Single Length Irons: Do they Really Work?
Unless you are living under a rock you have almost certainly heard a little of the biggest story in golf over the last couple of months. Namely, Bryson Dechambeau and his unique swing and club set up. He plays all his irons at the same length (37.5 inches) If you aren’t a regular golfer, you might wonder what all the fuss is about. Seems logical, doesn’t it? For the rest of the golfing population, Bryson has just told us that the earth is flat after all. So what is it all about? Does his unique set up really work? Should you try it to improve your game?
My Personal Experience with Single Length Irons
Before going in to the details, it is worth saying that I know this subject pretty well. Unlike most of the people who have been spouting off online, I have actually had a single length set of irons for the last three years. I don’t play them exclusively, because I am a typical club ho anyway and change things all the time, but they have had enough rounds, both friendly and competitive over this time to give me a little more insight than most.
My own set up is the pinhawk sl irons from value golf. Mine play at 37 inches and 64.5° lie. First things first, before deciding if these are really a good idea, time to set a few facts straight. In the wake of Bryson’s US Amateur win and his excellent showing at the masters, a lot was said about single length irons. Having played quite a few rounds with the pinhawk sl set, I am in a better position than most to offer an opinion!
Quite a few people jumped in and said that it shouldn’t work because each iron has a different head weight which will lead to a very different swingweight and shaft flex etc. They cited Tommy Armor and his eql irons. Whilst these were made the same length, the head weights weren’t the same, neither was offset etc and it really didn’t work too well for many although I have heard of people who kept the long irons in the bag for those tight par fours.
This is totally misunderstanding the concept. Single length iron heads are made to be just that, single length. They have the same weight, offset, lie angle, etc from long iron to short iron (even if the idea of long and short becomes meaningless with this set up.) The only thing that changes is loft. Each club should feel exactly the same to swing and that’s the point really. Giving someone one swing and the same ball position for a large part of his bag should lead to better ball contact.
Do They Give Correct Distance Gaps?
The next arrow thrown in the general direction of single length is the idea that distance gaps won’t be the same. Specifically, the short clubs will fly too far and distance will be compressed at the other end of the bag with longer irons flying shorter. The reason given is that club head speed will be greater for a longer wedge than a normal length one and vice versa for a 4 or 5 iron. after all, there is no point being comfortable with club length if proper distnce gaps disappear out of the window!
From personal experience, I haven’t found this to be the case. Now this is definitely going to be somewhat dependent on swing speed. My irons have 5° between them and distance gaps of about 15 yards from pitch to 5 iron (the longest I have in the set) distances are actually pretty similar to any other irons I have owned (so much for those distance iron claims!) My swing speed is slightly above the average hacker with about 88-90 mph on a six iron, but is miles away from the clubhead speed generated by generated by Bryson and other professionals.
Why is this? The best explanations I have found are from Dave Tutelman on his site and Tom Wishon. These are two are the smartest guys in golf and there studies make a lot of sense to me. Tutelman did a really interesting comparative study between single length and progressive irons which you can read here. The original study was updated in 2007 and 2015 and is really about as comprehensive as you would want. He looked in detail at just what effect standard club length (whatever that might be) really made.
Tom Wishon’s Sterling Irons
Tom Wishon’s take is interesting. He currently has a vested interest because he has released a set of single length irons called Sterling. Now obviously anyone selling something is going to be giving reasons why this is a good idea. However I think you would struggle to find anyone who would say that Tom Wishon is a charlatan. He posts regularly on the major forums like golfwrx and is widely-respected for his knowledge. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say that Wishon golf makes a poor product and this includes those who swear by the large OEMs.
Tom apparently developed the Sterling irons after being approached by Jaacob Bowdon, famous for his use of David Lake’s 1iron single length irons which have also been around for a while. Without doing injustice to David, he comes across as more of a salesman than a golf scientist and personally I find Wishon’s arguments far more compelling, but that might just be me!
So what is Tom saying? Well, probably best to let him put it in his own words.
As you can see, a lot of thought has gone into this, the same as any of the products that he produces and distributes through clubmakers. Using Hi Cor faces to squeeze a little extra distance out of the long clubs certainly makes sense to me.
One of the real advantages of the Sterling irons is that you can actually order them straight from Tom Wishon’s site.
So where does this leave us? The bottom line is this: are single length clubs the future of the game? Do they make it easier to play the game?
Unfortunately, the jury is still out on this one. which is funny because during the hickory shafted era, as far as I have been able to tell, single length was pretty much normal. It seems to be with the advent of steel shafts that the current half inch, 7/8g between clubheads became standard for reasons of ease of production and cost rather than as a real advance in playability.
Personally, I do think that proper club length is important in getting a single length iron set to work. This means that some sort of custom fitting is going to be useful. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that we all need to go through a lengthy (and possibly expensive) custom clubfitting before ordering. for example, on the Sterling site, you can fill out a questionnaire which is going to get you something that will be very close to ideal. This goes for getting the right lie angle, swing weight, shaft length and choice of a steel or graphite shaft in various flexes and profiles.
This might be heresy to some, but for most golfers, I think this is as far as they need to go in terms of made-to-measure. Of course, you might be a real golf geek like me and enjoy the whole fitting process in your search for the perfect golf club, but that is probably a story for another day!
Why Don’t the Big Companies Produce Single Length Irons?
Those who have tried single length do tend to stick with it. Those who haven’t tend to ask why the big players in the market like Taylormade and Ping haven’t gone down this road. It is actually difficult to know. Rumour has it that ping did a study on this a few years ago but never released the results.
To me it seems unthinkable that these companies are ignorant of the idea. That the haven’t released a set means either it doesn’t work in their tests or it wasn’t seen as being economically viable. To me, the second option seems FAR more likely. which left the market to the smaller players like value golf or 1iron golf (as well as the now-deceased My Ostrich golf)
And then Bryson Dechambeau turns up. If you go to Value golf you can see than they are sold out and back ordered. I don’t know how many sets Aaron at value golf has sold but I would think he says a big thankyou to Dechambeau fairly often !
A lot has been made of the fact that Bryson was a physics major. He has without a doubt spent a lot of time thinking about his swing and the clubs that work best for him. He also has a one-of-kind set handmade for him by boutique brand Edel. All the same length, but also a lie angle over 70° for his extremely upright swing plane (basically like a putter) as well as jumbo max grips.
So does this mean that you better be swinging like him to make this work? I would say no-his golf swing is pretty much unique! I don’t think it matters. The beauty of single length is that, whatever your motion, it is the same with all your irons. Once more, people confuse the method (namely his unusual swing) and the tools he chooses. He obviously cultivates a particular swing feel and has found a method to suit. Judging by his supremely good ball-striking, it looks to be working.
Will I Put Single Length Irons Back in My Bag?
Which brings me back to, well me! After all this, you might be wondering why I don’t play my pinhawks all the time. Currently they are in one of (yes, really, there are a few) my back up bags. Their starting spot is in the hands of a lovely shiny set of Wilson blades. So didn’t they work for me?
Actually, yes, they worked just fine. I didn’t have any problems with distance gaps. The clubs are very well-made (and while we are on the subject, Aaron at Valuegolf is a great guy to deal with) and I chose everything from the shaft to the specs to the grip. It is comfortable to have the same set up with every club. But here’s the bottom line-I don’t really have fewer mishits with them than with any other iron set I own.
So does this mean I am coming down against single length irons? No, it doesn’t. There are two reasons for this:
- I change clubs a lot. I trial lots of sets and styles of club for reviews (and simply for my own pleasure) and so nothing stays in the bag for very long, even things I really like.
- They aren’t really fit for me. My views on fitting vary wildly from on week to the next. However, I do think that with single length, it becomes more important. Whilst a half-decent golfer will adapt to anything, why not have something that is adapted to you? This is why most of us have a favourite club in the set, I think. It is the one that most closely fits out ideal position. This set is not bad, but not great because I knew less about my own swing three years ago than I do now.
I bought this set because, like many golfers reading about single length, I wanted to scratch an itch. It is all well and good hearing the for and against on internet forums, but it is something that you just have to try. I would do it differently today.
So that is just what I am going to do. I haven’t decided yet if I will get another set of pinhawks with slightly different specs or go through a full fitting with a Wishon fitter. Both options will involve spending a bit of time with a fitter to try to get something that works for me, so it might take a while to get the details sorted.
When I do get the set built, the next bit is going to be hard for me-I will leave it in the bag for a while without rotating other clubs in. I think single length works best when you stick with it and ingrain that one swing and I want to know what happens when i do that.
Rest assured, when I do give it a try, I will post my in-depth results here.
UPDATE FOR 2017
It looks like the single length movement is really taking off. as Bryson has signed with Cobra, they have released two new single length sets, one forged and the other in more of a game-improvement style which you can find on Amazon here and here. Edel put their own single length set for the masses on display at this year’s PGA show and this offers yet another option, although one that isn’t going to be affordable for most of us.
I have also decided to give one of my single length sets some proper bag time at the start of this year and see what difference it makes to my handicap over a longer period. This was after the encouraging results I had in video testing the second generation pinhawks and you can see that particular test on my youtube channel here.
Overall, certainly exciting times for single length enthusiasts and really anyone who has wondered what difference golf club length really makes.