It’s a question we ask ourselves: Do I really need that new club? Will it help me play better? Will my scores get lower?
For a lot of golfers the answer is still a resounding NO – but it’s not the clubs’ fault! It’s that so many golfers still don’t go through the process of getting fit. Whether it be a driver, wedges, or even your golf balls, taking just a bit of extra time to work with a professional to help you find the best fit, means you won’t be wasting any more money…or strokes.
It used to be (a long time ago) you’d walk into the pro shop or retail store and say, “I’m looking for a new driver, I play a 9.5 stiff.” I still suffer from golf retail PTSD from the particular phrase “I really like that new (insert brand) driver, can you fit me for a 9 degree.”
Yep. You read that right, fit me for a predetermined loft. That’s like going into a tailor and asking for a new suit based off the measurements you had in high school…probably not the best idea.
Let’s start with drivers, considering the number of options from all the OEMs, COG options, through adjustability, hosel adjustments, shafts (profiles, weights, flexes, balance points), and finally grips (size, taper, feel, material etc), there are an almost infinite number of options (with maybe 2-3 that are actually ideal just for you).
You could take the time to try everything, but then by the time you get through most of the options as an individual, I would reckon your golf season would be close to over. There are obviously levels to getting fit, and I’m not oblivious to the fact that for a lot of golfers, cost is a factor in the decision. Even when trying to nail down a previous generation model from a big box store, you can’t go wrong with talking to one of their fitters and going through adjustments to find which settings offer the most consistent results, NOT just the one longest drive.
Irons are just as complicated, if not more, thanks to the fact that now we’re working with more than one club. You have gapping, lies and lofts, sole profile/width, forgiveness, offset, along with “the usual” shafts and grips. I could go on and on, especially when it comes to wedges, but I’m trying to make it snappy. If you are blindly buying a wedge or a wedge set based solely on the loft and stated bounce number, you probably aren’t using the right wedges!
So this brings us back to the original question: “Do you really need new equipment?”
Let’s break it down a few ways.
The “No” Crowd: If you are a VERY casual golfer already having fun with your current clubs and can’t think of a reason to switch. Don’t. I’m not saying these players won’t find improvement from a fitting, but from what I’ve experienced, these golfers will get more from their golfing budget from just enjoying the game when they play. Don’t think that means I’m only focusing on the beginner golfer. If you’re a good player, haven’t experienced any swing changes, and have been fit for clubs in the last 2-3 years, the potential marginal gains (unless replacing a truly worn out club like a wedge), the cost/benefit of a new club or clubs might not be worth it — but I’ll leave up to the individual player to decide.
The “Maybe” Crowd: If you’re a recreational/club golfer and have been playing the with the same clubs for 6-10 years and are starting to lose the performance that you previously had, whether it be from just playing less, losing speed, injury, or just good old father time, you’re going to see a benefit from a change. This could be as simple as changing a driver to help get back some distance. Even if your average drive is 225 yards, a six percent improvement in length off the tee mean 13.5 fewer yards into every green (on average). That’s some serious strokes gained potential.
The “Yes” Crowd: This is where a lot of “WE, the WRX golfers” probably fit — unless you’re in the “no” crowd because of a recent fitting. We are the tinkerers, the club junkies, the curious, but many or most of us don’t have access to our own launch monitors or fitting studios (myself included, although I used to). The “yes” crowd is for those who constantly seek to maximize performance.
So, do you really need new equipment? Ultimately, that depends on who “you” are and which crowd you’re a part of.
The death of the 3-iron and what it means for your bag setup
The 3-iron is almost extinct. It sounds like an odd statement, but it’s very true. Don’t believe me? Go try and buy one in a set. They are not easily found.
As we evaluate this topic, I’ll refrain from specs from “players” clubs as these are not the irons normally purchased. Yeah, it might skew the data, but even the players capable of playing the long irons are opting out of the 3 iron. And let’s be honest, should any of us be playing a blade 3-iron?
Mizuno only offers 4-PW in the JPX line now. Titleist only offers a 3-iron in T100s, while the rest are void of 3-irons. TaylorMade provides 4-PW in the P790, P790Ti, and P770. Callaway has done the same, only offering a 3-iron in the “players line” of clubs, while the rest is again void of the-iron. Cobra golf has also followed suit.
So are 3-irons just too hard to hit? Is that why no one is buying them, thus causing the OEMs to stop making them? The only ones left to buy are the “players” 3 irons, and those aren’t even reasonable unless you’re a professional.
What if I told you we were being deceived? What if I told you the 3-iron is still very much alive in all the iron sets available but under the guise of a different number?
Let’s hop into the “wayback machine” and take a quick look at the history of iron lofts.
The year is 1970, and the vast majority of irons available are blades. You know, the razor-sharp leading edges that are ready to break your wrist with a deep divot.
The image above is an actual snippet from a catalog from the ’70s. At this point, the 1-iron was virtually extinct, and in 1975, Lee Trevino was immortalized by his joke about how God couldn’t hit a 1-iron, which typically fell in the 18-degree range at the time. 2-irons were standard issue in the set, and the lowest loft you might find is 20 degrees.
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.”
The Gear Dive: Going scorched earth on Tiger documentary
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Club Junkie: My favorite G425 driver? Reviewing Ping’s NEW G425 lineup!
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Golf 101: If you could only pick one wedge loft to use, what would it be?
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