Just call me the single length irons guy — I’m a recreational golfer who has historically shot in the low 100s and who is on the way to the low 80s thanks to a set of unconventional clubs. This is the story of my journey from traditional irons to single length irons.
Growing Up Without Golf
When I was growing up, my father talked about the value of golf from a business standpoint, and often lamented his own lack of golf experience. But he did little to encourage me to pick up the game, instead supporting my desire to play baseball, which I did from elementary school through college.
From high school through a few years after college, I played less than 5 rounds a year. Once my wife and I started having kids, I completely stepped away from the game for 6 years.
Golf Can Be More Than a Hobby
At this point, I was in my late 30’s and searching for an athletic activity that could get me out of my home office at lunchtime. Fortunately, a retired teacher and next door neighbor invited me out for a round of golf, and during that first round, I felt that I had found my next challenge.
In late 2014, I dove in with both feet, replacing my old Adams clubs with a set of Big Bertha Irons with the new 360 Face Cup Technology and replacing my old Adams driver with a Nike driver. While my scores did improve from the low 100s to the high 90s, I felt like the difference in score was due more to increased practice and than the clubs.
Then in August 2015, I saw an article on golf.com about a collegiate player named Bryson DeChambeau who won both the NCAA individual championship and the U.S. Amateur title, joining Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, and Ryan Moore as the only players to ever accomplish this feat. But Bryson was unique in that he used a custom set of single length irons during these tournaments.
This got my mechanical engineering brain churning, thinking about the implications of such a set of clubs. Instead of every iron having different lengths, different lie angles, different swing tempos, and different ball positions, Bryson was greatly simplifying the game — one length, one lie angle, one swing tempo, one ball position — genius!
Granted, Bryson didn’t invent single length clubs — in fact, all golf professionals prior to the modern era used single length irons.
First Single Length Iron experiment
Given the lack of many choices in purchasing single length irons, I decided to cut down my Big Bertha irons to a 9 iron length, get the heads bent 2 degrees stronger, get the lie angles bent appropriately, and applied lead tape to try to get the weights consistent through the set of irons.
There were several problems with my approach — the lead tape wouldn’t stay attached, the distance gaps were inconsistent, and the 9 iron length was too short to get any kind of distance with the 4 and 5 irons. But, my ball striking did improve, so I decided to go the next (cheapest) route and purchase a set of Pinhawk SL Single Length Iron heads.
Pinhawk SL Single Length Irons
This time, I decided to go with an 8 iron length because I wanted more distance from the long irons. During this same time period, I was taking golf lessons and getting better at shifting my weight forward during the swing. As a result, I sometimes topped the ball and decided to re-shaft with the 7 iron length.
Yes, I could have simply gone with the 7 iron length out of the gate, but I felt like I hit my 9 iron the best, so I went with that first, then to the 8, and finally to the 7 iron length. Sometimes, you just have to fail for yourself so that you know what doesn’t work.
My carry distance for the 4-iron is around 190-195 and I have a nice 10 yard gap between my irons, down to the Pitching wedge (iron) at around 130 yards of carry.
Single length wedges
Since I was hitting my irons much better with the 7 iron length, I decided to re-shaft my 3 Callaway wedges (52, 56, 60) to the longer 7 iron length to see how that worked. It did take a while to get used to the longer wedge length and the wedge heads are a bit heavier than the iron heads. But over time, my wedge game improved as well since I had a single swing for the irons AND wedges.
My carry distances for full-length wedge swings = 85, 95, 105 yards. This does leave a bit of a gap up to the 130 yard pitching wedge, but I can choke down an inch on that club to close the gap when I need to.
Since cutting down my 3 wood to a 7 iron length just wasn’t in the cards for me, I decided that I would have to live with 3 swings — irons/wedges, 3-wood, and driver.
Kicking My Driver to the Curb
Even though my drives were fairly inconsistent, I didn’t consider what would happen if I didn’t use a driver at all until I was watching Henrik Stenson on the Golf Channel nail shot after shot with his 3-wood off the tee, sometimes further than his playing partners’ drives. When he pulled out his driver on a particularly long par-5, the announcers made sure to point out how rare it was for him to hit driver. The result? Fooooore — way right!
I thought to myself that Stenson probably wishes that he left his driver in the bag — and then it hit me — why don’t I leave my 460cc driver in the bag to see what happens. Unfortunately, my will power for these sorts of things is low, so I had to actually leave my driver at home during my next few rounds.
The result? I went from hitting around 30% of fairways to hitting around 66% of fairways over the next few rounds and my overall score dropped by 5-7 strokes. Yes, I was giving up distance — my driver = 250-270 yards and my 3-wood = 225-245 yards — but I wasn’t hitting out of the woods or dropping from a water hazard or looking for my ball while the group behind waits (impatiently). And let’s face it, at 41 I’m not exactly hitting from the tips, so 225 off the tee in the fairway usually results in a nice mid- to short-iron into the green.
Mini Driver / 2 wood
Now that I was down to two swings (irons/wedges, 3-wood), I decided to try to find a driver that was as small as my 150cc 14 degree 3-wood, but with less loft. This turned out to be harder to find than I thought — there were a few “mini drivers” made a few years back, but so few were sold that the manufacturers dropped the idea.
After a long search, I found an old Tour Exotics 3-wood that can be adjusted down to 12 degrees of loft (so it’s basically a 2 wood). I’m currently getting it re-shafted so that it has exactly the same length and weight as my 3 wood — I’ll let you know the results of this little experiment when I’ve had enough time to swing it.
The end of this journey and on to the next
And that’s it — my journey from traditional irons to single length irons/wedges and my decision to kick my 460cc driver to the curb.
The result? My average scores have dropped from the low 100s to the high 80s.
The next challenge? To successfully transition my low 70s simulator rounds to the golf course, which is a story for another day.