As much as I like single length irons, I dislike the way it has become almost a cult. Either you accept one length as the only golfing way or you are a heretic. Even worse might be the anti- single length brigade. It can’t work, why don’t all more pros use it, etc. I have written quite a bit about single length and my PERSONAL (yes, I am one of the few people writing who has played them extensively) experiences. I won’t go back over the whole thing (you can find that here, here and here if you are interested). However, I don want to talk about something that is probably going to cause outrage from both the pro and anti one length brigades: Combining hybrids with single length irons.
Why Look at Single Length at All?
Like I said, I don’t want to re-tell my own story yet again, but the reasons that I looked at SL irons are important for this article. I am a very tall golfer. I will often be fit into irons that might be an inch or even more over length. I have played sets with a pitching wedge that is the same length as a seven iron in a standard set (whatever standard might mean this week.)
These longer ‘short’ irons are great for me in a few ways, especially as I get older. I can stand more upright and not feel hunched over the ball and my back thanks me for this every time I play. However, there is a trade off here: a 37-inch pitching wedge is great. A 40 inch 4 iron is less straightforward!
It isn’t that it feels too long. I don’t mind a 40-inch club necessarily. However, hitting the centre of an iron at 40 inches really isn’t that simple for this average golfer.
There is another trade off too. Swingweight increases with length. There are of course ways to off-set this. For example, Mizuno has their famous B weight heads which are lighter on longer clubs. I can also play around with grip weight, shaft weight, counter-balancing and so on. But do I actually want to do this? It also has a cost and isn’t something that I can do on the second-hand market either, which is my personal favourite way of burning through about 40 irons sets over the last dozen years (but that is another story….)
One Length isn’t Always Good
So where does this leave me? Single length provides a simple solution to this. I can get a pitching wedge that is 37.5 inches and a four iron at the same length. They are both very comfortable for me in terms of posture and swingweight is perfectly fine because the longer “short” irons have a lighter head weight than a standard progressive set. Problem solved!
Well, yes and no. I will be quite happy hitting clubs from say 50 degrees (gap wedge territory) all the way down to around 30 degrees (6 or 7 iron, depending on the set.) After this, I really don’t like single length as much. I feel like I am swinging hard to get the ball to take off on the launch angle and trajectory that I want to see. I have used a 4 iron in three different single length sets (which I will talk about in a bit) and this issue is always present.
You might think that it is my fault for being an old man, but this isn’t really the case. Or at least, not as much as you might think. I am no longer in my twenties (or even thirties and the forties are also rapidly running out!) This being said, my recent fitting showed that my seven iron swing speed is still close to 90 miles an hour. Allied to a very high ball, I am actually a very good candidate for single length long irons.
So what gives? The three 4 irons I have tried (Wishon Sterling, Pinhawk and Cobra Forged) were all nice clubs. I still say that the Pinhawks are perhaps the best entry point into single length for most people. Unfortunately, all three of them weren’t a lot of use to me on the course. They hit a low ball that just wouldn’t stay in the air long enough to get the distance I needed. I loved it when I had to pull a 9 or wedge out. Not so much when it was a five or four. This is part of the classic argument that those who dislike SL will use, and I think they are right. I never found the wedge and nine going too high (I like high) but the 4 and 5 did go too low and too short in my experience.
Solving the Single Length Problem
So back to the idea behind this article. I think I have found a really playable solution for many golfers.
After my fitting, I ordered 5,6,7 in the Wilson launchpad irons with a stiff graphite shaft. This changes quite a bit from the heavy steel pocket cavity I had in the bad previously. However, I get to play less and arthritis and 130g steel hit all over the face just don’t make a match made in heaven!
On the course, I have really enjoyed playing something that is quite different to what I usually play. I haven’t necessarily learned to swing more easily but I have really enjoyed seeing the ball taking off skywards with what feels like very little effort. The obvious solution then would be to order perhaps an 8 and 9 iron and carry on with the fun all the way down the bag.
Whilst I will almost certainly do this, I am considering other options too and this brings us back to single length. I do worry about getting too short for comfort in my irons and wedges. Even an inch over might make a standard wedge ‘only’ 36.5 inches. This isn’t ridiculously short, but I actually prefer clubs that are over 37 inches for my posture while still being easy enough to hit.
Hybrid Irons and Accuracy
The Launchpads are longer than many iron sets as you can see from the specs here with a 37.5 inch 7 iron. I ordered mine an inch over and that means that my seven is 38.5. An eight would be 38 and a nine 37.5. All good really. However, it isn’t just about length. For me, eight iron on down are scoring clubs. I want to try to hit them at pins. Despite what you might have heard, hybrid or super game improvement irons are not less accurate than a blade and my on-course testing showed this to be true.
However, there is a lot to be said for a consistent set up with this scoring clubs and this means one length. In order to test this out I used a Cobra Ltdx single length iron on a KBS graphite shaft. This nine iron is 37.25 inches in length and the shaft is slightly heavier than the Tensei AV Silver that I played in the Wilson irons (around 10 grams) but fairly comparable.
I don’t think that testing one iron only is the best way to get a feel for single length, but that wasn’t really my aim. I know what single length does. This length of nine iron wasn’t even a shock to my system because it is pretty close to what I might play in a standard variable length set that is simply one inch over.
These Cobra irons are, in my opinion, very strong lofted and this was the reason why I chose to use a 9 iron. It is 36 degrees of loft (stronger than some sets’ seven irons that I have used in the past, but that is another story.) It did fit very well as far as gapping goes with the hybrid seven at 30 degrees.
Hybrids and Single Length Combined: On Course Results
Without drawing this out, the results on course were exactly what I hoped. As you can see from the pictures, the Cobra Ltdx is really not a bad looking club at all for this sort of game improvement iron. It doesn’t have a huge amount of off set compared to many and the overall clubhead is actually fairly attractive in my (subjective) view. It fit in very well gapping-wise. More importantly, it felt like a natural extension of the hybrid set.
A somewhat more compact clubhead but still very friendly and consistent distance really put this in my mind as real option. So how would I go about gapping and combining them?
The first thing that I might need to forget is the number on the club itself. I would have to go from 7 iron to 9 without passing by an eight. This isn’t a problem really because in many ways, the number on the sole of the club today has become somewhat meaningless. the 8, 9, pw would be there, simply with 9, pitch, gap on the bottom of the club.
The other issue is that these are long in terms of distance. The nine iron would be a 135/140m club, (150/155 yards). This isn’t something I really like. I am not the best wedge player in the world and I like to have a full shot club as short as possible. If my pitching wedge is taking my out to 125/130m (140 yards or so) I would have some issues.
The Part Single Length Set
Ultimately, the point of this article isn’t what I will actually do. In all probability, I will do both (complete the hybrid set and complete the set with single length). I am a terrible tinkerer with my bag and in reality changing and trying equipment is the most enjoyable part of the game for me. Whichever combination I choose first is only keeping the main bag warm until I decide to try something else.
However, for those of you who are more reasonable than me, I think there is a very valid point in here. Don’t listen to the ‘all or nothing’ single length approach. It doesn’t suddenly become useless if every club in your bag isn’t single length. Use it as a tool.
For me, this tool is creating a uniform swing with longer than average ‘short irons’ that are both comfortable and not a ridiculous swingweight without having the disadvantages of getting shorter 4/5/6 irons up in the air. If you are a taller golfer, this could be a perfect route for you.
It isn’t the only way though. You might want to think about having 5-8 the same length for consistent contact and then keeping the scoring clubs that you hit great just the same. You could simply keep all your very short clubs (wedges and maybe 9) the same. The point is, one length is a tool that has some definite advantages and it shouldn’t be ruled out because it also has a downside for some of us.