A New Perspective on Choosing Irons
One of the best things about hosting the Plugged In Golf Podcast is getting information that I didn’t ask for.
Not long ago, I spoke with two people from Titleist – Marni Ines, Director of Iron Development, and JJ VanWezenbeeck, Director of Player Promotions – about the new T Series irons [listen HERE]. During that interview, I asked what handicap levels should consider each model, and their response was (I’m paraphrasing), “Don’t think about it in terms of handicap, think about height.” They went on to explain that their Tour players used to put different shafts in their long irons to achieve higher ball flights, but now they use different heads.
This view on iron fitting is at odds with the way most golfers think, so we decided it would make for an excellent Golf Myths Unplugged. We weren’t wrong: we got so much data, we’re breaking this into two parts. Enjoy.
Myth #1 – Game improvement irons always create the highest shot apex
Myth #2 – Lighter shafts always create the highest shot apex
Myth #3 – Heads change apex more reliably than shafts
Myth #4 – Blades always create more spin more than game improvement irons
Myth #5 – Lighter shafts always create more spin
How We Tested
For this test, we brought together seven golfers with handicaps ranging from 0 to 14. Each player hit five shots with each of nine combinations – a matrix of three shafts and three iron heads. Every player used the same matrix but hit the combinations in a different order.
The three shafts were all the same flex but had different weights and flex profiles. For our purposes, we will refer to them as Heavy, Medium, and Light. The three iron heads all came from the same OEM and were set to stock specifications. They will be referred to as Blade, PD (Players Distance), and GI (Game Improvement).
All shots were recorded on Trackman. All testing was done at and with the help of Club Champion.
We start things off with an unequivocal “Busted” for the idea that game improvement irons will always create the highest shot apex. In our testing, we saw the GI produce the highest apex in five samples, the PD in nine, and the Blade in eight. GI clubs produced the lowest apexes of any club type. Each club type also recorded one “sweep” where a given tester produced the highest apex with that club regardless of shaft.
Lighter shafts followed in the wake of GI heads, proving an unreliable way to raise ball flight. In our tests, we saw the Light shaft record the highest apex nine times, Medium four times, and Heavy eight times. This “barbell” distribution was interesting to us, though it was one that we do not have an easy explanation for.
The effect of shaft weight was a bit more scattered than club head. With club heads, every tester saw significant apex differences in every data set. That was not the case with shaft weight. In a few cases, the difference between the three shafts was only a couple feet. However, most data sets did have significant differences and some were in the 20% range.
What we saw across all of this testing is that neither the club head nor the shaft are predictable ways to raise or lower apex. This data supports something we say frequently, “You can’t fit golf clubs on paper.”
If you’re looking to modify your ball flight, you should examine all options: heads, shafts, and specs. Also, keep all the important metrics in mind as you’re tinkering. Changing the shaft might raise your ball flight but hurt your consistency. A larger head might launch the ball higher, but the look might impact your ball striking. Try to make the smallest change so that you can maintain consistency throughout your set.
The myths put one in the win column: our Blade iron was higher spinning than the GI iron in every test. We can attribute this to two factors: the higher CG of blade irons and the weaker lofts. The Blade iron was the highest spinning in thirteen of our twenty one trials with the PD iron winning the other eight. Additionally, the Blade iron produced a sweep for three of our seven testers.
The spin gap between the Blade and GI irons was substantial. In eleven of our data sets, the Blade spun over 1,000 RPM more than the GI iron. The closest the GI iron got to the Blade was 400 RPM. While we would still never endorse fitting on paper, it is fairly safe to say that moving from a Blade to a GI iron will reduce your spin.
Opportunities for Further Testing
As if often the case, these results left us hungry to do more testing. One avenue we’d like to explore is testing with different OEM’s iron heads. It would be interesting to see if different companies favor higher or lower ball flight with different combinations of CG and loft.
The other change we could make would be equalizing the lofts. Not doing so was an intentional choice for this test for a variety of reasons. First, most golfers play stock specs, so we used stock specs to make this data applicable to the majority. Also, we wanted to test the clubs in the way that the OEMs designed them. Finally, we did not want to open the question of what lofts we would use and how that would bias the test. For example, if we bent everything to the PD lofts, that could give those irons an advantage due to their offset, bounce, and address look being the way it was designed to be.
If you’re interested in reading about different types of iron heads being tested at the same specs, we have two previous Golf Myths Unplugged where we did that with a focus on distance. Click on the titles below to read more.
Are Distance Irons Really Longer? from 2014
Are Distance Irons Longer than Blades? from 2019
Is changing club heads an effective way to add height to your iron shots? It can be. Changing shafts can be, too, but neither one is a guarantee. As we have consistently seen across our Golf Myths Unplugged testing, a player’s reaction to a given combination of equipment is unique. If you’re trying to add height to your approach shots, the only surefire way to do so is to get a club fitting and test a variety of heads and shafts.
In part two, we’ll be examining the effects of changing head and shafts on distance, accuracy, and consistency. Stay tuned!