First of all, I’m going to assume that all of us, as golfers, have the singular goal of shooting lower scores. So we assemble a set of tools to help us navigate 3-1/2 to 4 miles of real estate with the goal of getting the ball into the hole 18 times with as few strokes as possible. We study technique and hopefully spend enough time to learn how to make a variety of functional swings and strokes. If we do all that . . . and it’s a lot . . . we are able to have one club that can be combined with the right swing or stroke, which will allow us to deal with most anything that confronts us on that journey.
I know you all spend lots of time looking at, trying and buying various drivers, fairways, hybrids, irons, wedges, putters, balls, shoes, training aids, and the other accessories to the game. But have you really spent a lot of time analyzing exactly and specifically what clubs will serve you best in the task we defined to start this article?
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m known online as “the Wedge Guy”, as in thewedgeguy.com. I’m also the President/CEO and “mad scientist” at SCOR Golf. I chose to make the short game and its tools my life’s work some time ago. But I don’t promote wedges because I make them . . . I make them because I promote them as the most overlooked and misunderstood clubs in golfers’ bags.
When I look in all golfers’ bags, from tour pros to recreational 100+ shooters, I don’t see a rational approach to the set make-up they carry. Let me explain.
At one end of your set you have a putter. It is used pretty much only to roll the ball across the green, hopefully into or close to the hole. On the other end of your set you have a driver. It is used to set up the par-five holes and most of the par fours. If you can hit it “out there” a bit, and keep it in play, it helps make the rest of the hole play much easier.
Then you have the other dozen clubs in between. They can be divided into three distinct groups:
1. Distance clubs. Those with less than 20-22 degrees of loft. It includes fairways, hybrids and irons typically numbered with a “4” or less.
2. Mid-range clubs. Those with more loft than the distance clubs, and up to about 40 degrees. That range in modern sets includes the 4 or 5 iron to the 8-iron, but might even include the 9-iron in what is now being called “super game improvement” models.
3. Scoring clubs. Those clubs with over 40 degrees of loft, which are used to aggressively go after flags to set up birdies and pars.
Regardless of your skill level . . . whether your goal is to break par, 80, 90 or 100, there really is one key principle to my logic of how your set of clubs should be configured:
The closer you are to the flag, the more precise your expectation should be. The more precise your execution must be. So therefore, the more clubs you must have.
Any shot from one of your distance clubs that has kept you in play is really good. You don’t beat the golf course from this range, but merely try to “stay in the hole”. A shot anywhere inside 50-75 feet of the hole from one of your mid-range clubs isn’t bad at all. It gives you a pretty sure two-putt and a chance to hole a long one. But anything outside 25-30 feet with a scoring club represents a missed opportunity.
Golf clubs are designed to yield reasonably consistent distance results from basically the same swing. So doesn’t it make sense that you should have larger full-swing distance gaps at the long end of your set than at the short end? Why do you need a 10-12 yard gap at 180+ yards, at the cost of having a 15-20 yard gap at 100? I don’t care whether you are a tour pro or 100-shooter, you are not going to be as consistent with partial swings as you are with “full” swings. Period. And you are not going to “beat” the golf course at that range either.
Think about it this way - If you hit your 5-wood 200 and your 3-hybrid 190, that’s plus/minus 5 yard accuracy at 195, right? Even a tour player would be ecstatic to hit it within 15 feet long or short from 195 every time. But if you hit your pitching wedge 115 and your gap wedge 95, that’s a plus/minus 10 yards at 100-105. And even a 15-handicap shouldn’t be satisfied with 30 feet long or short at that range.
Or think about it this way - If you hit approach shots from outside 5-iron range more than 3-5 times a round, you’re playing the wrong tees. So, how many clubs do you carry for those 3-5 shots. How much would your scoring suffer if you dropped half of them? How much more accurate would you be if you replaced them with more scoring clubs inside 9-iron range to have smaller distance gaps between clubs?
The laws of golf physics are that if you grip down on a club about ¾”, you will reduce the distance gap by about half-way to the next shorter club. So, if you re-structured the long end of your set to double the gaps between clubs, you could still perform to your current gaps by just gripping down on the longer club and swinging away. As we said, anything within 50 feet (17 yards) at that range is just fine, even if you are a tour player.
If you re-arrange the short end of your set to have only 11-13 yard gaps between clubs from your 9-iron on down to a lob wedge, you can grip down to give yourself no more than 12-15 foot distance precision every time you are in scoring range. That will yield many more birdies and pars than you make now.
At SCOR Golf, we just launched a new and improved “SCORfit” widget that helps you determine just what your optimum set of scoring clubs should look like. It works from the actual specifications for length and loft of your set-match 9-iron to show you just what lofts the rest of your scoring clubs should be, and even suggests the right shaft, flex and length/lie specs will optimize your scoring. Plus, it’s FREE!
I’ll leave you with this experiment. The next time you play golf, take out your 3-wood, and one other long club. Play with only 12 clubs and pay attention to how many times you hit a scoring-range shot more than 15 feet long or short of the hole. See if your score genuinely suffered by the lack of those two longer clubs.
It might just be an eye-opener.