cool kid on the block. Trends move and as evidenced by recent OEM offerings, and consumers are talking and OEM’s are listening. Advanced Computer-aided design or CAD coupled with a focus on increased ball speed (thin face technology which approaches the .830 COR barrier) make these clubs immediately relevant in the bags of competitive amateurs and pros. When you analyze clubs like the X Utility and MP-H4, the COG is comparatively lower (thus promoting higher launch) than irons in the same class (Mizuno MP series, Callaway X Forged, etc.).  That is, an MP-H4 3 iron will have a lower COG (higher ball flight) than an MP-64 3 iron or similar players irons.

However the COG is higher than a standard hybrid, the result of which is a more penetrating trajectory and an increased ability to impart right-to-left or left-to-right curvature. For the same reasons a muscleback is easier to work than a game-improvement iron, these long-iron replacements offer more maneuverability than their hybrid counterparts. The COG location, in conjunction with minimal offset and optimal turf interaction, make these clubs an extremely viable option for the better player whom never got comfortable with the traditional hybrid.

Perhaps the starkest difference between the two is the look from address. Hybrids, for all intents and purposes, look like metal woods after being hit by the shrink ray. They are narrower from crown to rear and offer finishes which are in line metal woods.  Graphite shafts have become standard on hybrids and many shaft companies now have hybrid specific shaft offerings in a variety of launch, spin and weight profiles. 

The long iron replacements, on the other hand, tend to look like swollen irons.  The toplines are generally thicker (although they continue to get thinner: see Titleist 712U, Callaway X Utility, Mizuno MP-H4), their soles are wider and cavities tend to be larger. Also, steel shafts come standard and finishes are largely polished chrome or satin (standard for irons).

If we really want to oversimplify the conversation, hybrids are metal-woods with a twist and long-iron replacements are irons with a twist. Hybrids are more forgiving, higher launching and on average, offer higher ball speeds and thus more distance.  Long-iron replacements exhibit increased workability, more forgiveness than typical long irons and ball speeds that are now approaching those of standard hybrids. 

As the game and equipment continue to evolve, we’ll see more and more long-iron replacements in the 3 and 4 iron slots rather than traditional hybrids, especially in the bags of competitive amateurs and professionals. However, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see better players return to a traditional 5 wood or 17-to-18 degree hybrid.  Having a club, which consistently carries 230 to 245 yards  is a must if you are going to hit short par-5s in two or navigate long par-3s. Moreover, if you are going to use a 3 wood with less than 15 degrees of loft, you’ll probably find yourself relying quite a bit on a club to fill this gap.

That being said, the days of hybrids replacing 3 and 4 irons are going the way of where tight jeans and boy bands should have already gone. In the end, the demise of the hybrid will not be because of what it does well; rather because of what it was never designed to do well. More wolf… less hedgehog.

Click here for more discussion in the “Equipment” forum. 

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I didn't grow up playing golf. I wasn't that lucky. But somehow the game found me and I've been smitten ever since. Like many of you, I'm a bit enthusiastic for all things golf and have a spouse which finds this "enthusiasm" borderline ridiculous. I've been told golf requires someone who strives for perfection, but realizes the futility of this approach. You have to love the journey more than the result and relish in frustration and imperfection. As a teacher and coach, I spend my days working with amazing middle school and high school student athletes teaching them to think, dream and hope. And just when they start to feel really good about themselves, I hand them a golf club!


  1. Do not believe what anybody says. They’ll have to pry my 21* & 24* Ping i20 Hybrids off of my dead hands. Nothing gives me more confidence and the assurance of hitting the green within 180-210 yards better than hybrids.

  2. Hybrids, for me have been a great addition. My best hybrids, are equipped with heavier stiff shafts (80-85 grams), to eliminate the dreaded hybrid hook. Light soft shafts ruin Hybrids! Playing Arizona courses where “off the fairway” is death, I find hitting a hybrid at a par 5 is FAR more accurate than long irons, (which I actually hit pretty good) or Fairway woods, (which I really don’t like)! even if I don’t/can’t reach it, as least I’m not in bad trouble!

  3. if you get fitted for the correct shalft and swing weight knock down shots into wind can still be just as easy, i have a Taylormade R11s 2 hybrid (which i have set up on its high loft setting) and its great. plus if it is a super windy day i can switch it onto its lowest loft setting and that takes 2 degrees of loft off. This club is now the oldest (since 2011) and most reliable club in my bag!

  4. I am a 0.5 handicap and find these new utility irons still very hard to hit. The hybrids fly higher and longer and are much more forgiving. The best long iron replacement I ever had was the Mizuno T-Zoid Fli hi. IT was easy to hit, got way up in the air easily. The only drawback on them (I had an 18, 21 degree) was that after a while the faces bowed in and they had to be replaced. Can’t find them anywhere now…

  5. I bagged the MP fli-hi’s 4 and 3, when I bought them used on a whim 3 years ago…I absolutely loved the accuracy, workability and could flight them, something I couldn’t do with hybrids was well. My hybrid became my 5 wood (set to 16 degrees), which I hit about 235. I never carried a fairway wood as I preferred to swing everything like an iron, I just could not get consistent with a fairway wood. The Mizzy’s led me to trade in my whole set for the new Mizzy MP H5’s (long irons 5-3 are just like the fli-hi’s). I’m in love with these long irons, they’re as easy to hit as a mid iron. I reshafted the 3 iron with a hard stepped regular and added noticeable height to that club, without lost of distance. I can hit a low hook with the 3 iron and roll the ball out 250 under the right conditions. My 3 iron is my 225 club and I now have a cally 5 deep as my 240 club (250 plus teed up), it’s like a mini mini driver. The new equipment is like cheating, they make me a better player than I really am…

    I’ll likely never play a hybrid again, for the better player (4.8 index), technology has made the hybrid obsolete in my opinion. I agree, for better amateurs and pros, hybrids are on the way out. I play a lot of mini tour events (am division) and I see a lot of these new iron replacements in the bags of players, way more than hybrids…

  6. Interesting article. I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘better player’ but I’ve found that hybrids typically hook like h*ll for me – I can’t seem to keep them from going left. Sadly, I’ve been laying up vs. trying to gun a longer club, so I’d love to find a hybrid that was less inclined to hook. I’ve got two old sonartec md 18 and 21, while they are better and straighter than any hybrid I’ve hit, they are kind of lousy out of the rough with their long leading edge. Someone mentioned 7 woods coming back, maybe I need to look at the higher lofted fairway woods. Didn’t Callaway carry fairway woods up to an 11 wood at one point?

    • I have the same issue with hybrids. As my handicap has dropped from the mid 20’s to now down in the upper teens (which means on a good day 85, on a bad day 93), I am finding that I hook my hybrids like there is no tomorrow. I have an Adams Black 19*, and I have both 4hy and 5hy Callaway RzrX HL’s.

      It has gotten to a point where I can’t aim far enough right, and unless I’m about 160 yards away from the green, I don’t feel comfortable at all, because I just know it’s going left.

      Coincidentally my irons are straighter than ever; so I don’t believe this is a swing path issue.

    • Hey, Nutz.

      I’m a 5 handicapper and have had the same trouble with hybrids for years. I recently picked up a brand new Adams red hybrid on ebay for less than half the retail price and can honestly say I’ve never hit anything straighter. There is an option to move the weight from the centre to toe or heel, depending what shape you’re after. I find neutral works great. Might be worth giving one a try.

  7. Two years on, I’m not convinced this has proved accurate even for professionals and elite amateurs. Select the right hybrid design and you can have all the standard benefits – and have the ability to work the ball left and right, high and low.

  8. Very good summary of advent and, possible, decline of the hybrid. i never really got the hybrid. Its positives – forgiveness, height, distance, etc – are better delivered by fairway woods while its negatives, well articulated in the article, are inherent in its mongrel conception. Therefore I think the hybrid will decline and higher fairway woods return (the 7 disappeared but is returning eg Ping G25) along with the ‘swollen’ long irons.

  9. For pros, your article may be on target. Since 99% of all posters on these golf blogs don’t make their living ‘playing’ the game of golf, we can still use the hybrids forgiveness and keep distance in our bag plus have a ball that sticks better than long irons for us.

  10. Quote from the article, “Better players and high-ball hitters have come to realize that while hybrids hit the ball higher and land softer, they don’t do a good job in windy conditions nor do they offer the ability to work the ball nearly as well as long-iron replacements.”

    The average to high handicap player, which makes up about 80% or so of all golfers, just want to hit the ball high and straight. This golfer is not looking to work the ball or worry about hitting a hybrid in the wind.

    Hybrids are not “on the way out” for the great majority of golfers.

    I am a low handicap player (2.3) and I love my hybrids.

    • excellent points Pugster22. Long putters, hitting a golf ball further, golf supplements, etc. MONEY MAKERS! That is all they are! I occasionally play with a member of our club and he admits he is a “new equipment” junkie and he thinks it will improve his game which it hasn’t.

  11. For years I carried a driver, an 18 degree fairway wood(used to be called a 4 wood), and then 3-PW, SW, LW. I now carry driver, 18 and 21 degree hybrids, and 4-GW, SW, LW. For my game, I just never needed to fill the gap between driver and 18 degrees. I taught myself how to hit stinger shots with my driver and 18 degree clubs long before anyone ever heard of Tiger. I also have no trouble working the ball with my hybrids.

  12. So basically these “new” irons are sleeker looking (or in Tiger’s case) ARE just game improvement irons right? So what’s the new technology?

  13. you almost said it, but the answer is what is right for you ! unless you are a pro, you will have to spend a lot of cash or find the right club for the distance you need. most of us can get a lot of shots from a 18*,19* or 20* hybrid. pretty nice stick and not all that much cash ………….