Are Distance Irons Really Longer? – Golf Myths Unplugged

Distance Iron Title Image

“You’re hitting a 7?  I guess I’ll hit 8.”

Is there any better feeling than hitting a club or two less than your playing partner?  Nothing strokes your ego and shames your opponent quite like it.

Of course, this is not a secret.  The OEMs know that you want to hit your irons farther.  Why else would Callaway be touting their new Big Bertha irons as “Up to 2 clubs longer”?  They know that, all other things being equal, you’re going to buy the longest irons that you try.  The problem is that this leads to some questionable practices: strengthening lofts and lengthening shafts, essentially turning yesterday’s 5 iron into today’s 6 or 7 iron.  So are these so-called “distance irons” really longer?  That sounds like a myth worth testing.

Distance Irons vs Traditional

The Myths

For this test, we are looking at the distance iron issue from both sides: the believer and the skeptic.  Here are the myths:

Myth #1 – Distance irons are longer than traditional irons

Myth #2 – Distance irons are only longer because they have stronger lofts

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How We Tested

For this test, we pitted two of the most popular distance irons – the TaylorMade SpeedBlade and the Callaway X2 Hot – against two traditional irons – the Mizuno MP4 and the Titleist 714 CB.  We brought in 5 golfers, ranging in ability from scratch to high handicap, who each hit 5 good shots with each 6-iron.  After each iron head was tested at its stock loft, we strengthened the lofts of the traditional irons to 26° – the same as the distance irons – and tested them again.  Each golfer hit all of his shots with the exact same shaft.  Additionally, each golfer tested the clubs in a different, random order.

All testing was done with the help of Club Champion.

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The Results

Myth 1 Confirmed

When compared at stock lofts, the distance irons were an average of 9 yards longer than traditional irons (6 yards longer carry).  On an individual level, only one of our five golfers (a former college player), was able to hit a traditional iron longer than a distance iron, though the smash factor on that distance iron was still better.

The reason for the increased distance appears to be threefold.  First, the distance irons launched the ball lower than traditional irons (15.5° vs. 17.8°).  Next, the spin rates were substantially lower (5362 vs. 6027).  Finally, the smash factor for the distance irons was much higher (1.41 vs. 1.35).  This helped the distance irons to produce more ball speed even though our testers swung the traditional irons faster, on average.

The data on this one is pretty clear: off the rack, distance irons are significantly longer than traditional irons.

Myth #2 Confirmed

Skeptics rejoice!  It’s true, distance irons are only longer because of stronger lofts.

In their stock configuration, there was a 4-5 degree difference between the distance irons and the traditional irons: the X2 Hot was 26°, the SpeedBlade was 26.5°, the MP4 was 30°, and the CB was 31°.  When we equalized all the irons at 26°, the distance gap disappeared.  The traditional irons were slightly longer in the air (171.4 vs. 170.7); the distance irons won by a nose in total distance (181.8 vs. 180.6).

Interestingly, even with equal lofts, the traditional irons still launched 1° higher and spun 250 RPMs more, on average.

Other Findings

While the distance irons are longer, the real advantage is in their forgiveness.  On mishits, the traditional irons produced results that ranged from mediocre to dreadful.  With the distance irons, everything got up in the air and went a reasonable distance.  If we were to perform the test again and include all shots, not just good ones, the distance irons would have been longer even with equal lofts.  This is important to consider given that there is no “Delete Shot” button on the course.

One of the more unpredictable results was that our testers swung the traditional irons faster.  On average, it was nearly a 2 MPH difference, and it held true even for the high handicap testers who hated the traditional irons.  This is something we really can’t explain given that the shafts were identical and the order was totally random.

The importance of smash factor cannot be overstated, and it’s another point in favor of the distance irons.  Even with equal lofts, the distance irons produced more ball speed with less club head speed.

One anecdotal result: the location of the sweet spot is really important, especially to higher handicap players.  In traditional irons, the sweet spot is commonly closer to the heel, whereas in game improvement irons it’s centered.  We observed that better players were better able to adjust from one club to another and quickly get back to striking the sweet spot.  Higher handicap players took longer to adjust and in some cases never did.  This further underscores the importance of getting fit and trying clubs before you buy them.

As always, all the data from this test is at the bottom of the post.

The Takeaway

So, in the final analysis, are distance irons longer?  Yes.  Is that largely due to loft?  Yes.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play them.  Our testing showed that the real advantage to distance irons is the forgiveness – they’re longer than traditional irons on pure shots and much longer on mishits.

Ultimately, the takeaway here is a familiar one: you need to know what you want from your equipment – forgiveness, distance, looks, feel, etc – and then get fit into clubs that can provide that.  With the help of a qualified club fitter and builder like Club Champion, you don’t even have to compromise distance for looks and feel – just bend your irons 4° strong!

The Data

Data - Averages Data - Averages by Iron Data - By Golfer

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Matt Saternus

Co-Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker in the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.

Latest posts by Matt Saternus (see all)

11 Comments

  1. Awesome article and definitely debunked some theories I had, mostly with launch angles.

  2. Just discovered your site and all the info is fantastic especially this article. I was thinking of getting custom fit irons and was considering Callaway Apex or the XR’S. My gamers have the same lofts as the XR’S do. They are not custom fit and are from Pinemeadow golf (Taylor made clones) since I am new to the game (18 months and counting) did not want to make a substantial investment until I decided if the game was for me. I’m hooked.

    Your thoughts on seeing much in the way of distance gained between a set of custom clubs and what I am playing given the lofts are identical 3-PW.

    Only difference is I have hybrids 3-5 but lofts still match the XR’s.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Matt Saternus

      Mark,

      Thank you, I’m glad you are enjoying the site.

      In making the move to custom fit clubs, you may or may not see distance gains, but you will likely see improvement in consistency and accuracy. If your clubs have the same loft as the ones you are going to be fit for, the distance gains may come from finding a better shaft – one that delivers more ball speed or raises/lowers launch and/or spin.

      I always recommend at least trying the fitting to see if there are improvements to be made and how much improvement can be made. Worst case scenario, the fitter shows you that your clubs are already good for you. Best case, you get more distance, accuracy, and consistency.

      I hope that helps.

      -Matt

  3. Do you have any club fitter recommendations…I live in Clovis, CA…it’s in the central part of the state.

    Have you heard if Roger Dunn golf?

    • Matt Saternus

      Mark,

      I’m not familiar with any club fitters in that area, unfortunately. I have heard of Roger Dunn, but I don’t know much about it.

      Best,

      Matt

  4. Matt, thank you for scientific ally confirming what I figured out on the launch monitor. I just traded in players’ clubs, MP54S, for King F6. My reason? Forgiveness on mishits. Yes, the F6 loft was jacked, but that didn’t bother me. What bothered me was the punishment on
    my mishits with Apex and Tec Forged, in addition to their prices! The SGI club just went straighter and farther.

  5. Hi there Matt,

    another great article, keep up the myth-busting! ;-)
    I just went through a fitting and one of the issues was my spin rate, which went up to 8.500 at times with my 7 iron. (MP-54 with KBS Tour S)
    After settling with an AP2 w Nippon Modus 120 S, the fitter threw in the idea of lowering the loft by 1 or 2 degrees to lower spin and peak height (~ 110-120 feet).
    I am unsure if that is too much, affecting bounce and spin rate – what could you say to this from your fitting experience?

    Thanks

    Fin

    • Matt Saternus

      Fin,

      I’m loathe to second guess the person who actually worked with you and saw your swing. If he/she thinks that’s a great idea for you, I’m inclined to trust it. The nice thing about bending is that it can be undone if you’re unhappy.

      Best,

      Matt

  6. Tim Clayborn

    Great article! What shaft was used in testing the distance irons? Regular. Stiff? Thanks

  7. Pingback: Are Distance Irons Longer Than Blades? - Golf Myths Unplugged - Plugged In Golf

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