Just over a decade ago, desperate to watch anything golf-related, I watched a show about Chi Chi Rodriguez. I remember that he talked about his favorite club: a 7-wood. A 7-wood! He used it on par 3s. He used it from the fairway to reach par 5s. He used it to chip!
I thought "who am I to argue with the best putter swordsman in the history of golf?" and promptly bought a 7-wood. I hit it on par 3s. I hit it from the fairway on par 5s. I even used it to chip. The ball flight ballooned like nobody's business in even the slightest of breezes, but it worked well on calm days. I stuck up for my 7-wood, and beat more than a few folks out of more than a few bucks with it.
But somewhere along the line, I decided that I'd rather add a 2-iron to my bag. 2-irons are more manly, aren't they? Sure they are! And off I went. I learned to hit a low draw off the tee. I played it to long, long par 3s. I didn't chip with it, and the only place I could hit it was from the fairway - forget trying to wrench a 2-iron from deep rough.
Secretly, I found myself pining for my old 7-wood, but my Y chromosome simply wouldn't let me have it, and the 2-iron stayed in the bag. "Just don't miss the fairway," I told myself. And occasionally my ball sat up in the rough, and I could really get at it with the 2-iron.
Recently, clubmakers have developed a new kind of club: the hybrid. Though the Cobra Baffler was introduced nearly 30 years ago (and has recently been re-introduced), it's tough to say who came out with the first modern-day hybrid. TaylorMade had the Rescue Mid, Sonartec had the MD Transition, and Callaway had the Heavenwood. Then, well, just about everyone else had hybrids too: Nike's Pro Combo Utility and CPR Iron/Woods, Mizuno's Fli-Hi, Cleveland's HALO, Ben Hogan's CFT Utility, and now Titleist's 503.H. To many, the 2005 PGA Merchandise Show sounded the death knoll for the 2-, 3-, and 4-iron. Hybrids were hot, baby, and even the pros were playing them. Why, they've even helped players win majors!
Hybrids, true to their name, combine the looks and playing characteristics of two or more kinds of clubs: most commonly, the looks and characteristics of a fairway wood and an iron are combined to create a club that's easier to hit (like woods) but which features the playing characteristics of an iron. Whether you prefer to see hybrids as fat irons or skinny woods, the impact is still the same: you can say goodbye to some of your longest irons.
The Titleist 503.H, a somewhat late entry into the growing field, was introduced in early 2005. It features a more iron-like look than, say, the Callaway Heavenwood and most of the other hybrids. Built of 431 stainless steel with a thin face, a molded carbon fiber composite core, and a tungsten sole screw, the 503.H does all it can to increase playability while remaining attractive to traditionalists.
The 503.H utility iron is designed to provide serious golfers with a long game yardage and trajectory solution. The innovative design and construction provides a more manageable trajectory versus a high-loft fairway for higher ball speed players and a more playable trajectory versus a long iron for low launch and slower ball speed players. The 503.H launches lower and spins less than a comparable loft fairway metal for better shot and trajectory control. The 503.H is 1-2" shorter than a comparable loft fairway metal for better shot control and trajectory management (easier down). The 503.H launches higher and spins more than a comparable loft conventional long iron providing increased ball speed. When combined with the higher more playable trajectory this greatly improves long game yardage gaps.
Despite being a bit of a Titleist fan, my initial reaction to the club was one of surprise. "What an unusual club from Titleist," I thought to myself. I didn't care for the offset - 0.220" in the 22° model and 0.200" in the 19° - nor the "bulbous" shape and sole. I couldn't really imagine the club getting down into the dirt or rough, digging a ball out of a bad lie.
Trying it Out
I initially took a 22° model with the Aldila NV 85 Hybrid Graphite shaft (S flex) to the driving range to compare it to my 2-iron. I wasn't pleased with the ball flight at all - the 503.H came up shorter and hit the ball incredibly high. That makes sense: my 2-iron has about 16° of loft and the 22° 503.H had a graphite shaft with a low flex point really helped to elevate the ball. If I were looking to replace my 4-iron, the 22° model would have done it, but I was looking to replace my 2-iron.
That the ball got airborne so easily was not a bad thing, of course. Shots hit a groove thin got up in the air far easier than they did with my 4-iron. Solid contact resulted in a ball that felt as though it leapt off the clubface with a "pure blade feel" - that feeling of compressing a ball on a clubface and seeing it dart away.
The ease with which the ball got up in the air fresh in my mind, I ordered a 19° 503.H with the Dynamic Gold (steel) shaft in S flex. I hit my 4-iron just fine, thank you, and I've always felt that steel gives me a bit more room to really go after a ball if I need to without worrying about getting snappy with the ball flight. The club arrived and I took a trip to North Carolina where I played 54 holes with the 503.H.
The 2-iron is no longer in my bag.
Hit it from Anywhere
I hit the 503.H from everywhere - the tee, the fairway, the rough, and even a fairway bunker. I got the ball in the air easily but never ballooned a shot. High launch, low spin applies to more than your driver. The 503.H slid through rough with the ease of a fairway wood and dug the ball out of cuppy lies in the fairway like a mid-iron. The leading edge of the 503.H is surprisingly good at getting under the ball, and the rounded sole prevents excessive digging. Shots hit a groove thin continued to get up and had exceptional distance: the tungsten sole weight does its job beautifully.
I'm not sure I would have had the confidence to go at the ball as hard with the graphite shaft, but with the steel shaft I confidently played high, soft cuts and biting draws. The ball landed as gently on greens as it did off of my 4- or 5-iron. Toe shots lost 5-10% of their distance and wound up about 10 yards offline. Off-center hits towards the heel resulted in minimal distance and accuracy loss. The extreme offset still looks awkward, but the more good shots I hit, the more I accepted it.
I'm incredibly impressed with the 503.H. I'm partial to the iron-like hybrids, and the Titleist 503.H is among the best of the few (Cleveland's LDI, Nike's Pro Combo Utility Iron, Ping's G2HL). It gets the ball up comfortably from many lies without ballooning, reacts well to mis-hits, and is available in ideal lofts for players looking to replace their 2-, 3-, or 4-irons.
I've tried several of the more wood-like hybrids, like the TaylorMade Rescue Mid, the Callaway Heavenwood, and the Cleveland HALO. I appreciate their lack of offset and wish Titleist offered a 503.H with less offset, but the wood-like hybrids tended to spin the ball more than I like from a 2-iron replacement. More spin = increased likelihood of ballooning ball flight. The 503.H, despite the offset and my initial reaction to the "bulbous" looking head, best suits my game.
The wood-like hybrids excel at one thing that the 503.H lacks. Wrenching a ball from a bad lie with the 503.H is still rather difficult. The club doesn't glide through deep grass as well as I'd like and longer grass grabs at the substantial offset in the heel to turn the club over. Stronger players may be able to overcome this, but from the rough, this club needs a near-perfect swing to work perfectly. If you're looking for a true "rescue" type club, go with one of the more wood-like ones.
The 503.H is available in 19° and 22° models and compares favorably to the average long iron:
Club Loft Lie Offset Bounce Length 503.H 19 19° 58° 0.200" 0° 40" 503.H 22 22° 59° 0.220" 0° 39.5" 2-Iron 19° 59° 0.170" 2° 39.5" 3-Iron 22° 60° 0.160" 2° 39" 4-Iron 25° 61° 0.145" 3° 38.5"
The tungsten weight launches the ball a bit higher than the equivalent-loft in an iron, but the extra half-inch in shaft length counters that nicely, resulting in a ball flight that's just as long or, in most cases, longer than the equivalent long iron. Shots that miss the sweet spot end up much closer to the target than an equivalent long iron.
Irons are nearly always steel-shafted, and players opting for graphite shafts in their 503.H will see their swing speed move up a few MPH with the lighter-weight shaft, resulting in a few extra yards. As with most Titleist equipment, players have their choice of more than a dozen shaft options, including the Graphite Design GAT 105-LB, the Aldila 3980, the Royal Precision Rifle, the Dynamic Gold SL, and the Dynalite Gold with Sensicore.
The headcover is attractive and matches Titleist's 2005 headcovers for the 905 and 904 line of drivers and fairway woods. It's not quite as snug as I'd like - pulling my 3-wood from the slot next to the 503.H sometimes pulled the 503.H headcover with it. I've modified it by sewing a black elastic band inside the sock portion, and now it fits beautifully.
The 503.H is available for MSRP $185 for steel and $225 for graphite, though my pro shop was selling them for $149 and $189, respectively.
The Last Stroke
If you have trouble hitting your long irons or are simply looking for a bit more versatility out of your 2-iron, give the 503.H a try. The 19° model quickly replaced my 2-iron, a club I'd relied on for nearly a decade. The 503.H gets the ball up out of any moderately clean lie, reacts well to mishits, carries the ball great distances, and lands softly.