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Are titanium drivers really that much better than wood drivers?

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Let’s forget about center of gravity, moment of inertia, weight adjustability and turbulators for a moment. I know it’s difficult, but bear with me.

The golf industry has made significant (and I mean significant) improvements in driver technology in recent decades. I started playing golf with a wood driver and quickly found my way into the metal wood family, which was replaced by titanium shortly afterward. I hardly stopped to think about buying the newest technology, but it always seemed to help.

It made me wonder, how much better are titanium drivers of today than the wood drivers we played 30 and 40 years ago? If it’s starting to sound like I’m introducing results to an experiment, that’s because I am.

For my experiment, I dug out an old “wood” from the garage, along with my current driver and then tested them on a Trackman. To test the two against each other, I hit 10-to-15 shots with each driver, doing my best to create the same swing and launch conditions for both clubs, and let the numbers tell the story. I was a little afraid of hitting hard range balls with the wood driver, so for this test I dug into the shag bag and pulled out some old tournament golf balls.

unnamed (3)

There were a couple of major differences in the two clubs that affected performance. The wood driver was 43 inches long and built with a steel shaft. The shaft felt soft and whippy, and in my estimation, it was probably something close to a True Temper Dynamic Gold R300, maybe even softer.

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My modern driver, a TaylorMade R9 SuperTri, which was built with a Fujikura Motore F1 75-gram S-Flex shaft, measured 44.5 inches.

unnamed (1)
The two competitors meet at center-ring before the battle begins. 

Below are my results to the experiment.

New School Driver

Illustrated in the images below, you can see both the dispersion and the averages for the group of drives I hit. My thought was to try to swing with the same speed on each shot, with the same golf balls, to identify the difference between the clubs.

unnamed

New Driver Data: Avg. Launch Numbers, 10 Drives

newvsold1

Dispersion

oldvsnew6

Old School Driver

unnamed (2)

Old Driver Data: Avg. Launch Numbers, 10 Drives

newvsold2

Dispersion

oldvsnew5

Observations

The wood driver had a strong left bias which could have been the result of:

  • The weak steel shaft, making the timing of the strike more difficult.
  • More likely, it was the lack of bulge and roll on the face of the wood driver, making a center strike even more valuable.

You can see from the Trackman numbers of the wood driver that the face was pointed 0.2 degrees to the right of the target on average, with a swing path that was 4 degrees right. This path and face relationship should create a nice little draw, not a snap hook.

The modern driver’s average path and face numbers were only slightly different — path 2.5-degrees right and face 0.7-degrees right — yet the ball flights were markedly different. Modern drivers are built with a lot of bulge and roll to help the player in the case of an off-center hit. The point of impact on the driver face more important than any other factor, and it was even more important in the days of wood drivers!

I wasn’t overly concerned about the static loft of each driver because Trackman gives you dynamic loft, or the loft of the club at impact, which you can see was only slightly different between the two. The average dynamic loft for the wooden driver was 13.9 degrees at impact while the modern driver was 14.1 degrees.  Their respective launch angles varied only slightly as well (0.5 degrees). I wanted these numbers to be as close as possible to show the difference in performance between the two clubs under similar circumstances.

Shot for Shot

I was able to get two swings with the exact same club head speed.

Old Driver

oldvsnew7

New Driver

oldvsnew8

Observations

There’s only a few differences in the individual shots, but they clearly have a tremendous impact on the flight of the golf ball. The angle of attack with the modern driver is about 3 degrees more “up” than the wooden driver and both dynamic loft and launch angle were higher for the wooden driver, even though I was hitting up less. The most likely explanation comes from center of gravity location, gear effect and the point of impact.

With path and face angle numbers being similar, you’d expect the curve of the ball to be similar. The tilt of the axis of the golf ball should be similar with a center strike on both clubs, but Trackman tells us this likely didn’t happen for either shot. Spin Axis is the amount of tilt in the axis of the golf ball at impact: a negative number means the left side of the golf ball tilts lower by degrees causing a right-to-left ball flight, while a positive number means the right side of the golf ball tilts lower by degrees causing left-to-right flight.

You can see the glaring difference in the spin axis number between the two shots; negative 8.0 and positive 1.5. That’s almost a 10-degrees difference. With the wood driver, the strike was more than likely to the toe side of the face and without a lot of bulge and roll, the result was a severe hook. With the modern driver, the strike was more than likely lower on the face and towards the heel, causing the ball to launch a little lower (gear effect), and the technology of the face (more gear effect) caused the ball to actually fade.

Conclusion and Thoughts

The wood driver, if you can find one, could be used as a great practice tool. The importance of the center strike is really valuable and using a smaller head with a higher degree of feedback (slices and hooks) can help you improve. However, by producing 20 yards more distance with a tighter dispersion, the new driver is difficult to argue against.

It’s eye-opening how driver design technology influences not only distance but the curve of golf shots. Bulge and roll, which aids in gear effect, works to hit the ball undeniably straighter and farther. So how much better is titanium than wood? Short answer – a lot.

The guys at sports science conducted a similar experiment with Rory McIlroy as their test dummy (he’s decent at golf). Watch the video here.

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Rob earned a business degree from the University of Washington. He turned professional in June of 1999 and played most mini tours, as well as the Australian Tour, Canadian Tour, Asian Tour, European Tour and the PGA Tour. He writes for GolfWRX to share what he's learned and continues to learn about a game that's given him so much. www.robrashell.com Google Plus Director of Instruction at TOURAcademy TPC Scottsdale www.touracademy.com

45 Comments

45 Comments

  1. Mike

    Mar 10, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    I grew up playing in the late 80’s and used OLD technology. I shot in the mid 70’s in high school in the early 80’s with an old persimmon 3 wood and tiny little Wilson blades, and one JP copper 55* sand wedge, such a raw, simple setup. I am an athlete and picked up golf fast, and again, in state tournaments in my Sophopmore and Junior years, I shot 77 and 76.
    Fast forward to today w/ all the best equipment, I struggle to break 80. I can bomb a modern driver out past 280 yards, but do I know where it’s going? Nope. I scored better slapping a persimmon 3 wood out there at about 240 in high school, BUT IN PLAY, then hit great iron shots and got up and down all day long…
    So I went back to a persimmon driver last summer for a try, I’ll be darned. Macgregor S300 shaft, goes straighter than modern drivers, goes lower, DOES NOT go as far, but I am just better off the tee w/ it. It may stay in my bag this season, I’ll check back.

  2. Adam

    Apr 29, 2017 at 7:18 pm

    I’ve been hitting with a Persimmon Auld classic that looked brand new when I bought it, not a mark on it and still glossy. Tested it against Callaway x2hot and XR16. All extra stiff shafts, 10.5° and I see almost no difference in distance, but the wood goes straighter. Longest drive was with the wood BTW. Wood sounds better and I hardly feel the impact. Plus using the wood I felt was more impressive to onlookers “is that a wooden driver” “wow nice hit” I heard people say. Takes better dexterity, but this club won’t crack or go flat.

  3. Eric Cavanagh

    Aug 17, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    Remember the object of driving is to land the ball before the tee,never after it,so a 310 Yd shot blasted down the fairway that hangs up in the air for a great while isn’t wining or proper. It’s much easier to aim the ball with a wood. Metal drivers are lighter and so must drive farther than wood always,but when a ball hangs up in the air for 30 sec. longer than it does with the wood,you need to compensate to keep it landing in front of the pin. I would say,play with wood and I wish companies would make real wood drivers with graphite shafts so you get a fast sweep like you do with your titanium Hogan but the solid accuracy and slightly less loft that you do with those very,very pretty woods. a $1 wood,with a beat-up face will never be entirely consistent,though,that’s why the manufacturers need to begin making them with a graphite shaft. I talked to some folks to bring back some extinct trees and the one I think would be the best to use to make these new-generation woods is Shittem wood mentioned in the Bible in Exodus and maybe in other books of the Bible.

    esc

  4. Brendan

    Aug 2, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Hi Rob
    I have an old persimmon (I’m old enough to know the difference from laminate!) at mum & dad’s that I use when back in town and love it. I love the feel of a well hit drive, I love the fact that there are actual screws to hit it off and if only I was wearing metal spikes while striding across concrete, it’d *sound* like golf when I was a kid….
    I think what you are missing from the trackman data is what trackman always lacks – how does it make you score? Forget trying to get comparable swing speeds and launch angles – go out with two new balls and play head to head to score. Does the 20m difference make an actual distance to scoring? Does the ability to manipulate the ball more easily with a wood have some advantages? In some circumstances, does the lower trajectory actually become a benefit (eg wind)? Do you swing more smoothly with the little head and the shorter shaft? Do you try to take on hero carries, or aim for the middle of the fairway? I find that I often hit more fairways with my wood than I do with my regular driver. And remember, off a good lie, a wooden driver can also be used as a fairway wood.
    I’m a big fan and not convinced that I necessarily *score* all that much differently. I’m not sure I’d play persimmon in a head to head match for money, but if you want to spot me a couple of shots because I’m playing with grandpa’s driver – you’re on!
    Cheers,
    BT

    • DaveMikulec

      Feb 27, 2016 at 12:48 pm

      I recently decided to get back into the game and scouted a local thrift shop that had several (real) woods stuck in a barrel, priced at $8 for all of them. All are persimmon and were crafted at Louisville Golf, and they still look new. I can’t wait to try them out.

  5. Don

    Jul 17, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    Hi Son nice to see that you’ve got the golfers attention. some real food for thought. A similar comparison, who’s a better player Tiger or Jack, different times and different technology. Dad

  6. Morgan

    Jul 16, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    I love these fun tests done just for the heck of it and usually on the spur of the moment. I had one such moment when I played in an electricians golf day. One of the guys had a really old set with one of those cast aluminium (so it looked like)small headed 1 wood’s. He obviously wasn’t a golfer and was out for a good day. Anyway after 6 holes we were giving him hell about his gear, but I got this bug in my head to want to hit it, so tee it up I did. The metal shaft was rusty and the head very small and dull and even had paint splatter on it. I’ld already hit mine down the fairway and with assurance I would give him a newish driver after the game I gave his the perfect strike. Off it went perfect trajectory down the fairway, the boys go that’s sweet and hang crap on clubs owner as he is defiantly the cause of all his bad drives, got up there both center of the fairway laser-ed his 245m, laser-ed mine 262m. Totally stunned. I could find his club at a second hand shop and buy it for $10, mine was a SLDR @7* with a GD DI6 X FLEX AND COST A HELL OF A LOT MORE. My walk away comment to the clubs owner was “get lessons, nothing wrong with the club” which bought him more heckling from the group and left a very satisfied smile on my face, but bewilderment at why only that much gain over what must be 30+ yrs of golf club and shaft advancement and millions spent in research. Note; I do realize most of the advancement would be seen in dispersion and contact consistency if I had of hit a heap of balls but still with all the new clubs that have come out and people on this site and Golf companies claiming gains of 5 – 20m with their new wonder driver and $1000.00 shafts ( 30yrs x 10 new drivers x 10 more meters ) the newer club should be at least 100m ahead and 150m ahead at least with a persimmon or laminated head. Any way sorry for the long story but it was one of my all time golf feel good moments, smiling now.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 17, 2014 at 10:52 am

      Morgan,

      Great story!My guess would be we’ve reached a bit of a plateau with technology, tough to squeeze much more out of club heads, shafts, balls, etc. I remember playing a practice round my year on tour with a PGA Tour veteran and major champion, he was playing with irons that were 20 years old. He knew how far they went, down to the yard, and didn’t care about anything else. Technology and optimizing are a different endeavor than playing and scoring, as it should be.

      All the best!

      Rob

    • James

      Jul 29, 2014 at 1:25 pm

      you dont think 20 yards difference is a big deal???

  7. t

    Jul 15, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    My point is…in the 80s, a good long golf course was 6800. and a good tee shot was 250 yards. today, s good long golf course is 7300+ with a good tee shot being 290+. excluding inflation, we are making ourselves pay more money to play a very simple game. dumb dumb dumb. i don’t need to pay $500 for a driver to play a 7300 yard course when i could pay less than $200 for a driver and play a 6800 yard course. and the greens fees are jacked up to pay for the extra distance. doesnt make sense to me.

  8. James

    Jul 15, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    I would add, I wouldn’t expect the wood driver to perform as well as the modern one in terms of distance because the modern one has more COR. Did the choice of ball make a difference too? I wouldn’t use a range ball but a Pro V1 is softer than the old 90 compression wound balls hit with wood. That, to me, would be more meaningful of a test using the modern ball, same exact shaft, same exact loft of club.

    • Justin

      Aug 18, 2014 at 12:19 am

      The COR, when mixed with your higher clubhead speed, also factors in. You need a higher (>95mph) swing to really activate the COR.

      I like the attempt, but they probably should be closer to one another, spec-wise, to get any real data out of it. An analogy (to me) would be: testing a well-fit Brand X club to a not-so-well-fit Brand Y club. Of course, Brand X will have better results, but that doesn’t make Brand Y a bad choice, either…

      Sorry, but came to this party late and felt the need to add my $.02. I expect change back lol!

  9. James

    Jul 15, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    I too think this is a bad test because the shafts are not equivalent and that makes a big difference. What would the same shaft that is in your modern driver in terms of smash factor and ball speed? Are the lofts of the two clubs identical? The dynamic loft doesn’t mean much and here is why. I can take a 9 degree driver and tee it up high, play it forward and get a higher launch than I would normally. By the same token you can take a higher lofted driver and play it back to launch it lower. Unless the lofts and shafts are exactly the same the test is sort of useless. The shaft transmits the power from the body to the club and those two shafts are no where near functionally equivalent.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 15, 2014 at 3:55 pm

      James,

      Thanks for the thoughts. My idea originally was to get a shot with each driver that had the same club head speed, same dynamic loft, and same launch angle to see how the heads performed. With the individual shots I got pretty close.

      I agree lots of factors to take into account.

      Rob

    • MHendon

      Jul 16, 2014 at 1:56 am

      It’s not a bad test. It’s a comparison between old equipment and new. If they’d had 45 inch light weight graphite shafts in the day of persimmon woods I’m sure they would have used them. That’s the whole point of this test, you’re not comparing apples to apples here.

      • James

        Jul 16, 2014 at 8:14 am

        Yeah but then the courses weren’t playing 500 yard plus par 4s in majors either. The courses were laid out to play for the equipment at hand. If you really wanted to know how wood compares to now then you do need to have everything the same except for the clubhead. In that case, metal would still win out because the COR is .83 and wood is like .78

        • MHendon

          Jul 17, 2014 at 4:25 pm

          Yeah I still don’t understand your argument. Yes everyone knows courses have been lengthened because of modern equipment. Again this was simply a comparison between old an new, what was available 30 years ago and now.

  10. Brian S

    Jul 15, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Seemed to have glossed over the difference in shaft length. My guess is that 1.5″ could be a 10-20 yard difference. And, depending on how you measured, given the size of head on the modern driver, you distance from the end of the shaft to the sweet spot on each club will vary.

    As someone mentioned earlier, maybe a better comparison would be a modern 3w, given they would be more similar on overall club length.

    I have actually had different results than yours. I don’t have access to Trackman. But, from watching ball flight, I have far more spin with the modern driver versus my old wooden driver. My rollout on the old wooden drivers gives me roughly the same distance when doing my own comparison.

    Good article though, nice to see what technology has really given us (or maybe not given us) over the past couple of decades.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 15, 2014 at 11:47 am

      Brian,

      I think a rough guess with length of club would be 1 inch of shaft length equals roughly two mph, each mph of club speed equals just short of 3 yards. So 1.5″ x 2 equals 3 mph, 3 mph x 3 yards = roughly nine yards difference. This would be my best guess.

      The difficulty with a three wood would be the difference in dynamic loft or, loft of the club at impact, between 3 wood and wooden driver.

      Super fun to use Trackman to turn back the clocks a bit, thanks for the comment!

      Rob

  11. Chris Wycoff

    Jul 15, 2014 at 10:43 am

    We’ve got a couple persimmons with screws sitting around the shop and we’ve done this experiment a few times for fun. Our results have been very close to what Rob found.

    On a perfectly hit shot, the our old wood drivers can get pretty close to the distance of today’s modern drivers – maybe 5-10 yards. It’s in the average distances and dispersion where we’ve seen a big difference – probably 20-30 yards shorter on average because the less than perfect shots with persimmon really hurt the averages.

    Fun article!

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 15, 2014 at 10:58 am

      Chris,

      How great is the feel of those old drivers though? So soft!

      Rob

    • John

      Jul 15, 2014 at 11:48 am

      Agree with you Chris. It’s the misses that get you with persimmon. I play my old late 80’s persimmon from time to time, and when I nail one, especially in the summer with dry conditions the distance can be amazingly competitive with titanium. On the other hand, when I catch one squirrelly, well, it certainly does adversely effect one’s distance. You cam move the ball around with persimmon in a way that’s fun, and much harder to do with a big headed driver, and overall with the shorter steel shaft finding fairways is easier than a 46″modern driver. However, if one is fitted and sensible about the desire to hit the ball long AND straight, as opposed to just long, (say a 44″ modern driver) then the advantages are obvious.
      All due respect to Rob, his test would a bit more legit using a well designed Macgregor or Penna or a Joe Powell instead of the K Mart special he was using.

  12. Ed Ranfelt

    Jul 15, 2014 at 10:29 am

    With apologies….
    Another error, persimmon and laminated maple drivers have bulge and roll. It’s not as apparent visually, because of the smaller clubhead size, but it IS present.

    Bulge works with the gear effect on lateral mishits, producing shots that start left or right, and curve to the center.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 15, 2014 at 10:56 am

      Ed,

      Thanks for the comment, do you know how to tell the difference between persimmon and laminated maple? Just curious. Also curious if modern club makers have ever thought about reducing bulge and roll on modern drivers to help better players curve the ball more? Some times the curve is good.

      Thanks

      Rob

      • Ed Ranfelt

        Jul 16, 2014 at 10:43 pm

        With apologies if this was answered by someone else (I’ve not read all comments)

        As it happens, I do know how to tell the difference. Or at least what is perceived as the classic tell.

        In the picture of the laminate driver clubface you have accompanying the article, you’ll see alternating “stripes” across the face. That’s the sign of a laminate; they’re made by literally taking strips of maple wood and gluing them together, before they’re cut to shape.

        Persimmons are made from solid blocks of wood, and lack these “stripes.”

        As for bulge, some have suggested that *some* modern drivers might need MORE bulge. We’ve all seen the classic toe hook or heel fade; all too frequently, these start out online and scream one direction or the other. In the case of a persimmon or laminate driver, they tend to start out more to the left or right, before coming back to the fairway.

        Current roll is fine, though some like Tom Wishon have done away with roll below the center of the face. Above the center of the face, the roll assists with the vertical gear effect, helping to provide lower spin, to go with the slightly higher launch you get from hitting above center of the face.

        Sorry for the length of this. 🙂

  13. pingmatt

    Jul 15, 2014 at 9:43 am

    What type of ball was used in testing? Advances in the modern golf ball were made with modern drivers in mind, not old school woods. How would the results be different if you used a balata with each club?

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 15, 2014 at 9:47 am

      Ping,

      I used pro v1’s, would love to get my hands on a couple dozen maxfli ddh or titleist balata golf balls, would be fun. Check out the video at the end of the post, good insight into the golf balls as well.

      Rob

  14. Chris

    Jul 15, 2014 at 9:23 am

    Nice experiment! My question would be: How far do you hit your modern 43″ fairway wood? How would that stack up against the old driver?

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 15, 2014 at 9:50 am

      Chris,

      Good question, my guess the 3 wood would probably go a bit farther. Better shaft, better head, the feel of those wooden drivers sure is great though.

      Rob

  15. Nice

    Jul 15, 2014 at 3:13 am

    Did you tee the ball up at the same height????? Because that would also affect how it takes off, obviously…… thus, with the old driver, being lower on the tee, means you hit down on it more, and conversely, with the giant-headed driver of the modern day, to tee it that low would not make it as efficient.

    Also, in this instance, the wood driver illustrated here does not have any screws in the face, and far too many deep grooves. I would like to see this experiment done with a persimmon driver with screws in the face with a smooth surface.

    But thank you for the experiment! Very nicely done.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 15, 2014 at 9:58 am

      Nice,

      Would love to get my hands on a persimmon driver with screws, if I do, I’ll put together part two of this experiment. Tough to find those things.

      Rob

  16. Pingback: Are titanium drivers really that much better than wood drivers? | Spacetimeandi.com

  17. Grant

    Jul 14, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    Quite literally used to have to hit on the screws. The inserts were just a bit larger than the balatas of the day. Lot of penna and MacGregor drivers in the basement. Still have to hit the center for predictable results. Roll and bulge were easily altered back then. Would not go back if I could.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 15, 2014 at 10:02 am

      Grant,

      If you’re in the Phoenix area let me know, would be fun to test the old drivers and fairway woods. Also love the feel of hitting them.

      Rob

      • LaMont

        Jul 15, 2014 at 6:49 pm

        Rob,
        I am in the Phoenix area and mill custom putters out of the Hot Stix Scottsdale location. Contact me via email if you would be interested in using some of the best persimmon woods to go head to head against that TM. I have a driver that was the Rolls Royce of persimmons, shafted with what was the top of the line graphite at the time it was crafted. It was made right here in Tempe and was about fifteen years too late to be an amazing piece of golf equipment.
        I think that part of the issue with this test is that you had two clubs that were incredibly far apart in quality, even when they were new. The Ajay driver was junk, at best. TM makes nice drivers that are engineered for distance and they do a good job of it.
        I would love to see this same test played out, using the best from back then, against the best of today. I don’t believe that persimmon will win in distance, but as mentioned, there is nothing better than the feeling of catching one right on the screws and watching that piercing ball flight.
        Contact me, this sounds like fun.
        LaMont

  18. DBD

    Jul 14, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    the picture shows a laminated driver – typically maple, not a persimmon driver

    • Greg

      Jul 14, 2014 at 9:10 pm

      DBD is totally correct but to be fair, there wasn’t any real distance difference between persimmon and laminated maple.

      • Zak Kozuchowski

        Jul 14, 2014 at 9:19 pm

        This is what happens when young people are allowed to write and edit stories about old golf clubs. We’ve made the corrections.

      • Double Mocha Man

        Jul 14, 2014 at 11:06 pm

        Put that to Trackman… persimmon vs. laminated maple.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 15, 2014 at 10:00 am

      DBD,

      Thanks for the feedback, had no idea the driver was not persimmon, but maple. How can you tell? Specific things you look for? Thanks for the information!

      Rob

      • Double Mocha Man

        Jul 15, 2014 at 1:48 pm

        Laminated maple looks like a small version of plywood. Persimmon is solid with tiny, almost imperceptible, little specs.

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Then the ’80s came, and things started to progress. As you might expect, lofts started to decrease. It wasn’t because of flight windows, or launch numbers, because they didn’t have that kind of technology readily available to measure those attributes. It was simply a quest for distance.

Then in the ’90s, you’d pretty much see all iron sets with 21-degree 3-irons, down to 48-degree PW’s, and 21 degrees being the norm for the lowest lofted 3-iron. 2-irons at this time were typically 18 degrees and available by request only.

Then came the 2000’s, an era we all should be familiar with. This is where things started to get interesting. Not only because lofts continued to be strengthened, but because the hybrid became a new option to replace the long irons. Adams Golf made a killing as it perfected this golf club, creating the Idea line that was in the bags of most of the senior tour players and many of the PGA Tour players. These were a fan favorite at retail too. The hybrid was an easy long iron to hit and quickly started to replace 3-irons in golf bags across the country and even on tour.

By this time the pitching wedge lofts started to get pushed to 46 degrees, which was a big jump, to be honest. In the 1970s, MacGregor was making pitching wedges with 49 degrees of loft. So, for the 90’s to be around 48 degrees, it wasn’t too much of a shock. But in the 2000s, we now saw PW’s drop to 46 degrees; a half club stronger. This is where the downfall began, in my opinion.

The first decade of the 21st century needed the gap wedge, also known as the approach wedge or utility wedge or just plain old “wedge.” Now, keep in mind, this club wasn’t anything new. The gap wedge existed ever since the beginning because at 50-52 degrees it was simply a pitching wedge from the ’70s. But it became a necessary element for the bag since the lofts of every iron were starting to move farther and farther away from the sand wedge.

Now in 2020, the average loft of the PW is 43.5 degrees, and the average 4-iron loft is 20.6 degrees. Turns out, the 4-iron from 2020 is .3 degrees stronger than the average 2-iron (20.9 degrees) from 1970. We have come full circle! Instead of maintaining those classic numbers, of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, PW, the new sets are labeled 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, P, G.

I wonder how many golfers out there carry a 4-iron thinking it’s a club they can hit? Probably too many! Obviously, the 3-iron is dead at this point, since it would actually carry the loft of the elusive 1-iron Trevino claimed was unhittable!

Now, it’s time to discuss how we got to this point. You’ll hear a lot of companies talk about “flight windows” or “launch angles” and how it was changed by engineering, lowering CG’s, and increasing speed through thin faces. Some will talk about how the ball has changed, and it just launches higher, and it requires the lofts to be strengthened, or it will just go too high!

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that is all a bunch of baloney, and here is why: They started making gap wedges as part of the set. If the launch was too high or the window was too different, why make a matching gap wedge with the same technology and have the loft of a pitching wedge from the 1990s? Wouldn’t that launch or window then be too high for that club too? And yet you still need to buy another gap wedge to fit the 52-degree range. If the average golfer bought a 2020 game improvement set today, they would find the set make up to be 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, PW (43.5 degrees), Gap #1 (48.6 degrees), Gap #2 (52 degrees). That means if you happen to carry a 56 and a 60 degree, you now have the same amount of label wedges (5) as you do irons (5)!

Five wedges in the bag! Does anyone think this is weird?

Furthermore, when was a higher launching iron shot a bad thing? Wouldn’t average golfers benefit from a steeper angle of descent so the golf ball stops quicker on the green?

I conducted a study where I tested a Titleist 716 MB 8-iron with 39 degrees of loft to a TaylorMade P790 9-iron with 40 degrees of loft. All the data was captured on the Foresight GC2 launch monitor. It wasn’t a perfect test since they didn’t have the same shaft or loft, but my findings were surprising none the less. They went the same distance, almost down to the decimal. The Titleist went 165.2 yards, and the TaylorMade went 165.1 yards. Launch was only .6 degrees different while peak height was less than four feet different. So, unless you are Tiger Woods, you are not noticing a difference out on the golf course.

Some of you might think, “so, the label on the bottom of the club changed, it’s all going the same distance. So, what’s the big deal?” To me, it’s the confusion it creates more than anything. By decreasing the lofts, you’re just making the numbered iron go farther, and you are creating even bigger problems by having large gaps with the sand wedge when all amateurs need those clubs. It’s also putting clubs into the hands of golfers when they have no business hitting, like the 4-iron with 20 degrees of loft. Titleist has already made a T400 5-iron with 20 degrees of loft, and that’s just silly.

There also is the argument that golfers love distance, and when they start playing and can hit a 7-iron relatively far, it helps grow the game. Growing the game isn’t a bad thing, but if they are new to the game, they shouldn’t have any preconceived notions of how far to hit a 7-iron, and that means loft at that point becomes irrelevant.

I will not refute that a 40-degree lofted game improvement iron will be slightly longer than an identical lofted players club, but I think you’d be surprised to see the actual difference is a maximum of about three yards longer. The technology works, but by no means is it so substantial that we need to change the label on the bottom of the golf club.

The bottom line is that loft is king, regardless of the technology involved, and I have seen, but one equipment company make a change backwards! This is TaylorMade with their P770 irons. In comparison the P790, they increased the loft by one degree in the short irons and up to two degrees in the long irons, to add height and spin to the irons to improve performance. Imagine that, more spin and height are an advantage! And that was backed by their testing and their data.

Now to even further nail down my point, it is worth noting that TaylorMade Golf offers the highest lofted Pitching Wedge in the industry at 49 degree, which are in the Tiger lofts of the P7TW irons. That same iron set has a 22.5-degree 3-iron. At 22.5 degrees, it is typically the lowest-lofted iron in the golf bag of the best iron player on the PGA Tour in 2019. Of course, he has the skill to play an iron with lower loft, but the point that history reveals to us is that the effective loft of playability for an iron is about 22 degrees and higher. Anything lower lofted than that is typically replaced with a hybrid. This is not just a trend for the amateur golfer either, and it is even happening on tour with the best players in the world.

We will probably never see the lofts rolled back, but the least we can do is update Lee Trevino’s quote, “if you ever find yourself in a thunderstorm, lift up your 4-iron, because not even God can hit a 4-iron.”

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