Is it Time to Hybridize
The time will come, probably sooner than we think, when long irons take their proper place in golf equipment history. For the alphabetically minded, check in the W’s, long about the region of What Were We Thinking?
They are magnificent. They look like silvery jewelry or matte-finish objets-d’art. Just standing still in the bag, they seem to promise soaring, heroic shots that park by the hole farther away than you can be heard when you yell.
And they lie. For most of us, long irons tell the truth maybe one time out of eight. The other seven, the 4-and-longer iron makes clunky, energy-wasting contact, leaving us standing over what used to be a perfect lie, thinking of some hideous public embarrassment from junior high, and that it might not have been so bad after all.
Enter the hybrid. More accurately, it reentered. The design is nothing new. Check out those 400-year-old relics from Scotland. The play clubs, the ones used from the tee and for longer shots, look familiar for a reason.
That hawthorn or hickory, carved into a bulbous shape behind the clubface, had enough mass to provide the oomph needed to loft a low-bounce featherie. Irons back then served special purposes: getting out of ruts, popping it over ditches, blasting out of grainy beach sand.
Modern irons had their appeal, especially to better players. When you can make them work, they’re consistent and wonderfully workable. But it took the skill of a Hale Irwin or Jack Nicklaus, or a lot of playing time, to get that reward. Weekend players, prisoners of the traditional set, encountered their long irons with fear and loathing.
Fortunately, in the late 1990s, the industry’s timing got better than most of ours when swinging long irons. Barney Adams of Adams Golf and Jesse Ortiz of Orlimar had great success with shallow-faced fairway woods that were amazingly easy to hit. Combined with golf balls that spun less and less every year in the pursuit of distance, Tight Lies and its progeny solved a lot of long-game problems.
The next logical step? Something that combined the best of iron and fairway wood, something players could hit down on like a 6-iron, but still hit long and high enough so there would be a good chance of landing on the green -- and holding it.
And that’s the No. 1 criterion players should use in deciding which hybrids to add, and how many. How does it land? And how far back in my irons do my problems start? If comfort starts at the 6, dump the 5 and longer. Your game is on the line.
The final, and most compelling, reason for rethinking the set? Pros have. Many of them. Case in point: Ian Poulter, No. 5 in the world, just won the WGC-Accenture Match Play with a hybrid in his bag -- and no iron longer than a 4.
Time to hybridize, and leave the venerable long iron to...well, veneration.