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Building the perfect half set

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Beyond physically putting clubs together, one of my favorite games to play is trying to build the ideal half set, and taking it out for some testing on the course. The goal is to see how few clubs I can play with before it becomes a detriment to my game and my scoring—while still having fun trying to hit all kinds of creative shots along the way

Many golfers have, at some point, played the “three-club challenge” (three including a putter), but that often becomes an exercise in caution and course management instead of what many would consider a usual round of golf. Although from the conversations I’ve had with golfers about trying out an extremely reduced set, the consensus generally ends up at, “I shot one of my best scores in a long time.”

I’m not sure how that sentiment potentially relates to handicap or not, but one way or the other, it’s a great way to lighten the load and have some fun thinking differently about your shots.

My ideal half set consists of 7-8 clubs including a putter, but in some cases, I will take it all the way down to 5-6. I love having the option to play with a full set and most times do, but I have gone weeks playing only with my half set and don’t see a noticeable variation in my scoring.

It actually makes me question why I carry a full set and in the grand scheme of golf. I think it would be one of the most entertaining experiments to have a PGA Tour event where players are limited to seven clubs. It would have the potential to make gearheads and the general fan engage in an interesting conversation.

Whatever way you choose to build your set, this is a quick start guide to play your best half set golf.

Thinking Your way Through Building a Half Set

  • The Putter: This is the one club that probably isn’t going anywhere (unless you are a virtuoso putting with a bellied wedge). You are going to be using this club on every hole, and depending on your comfort level hitting certain shots, you might end up using it further off the green than normal—cheers to the imagination! Build out from here, because shots inside 100 yards are still going to take up the majority of strokes on your card, and your putter is going to save you shots.
  • The “Wedge”: Remember that it wasn’t until the last generation of golfers that players started using a lob wedge. Tom Watson famously never put one in the bag and only carried up to a 56-degree. The ideal loft to start your set with is 52-54 degrees, because you can still hit shots out of the sand if needed, and it’s a great club to still hit full shots with—something that many golfers struggle to do with a lob wedge.
  • Your “Go-To” Shot: I think most golfers agree that trying to get more out of a club distance-wise often ends with less than great results. This is why as you go through your set and start to pick clubs, it’s important to think about your favorite go-to shots. You want to do everything you can to avoid standing over a ball trying to manipulate a club because you don’t have “that distance” in the bag. This is hugely important when you realize that close to 90 percent of hazards are placed in front of the green or target areas and being able to get over comfortably should be priority number one.
  • Know Your Iron Lofts:  Most modern sets have 4-5 degrees between each club, but as you get to the longer irons, even towards the middle of the set (7-iron to 5-iron) loft gaps can get smaller quickly, and for some this can equal a diminishing point of return on distance gapping. Don’t just grab every other iron, take a few minutes to think about the carry distance of each club, because that’s going to be important.
  • A Driver is Still Important: We all cant be Henrik Stenson with a 12-degree 3-wood we hit 300 yards. Unless you have plans to go truly minimalist, keeping a driver in the bag is a good idea. It is the largest and most forgiving club off the tee and will help put you into places that will make second shots a lot easier.
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Ryan Barath is part of the Digital Content Creation Team for GolfWRX. He hosts the "On Spec" Podcast on the GolfWRX Radio Network which focuses on discussing everything golf, including gear, technology, fitting, and course architecture. He is a club-fitter & master club builder with more than 17 years of experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour players. He is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf. He now works independently from his home shop and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf, and share his passion for club building, course architecture and wedge grinding.

31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. John Gleason

    Apr 7, 2020 at 9:13 pm

    I shot my career low 66 last month w only carrying 10 clubs

  2. Paul

    Apr 2, 2020 at 8:56 am

    During these stressful times, I have been walking with 7 clubs including a putter. Surprised that my scores have not gone uo. I carry a lob wedge, pitching wedge, 7 iron, 3 hybrid, heavenwood, and driver..

  3. Lou

    Mar 30, 2020 at 1:05 pm

    I switched to walking with a half set two years ago and I love it…it feels like real golf, go where you want, enjoy the day

  4. Dale

    Mar 30, 2020 at 11:15 am

    Recently I’ve been taking only irons and playing the forward tees about once a week. Definitely is helping my iron game.

  5. WhoaNellie

    Mar 30, 2020 at 10:59 am

    “Full” Set, or, Nine is Fine – 11* D, 18.5* 5W, 26* 5H, 31* 7I, 36* 8I, 41* 9I, 46* PW, 56* SW, P
    Half set – 11* D, 18.5* 5W, 26* 5H, 36* 8I, 46* PW, 56* SW, P
    Half Dozen Set – Drop the D
    Thrive with 5 – 18.5* 5W, 31* 7I, 46* PW, 56* SW, P
    3 and a P – 18.5* 5W, 36* 8I, 56* SW, P
    3 Club Cfhallenge – 18.5* 5W, 46* PW, P
    1 and Done – 31* 7I
    I think about this far too much, but as that great American thespian and golfer, Clint Eastwood said, “A man’s got to know his limitations …” I only use 9 clubs for my Thursday scramble outings. Half set is my “own score” set unless the D is not cooperating, then I go with Half Dozen. I am probably most comfortable with Half Dozen–hit the 5W once (longer par 3), twice (par 4), or 3 times (par5) and then scramble to clean it up.

  6. joro

    Mar 30, 2020 at 10:26 am

    No matter what your combo is you are probably finding out your scores are about the same as a full set. One thing is I have found out is that there are fewer decisions than with more clubs to choose from and it also improves your shotmaking to have to speed up or slow down your swing, in other words control the shot. I have tried it all and very little difference in scoring, even to a one time 1 over par with a six iron and a putter. But the main thing is make it fun and learn from it, you would be surprised how it ends up.

    • Acemandrake

      Mar 30, 2020 at 11:49 am

      All true. Learn while having fun & you’re never “between clubs”. 🙂

  7. Karsten's Ghost

    Mar 29, 2020 at 7:43 pm

    6 clubs, if you must.

    Driver, 19h, 6i, 9i, 54, putter.

    If it’s down to just one club, I’ll take the 8-iron. I can putt with it.

  8. Night putter

    Mar 28, 2020 at 5:10 pm

    7 clubs
    2 woods. Driver, 5w Calloways
    2 irons . 5 & 8 Hogan edge plus
    2 wedges. Pw & sw Ping becu zing2 & eye2
    Putters

  9. tocino

    Mar 28, 2020 at 2:36 pm

    Driver
    3 Hybrid
    4, 6, 8, P
    58*
    Putter

    I actually have this setup in the back of my car for whenever i have time to stop by the range after work. The irons are all miss matched between Titleist AP2, 714 AP2, 716 AP2, and a SCOR PW. I’ve been meaning to get a sunday bag to keep everything together. Haven’t tried this set yet playing an actual round but i could probably do “ok” if i had to

  10. Dane Dresch

    Mar 28, 2020 at 10:34 am

    Modern 10 Club
    Driver
    3-wood
    19 Hybrid
    4 utility Srixon U65 23*
    6 Game Improvement Srixon 565 31*
    8 Forged Cavity Back Srixon 765 38*
    PW Blade Srixon 965 46*
    Cleveland RTX 3 52*
    Cleveland RTX 3 *60
    Cleveland TA Milled 2

  11. Alex

    Mar 27, 2020 at 11:35 pm

    Driver, hybrid, 4 iron, 6 iron, 9 iron, 55 wedge, flat stick

  12. Joe Exotic

    Mar 27, 2020 at 10:45 pm

    What is the driver set at? It’s 8* and set even lower, dang!!

  13. Josh

    Mar 27, 2020 at 9:48 pm

    Driver
    7 wood
    6 iron
    8 iron
    PW
    56
    Putter

    • WhoaNellie

      Mar 30, 2020 at 10:16 am

      Nay laddie. I turn 67 on Friday, arthritic knees, achy right shoulder, decidedly non-hipster. I don’t need 11 clubs to divide up the paltry distance between D and SW.

      • WhoaNellie

        Mar 30, 2020 at 10:25 am

        Also, my vision is going. My comment should be on the post below.

  14. Jbone

    Mar 27, 2020 at 9:08 pm

    Half sets are so hipster

  15. dave

    Mar 27, 2020 at 8:36 pm

    Happened to have just posted on this in the thread re Linksoul Color Theory irons the other day. Here’s my post cut and pasted:

    Highly recommend trying a short bag. With a short bag I’m currently scoring as well as or better than I ever have with a full bag.

    Have always enjoyed playing with one club (usually 4 iron) or three clubs (usually hybrid/5w/7w, 8 iron and putter).

    I’ve been playing with only 7 or 8 clubs since early January. D, 3w, 22 deg hybrid, 6i, 8i, (PW), SW, P. Irons are Mizuno MP-69.

    Played for a long time with 7 clubs, added PW a few weeks ago. But haven’t scored better since adding it.

    I have played to or below my current hcp. in every round since I switched to the short set (about 10 rounds), though admittedly my hcp was a bit high going into the no-score-posting season — it was a 12, usually a 9 or 10.

    I also shot my lowest lifetime score on my home course on a crappy cold and wet day in January — WITH 7 CLUBS.

    I carry a single strap Jones bag with no stand and it’s an absolute joy to walk our very hilly course with the short bag.

  16. 15th Club

    Mar 27, 2020 at 8:16 pm

    1. 13* 3 wood
    2. 5i
    3. 7i
    4. 9i
    5. 52 gw
    6. 58 sw
    7. Putter

    To whatever extent distance is an issue, I very happily move up a set of tees.
    Driver is by far the easiest thing to leave out.

  17. Knuckles

    Mar 27, 2020 at 5:40 pm

    Start with the scoring clubs first (the ones I play on 80% of my shots and work it from there).
    Putter
    56deg
    PW
    9 iron
    7 iron
    4 iron
    3w tuned to 13.5

  18. Jifmoli

    Mar 27, 2020 at 5:35 pm

    Agree, forget the driver if you want to go below 7 clubs, one-trick pony for me really. But I own 2 and they are expensive so they do go in the bag at times. I vary what I stick in the bag, just for fun and a bit of change:

    3w, 5h, 7i, 9i, pw, 56o, p = 7
    D, 4h, 6i, 8i, pw, aw, 60o, p = 8

    Or extra minimal: 4h, 7i, aw, p

    I never play with full sets

  19. jackwoods@gmail.com

    Mar 27, 2020 at 4:36 pm

    comment sections is cry baby central get a life

  20. BringBackOldSchool

    Mar 27, 2020 at 4:23 pm

    This is truly a lost art. While starting to see a bigger comeback in this new millennium, this is exactly how golfers started out years ago. The half set was, and I believe still is, the best way to start golfers out in this game. It wasn’t until a golfer honed their games with a half set, that they’d graduate to a full set and fill in the needed gaps. I also believe most average golfers hinder their development and play because of all the options of 14 clubs. Imagine if most average golfers played a half set and limited their confusion on the course how faster golf would be? And more enjoyable? I might even solve some of the aliments the game struggles with today?

  21. Ojhs

    Mar 27, 2020 at 2:25 pm

    How is a driver the most forgiving club off the tee? And it’s also the only place where you can use it. I’d go driving iron or fw wood without a doubt.

    • gdb99

      Mar 30, 2020 at 11:23 am

      Because it’s the biggest?

      • Ojhs

        Apr 8, 2020 at 2:13 pm

        Fair enough, guess I confused ‘safe’ and ‘forgiving’. Just thought of most people going literally any other club to play safe.

  22. Joey

    Mar 27, 2020 at 2:19 pm

    Played half-sets for quick rounds after work. Forgot to put the rest back for an outing and raked. Haven’t looked back since.

    3W-4H-6-8-PW-56-P

  23. Max

    Mar 27, 2020 at 2:03 pm

    Dude, this is Golfwrx. Nobody here is trying to have LESS golf clubs. LoL

    But since you planted the seed, maybe I will go and price out a half set of PXG’s.

  24. Acemandrake

    Mar 27, 2020 at 1:32 pm

    After much trial & error…

    12° Driver…24° Hybrid…6…8…PW…SW…Putter (7 total)

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What GolfWRXers are saying about iron covers

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In our forums, our members have been discussing iron covers with WRXer ‘anythingfinite’ championing the use of iron covers when walking. As a walker, ‘anythingfinite’ says

“I hated the sound of clubs clanking together with every step. So I used neoprene iron covers and endured the ridicule for years. They never, ever slowed my play as I average 18 holes in a little over 2.5hrs playing by myself. It was never about protecting resale value, just about the noise.”

And our members have been discussing iron covers and whether they currently use them or would be tempted to use them in the future.

Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • jvincent: “Clanking irons in the bag is like the sound of metal spikes on a path. It’s old school golf.”
  • Z1ggy16: “Toss your club cleaning towel in the clubs to help stop them from clanking *as much*. You can also use your one hand to kind of hold some of them in place as you walk.”
  • Windlaker_1: “I use the neoprene covers. Not for resale value, as I normally keep them so long they aren’t worth diddley-poo at that point. Use them to maintain a nice-looking set of irons.”
  • MtlJeff: “I don’t really notice it that much when I walk, to be honest. Maybe its how I arrange my clubs….If the clanging is bothering me, you can just move the clubs slightly, and it usually mitigates it. But if you’re like, breakdancing down the fairway, tough to stop it.”
  • puttingmatt: “It’s your choice. I use iron covers, lets me not forget a club around the green, as the cover in pocket is a quick reminder that something is a miss. Also, it’s a good way to protect your clubs, and at these prices, makes you wonder why not since woods and putters are sold with covers that are intended to be used. One other note, it may keep others from assessing what’s in the bag, and keep a thief wondering if the bag is worth the effort. Hate the feeling about club theft, but clubs are targets.”

Entire Thread: “Confessions of an iron cover user”

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Is 8 degrees between pitching wedge and sand wedge too much? – GolfWRXers have their say

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In our forums, our members have been discussing gapping degrees and whether 8-degrees between your PW and SW is too much. WRXer ‘jonsnow’ seldom hits his GW and is considering dropping the club from the bag and wants to know, if he does so, will the current 8-degree gap between his wedges be too much. Our members have their say.

Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • ZA206: “For years I played a 47 PW and a 56 SW. I had a big hole in my scoring irons range (115-105 yards) that I tried to avoid at all costs. It cost me many strokes over the years. I felt like that gap was way too big and eventually settled on 46, 51, 55 (I also play a 60 LW) as my preferred setup. No gaps and I can hit every yardage without any issue. I’m a much better wedge player now than I ever was back then, but that’s not due to having more wedges, that’s more about technique.”
  • RainShadow: “In theory, yes. In actual real world action, depends on how many types of shots you can hit with the PW.”
  • MtlJeff: “I’ve played with 52 to 60 gaps. It depends on what type of shots you want to hit. I never chip with sand wedge and would rather hit a 3/4 shot with a 52 than a full with a 56. So it all depends on your game.”
  • bazinky: “A lot depends on how often you have shots in that yardage range. For example, I replaced my 50 and 54 with a single 52 wedge because I hardly ever had a yardage that required my 50 (I would sometimes go weeks without ever hitting it). That said, my biggest gap is 6 degrees. I think it’s doable as long as you have the discipline to be smart when you have a bad yardage. It can be tough to just aim for the fat of the green when you have a wedge in your hand.”
  • Pingistheanser: “I don’t think so. I’m more of a believer that you should pick lofts based upon the distances that you need to hit from. If those lofts allow you to hit distances that you need to hit, then they’re fine for you. I’m not a believer that you should have 4-degree gaps between your wedges because what good is a club that you never hit because you never find yourself in that distance range? For a time last year, I carried a 46-degree AW and a 56 degree as my only wedges, and they worked just fine. I’d sometimes have to make some adjustments if I found myself 90 yards off of the green because it would be too far for the 56, so I would just narrow my stance, grip down a bit and only swing the AW at about 75%.”

Entire Thread: “Is 8 degrees between PW and SW too much?”

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Are modern irons with stronger lofts easier/harder to hit than older irons? – GolfWRXers have their say

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In our forums, our members have been discussing modern irons with stronger lofts and whether they are easier or harder to play than older irons. WRXer ‘harpu728’ kicks off the thread saying:

“Being that higher-lofted irons within the same set are easier to hit (i.e. an 8 iron is easier to hit than a 6 iron), I’m trying to draw comparisons to modern irons with stronger lofts, and if these lofts make them harder to hit in theory.

My 10-year-old’s 7 iron is 33 degrees and carries about 150. When comparing this to some of the newer sets out there where 7-irons are slightly longer (club length) and have lofts of 30 degrees, would this mean that ‘on paper’ the modern 7-iron is ‘harder’ to hit than my 10-year old’s 7 iron? Or should I be comparing my 7-iron to the modern 8-iron, which would likely carry as far as my current 7-iron?”

And our members have been weighing in with their thoughts in our forum.

Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • CAT GOLFER: “Good question, the way I understand it, disregard the number on the bottom of the club. A stronger(lower) loft in newer irons will produce a higher ball flight than the weaker(higher) loft in older clubs. At least that is the marketing pitch. The intent is to make it easier to launch the ball higher and in the process easier to hit. Also, keep in mind modern clubs also have more forgiveness built into them. Stronger lofted, higher launching, easier to hit if you buy the whole pitch.”
  • Sean2: “I don’t pay attention to the number on the club, so much as the loft. With the stronger lofts, I have no long irons in my bag as I simply can’t hit them…maybe being 65 has something to do with it as well, lol. At one time I carried 4-iron on down, now it’s 7-iron on down. But no way I can hit a 18º-19º 4-iron, let alone a 21º 5. I have the same number of irons…they just have a different number/letter on them than they did before.”
  • Warrick: “Important to pair the right shaft with these new iron setups, more so than ever.”
  • puttingmatt: “Look at it like this, instead of missing the green with a standard lofted 7 iron, now you can miss the green with the strong lofted 8 iron. I do not think the modern lofted irons translate into better scores or better misses for golfers. The loft alone is not going to turn a 5hc into a scratch player.”
  • lil’mike: “I guess you could say it something like this. Nowadays when you use a 5 iron, you get the height of a 6 iron but the distance of a 4 iron! Lol. I do think that it can make it hard to hold greens with the irons producing lower spin or at least too low of spin like some reviewers have mentioned in some cases. The bad thing about the stronger lofts is that they are getting to the point of needing two-gap wedges now before you reach the loft spacing that a sand wedge loft of 56 degrees has. For example, the new Mavrik irons have two gap wedges. So it is a 4 iron at 18 degrees, a PW is 41, so AW is 46 and GW is 51. I think that is getting ridiculous as they are turning the stock set makeup from 3-PW to 6-double gap wedge! lol”

Entire Thread: “Are modern irons with stronger lofts easier/harder to hit than older irons?”

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