Just remember this the next time you’re playing with less than 14 clubs: If you’re always between clubs, you’re never between clubs. Your long-suffering playing companions will be overjoyed to never again hear that tired excuse for a poor shot.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been in pursuit of the fewest number of clubs I could carry without sacrificing a competitive advantage. That’s key: “without sacrificing an advantage.” You still have to be able to compete. Otherwise it’s mere recreation, though there’s also a place for that.
I suppose for some people 14 clubs is the right number, but it never seemed that way for me.
Golf, I believe, is a walking game. This logically means carrying as little weight as possible while being outdoors in an age in which being cooped up indoors has become an unfortunate mandate for too many.
In the summer of 2018, for a variety of reasons, it was time to leave my old set behind and start anew. Thanks to a recent article by Benjamin Warren in the golf journal McKellar, edited by my Golfweek colleague Tom Dunne and his co-founder, Lawrence Donegan, I found inspiration.
Long story short, Ben wanted to have a new set of five forged irons made in Japan from an ace clubmaker. When it came time to stamp an identifying mark on the clubs, he chose Long, Mid, Short, Pitch and Sand. The light bulb that went off in my mind was a big one. Bing!
Long. Mid. Short. Pitch. Sand. “Why do we really need any more irons than that?” I asked myself.
So the quest began.
I reached out to my friend and local PGA professional, Anders Mattson, who operates Anders Mattson Golf in Saratoga Springs, New York. He has been the local teacher of the year so many times in the Northeastern New York PGA section, they might as well retire the award. Full disclosure: Anders is a Titleist Leadership Advisory Staff member, so I went in that direction, but the concept works with any brand. The mandate for my new eight-club set was this:
- Five irons (Long, Mid, Short, Pitch and Sand)
- One driving club and one versatile wood to cover the gap between driver and long iron.
- One putter
- Lofts and numbers on the soles of each club were deemed irrelevant
- I wanted my carry numbers to be gapped evenly. With my irons they are 180, 160, 140, 120 and 100 yards, respectively.
- While the shafts are the same type, all normal lengths (no Bryson DeChambeau symmetry), each clubhead was to be from a different model in the brand lineup: AP2, CB, T-100, etc. Therefore, a mid-iron should look, feel and sound different at contact from a short-iron. All five irons do different things. They should have different personalities.
- Different clubheads are also easily distinguishable at a glance (or even blindly, by feel) without having to look at the number on the sole.
- Here’s what I’ve learned over three seasons of playing with eight clubs.
The weight difference between eight clubs and 14 clubs is profound. I’m not sure I could ever go back. A full set has become exhausting to carry, and caddies now eye my bag with envy.
Picking the right club is so much easier. Can’t get there with a pitching-iron, but the mid-iron is too much? Congratulations, it’s a short-iron. Look at the target and figure out how hard or soft to hit it.
In the past when I tried to hit a 9-iron exactly 143 yards, there were three options that could happen, and like the forward pass in football, two of them were bad. Either I think I have too little club and accelerate too much (not good), or think I have too much club and decelerate (not good either). Sometimes I happened to get it exactly right and hit it 143 yards – that didn’t happen very often.
Now, when I’m facing a shot with a short iron (remember: mid-iron is too much but pitching iron is not enough), I choose not to look at the yardage. In this instance there are two options: Either I make a proper swing or I don’t. Life goes on.
Given the choice between two options (true/false) or three options (multiple choice), I’ve become convinced that fewer options offer better odds over the long run. As a consequence, or perhaps merely coincidence, I’ve found I hit the ball hole-high far more often when not worrying about exact yardage.
Two-time major winner Jackie Burke Jr. said it best, and I’m paraphrasing from memory. “Figure out the club that if you had $1,000 riding on the shot you could hit over the back of the green. Take one club less and you’ll be all set.”
Most importantly I’ve found I get more joy from the game when having to learn how to hit a variety of shots. And as for that competitive disadvantage part? Well, I happened to win my club championship last year using a reduced set. That never happened to me before. Gwk
This story originally appeared in Issue 4 – 2020 of Golfweek magazine.