Among the stories for this year’s Masters, the serious club folks show a serious interest in Bryson DeChambeau, specifically his single-length clubs. This evokes memories for me, as I experimented with a single-length set many years ago.
First a little history. Back in the mid ’80s, a golf pro by the name of Jimmy Shack from Royal Oak Country Club in Titusville, Florida, came up with a concept for a single-length set. He managed to get the Tommy Armour Company interested, and they came out with the EQL irons in 1989. They were a single-length set using the 6-iron length as standard. Despite a strong marketing push, they were relatively short lived and eventually disappeared into the great club box in the sky.
Fast forward to the mid ’90s when I was designing sets for Adams Golf and the idea of single length re-appeared, at least for my personal clubs. I read that Bryson is 6 feet 1 inches tall, and I strongly suspect his height was a factor in his single-length set. Before arthritis and age took their toll, I was 6 foot 3 inches tall, and was facing a personal club-fitting problem. It’s funny, but I clearly remembered my mindset at the time.
“Where was it written that a set of irons had to be based on a 37.5-inch 5 iron? Why couldn’t the 5 iron be 40 inches or 34 inches? Why did the increments have to be 0.5 inches?” I figured it all started with a Scotsman, who was probably 5-foot 9-inches or so, shaping a set of clubs that fit him. As decades passed, it became “standard.”
As I saw it, the objective with a set of irons/wedges was to have a club that went a maximum distance, working back to a club that went the shortest distance. The key factor was an equal gap from one club to another. Given this rather broad premise, I turned to the club-fitting system I had designed to see what evolved.
One of the keys in our club-fitting system was establishing a comfortable position at address. We measured knuckles to the ground standing erect (more consistent than fingertips because of hand size). We combined this with what we called maximum drop — how much the hands lowered gripping the club — the idea being a solid address position before we got into flex, lie, etc.
One thing I learned is all of us are not ideally suited to a proper address position in conjunction with clubs we could play. For example, I am long from the waist up, which means to get a comfortable address position I needed clubs 3 inches over standard length, and they were simply too long. For a guy 6 foot 8 inches to 6 foot 10 inches, no problem, but for me, problem. I used to tell people that not everyone has a body that can handle the required length, so in some cases you have to bend over at address a little extra. Given that I couldn’t automatically fit myself, I started with the maximum distance and gapping and worked backward. It wasn’t about the clubs; it was about ball flight.
I remembered the equal-length story and started to experiment. I liked the length of short irons when I made them all like 6 irons, but 5 iron and down were too short. One thing that I’m taking as a given here is the readers understand the need for different head weights and lie angles. Add 3 inches to a standard PW and it becomes significantly “head heavy.” The playing lie changes, too, and all of those things have to be recognized. As I experimented, my emphasis was also on trying to make a set with constant inertia. I wanted the clubs to all swing the same so I would be more consistent controlling ball flight, even when hitting different kinds of shots.
After much work, I ended up with a “tri” single-length set, which I labeled The Oxymoron’s. My longer irons (4-6) were all one length, my 7-8 irons slightly shorter and the higher-lofted clubs were a little more than 2 inches over standard. I felt comfortable at address, so any gapping issues were attacked with loft. Every club had unusual head weights, and they were all were back-weighted — again, my approach to obtaining constant swing inertia. I didn’t have a 3 iron, because another experiment resulted in a rather odd-looking long iron patterned after the Troon clubs of the 1800s.
How did the irons work out? They were pretty good; I think I would have really liked them with a bit more fine tuning. I’ll never know. We got pretty busy, and I essentially stopped playing for the better part of 10 years, so my inertial irons idea disappeared. We did introduce irons as a company, but they were industry standard specs. We didn’t influence the market; it influenced us. Besides, my clubs were for me and I’m not standard.
I’m not convinced there isn’t a way to improve a set of irons, so at 77 I’m still messing around. Do I think there is a place in the industry for single length sets? I’d say in the general market, no. Possibly in some custom fitting applications where the size of the player is outside normal standards.
In the business, there are things that are nice and play well, but aren’t technically different. And there are ideas that when fully tested identify a technical improvement to making clubs. It’s the latter that keeps us experimenting.
Best irons of 2021 Part 1 on GolfWRX Radio
What are the best irons of 2021? GolfWRX Staffers Brian Knudson and Ryan Barath break down the 2021 Best Irons lists that were published this week.
The Wedge Guy: Playing your best
No matter what our experience, ability and handicap, all of us golfers have one thing in common–we want to play the best we can every time we tee it up. But unfortunately, that is not always the case. Having a bad day on the course is just part of the game, it seems, regardless of your skill level. But there are things we can do to make that happen less often, and other ways to get back on track when a round begins to go awry.
Let’s start with giving ourselves the best chance of a good round every time.
Setting up a good round
It all starts on your drive to the course, or even when you are getting dressed to go play. Think about good shots you’ve been hitting recently, and good swings you’ve made. Picture drives that were long and straight, iron shots that just hunted the flag, recovery shots that saved par and putts that dropped. I know it’s a cliché, but there really is no substitute for positive thoughts when it comes to golf.
When you get to the course, whether you change shoes in the parking lot or the locker room, S-L-O-W….D-O-W-N. Savor the fact that you have a round of golf in front of you —not work, not yard or house chores. It is time for F-U-N!
Give yourself a chance to perform your best golf right from the first tee
If it’s worth taking a few hours out of your day, it’s darn sure worth taking an extra 10-15 minutes to give yourself a chance. Stretch your legs and back/shoulder muscles that have shortened up from a few days or a week at the office and/or even a few hours of sleep. This is crucial to performing your best. Take a dozen or two back and forth horizontal swings with your sand wedge to get the blood flowing. These aren’t “practice swings” but more like baseball swings to further stretch out your shoulders and back and upper arms and get the feel of the club in your hands.
And for Pete’s sake, hit at least a dozen or so shots before you go to the first tee. At least a few chips and/or pitches and some putts. You have to get the feel of impact refreshed to have a chance.
Getting the derailed train back on track
We all are going to hit bad shots, no matter what kind of game you have, but what wrecks a round is when you get it going sideways for more than one hole. When that happens, the round can still be saved, but the key is to remove the stress caused by the bad shots or holes and build on something you can believe in. It is normal to find yourself tightening up as a result of a bad hole or two, so take an extra minute to “step outside”. Walk away from your group (since you are probably last to hit now anyway), and take some deep breaths. Get your tension down and get positive thoughts back into your head. Take some practice swings with those positive thoughts back in mind.
Here are what I find to be four keys to getting the train back on track
Reach for the 3-wood. If you have hit a couple of bad drives, drop back to the 3-wood, and get one in the fairway. It won’t be all that much shorter than your driver, and it will build some confidence. If the driver is the problem, in fact, bench it for the rest of the round.
Play to the “safe” side. If your iron shots are not sharp, play to the safe side of the greens and give yourself a chance to avoid the big number and put a par or two on the card. When you get your “mojo” back, you can fire at the flags again.
Play the fault. If you are blocking shots right, or a hook has raised its ugly head, play it! That is, if you can’t find the fault and fix it quickly. The range is the place to fix things, the course is for scoring. Unless you can find the fix quickly, just “dance with who brung you.”
Loosen up. A few bad shots will cause us to build body tension, and the first place that manifests is in our grip pressure. You cannot hold a golf club lightly enough, in my opinion–your body won’t let you. But you sure can get into a death grip quickly when the tension mounts. Run a mental check on your grip pressure and lighten up, particularly in the right thumb and forefingers. It will change things immediately.
So, there are my thoughts on playing your best. I’ll bet the readers have their own suggestions, too, so let’s all share our ideas, OK? This should be fun and informative for all of us.
And as always, if you have a topic you would like me to address in a future column, just shoot me an email to [email protected].
Club Junkie: Rapsodo MLM Personal Launch Monitor, Srixon XV balls, TaylorMade SIM2 Max 3-wood
I have been using a Rapsodo MLM for most of the year to track my practice and give me some numbers on my range sessions. The MLM is great for tracking your bag, distances, dispersion, and ball speed. Use it indoors into a net or on the range; the MLM has so many features. New Srixon XV golf balls are softer and more playable for the golfer who doesn’t need super low spin.
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