You Have Too Many Golf Clubs

No, This Message Isn’t From Your Spouse

This isn’t about the number of clubs in your garage or basement, it’s about the number of clubs in your bag.

In the past, I’ve recommended fewer clubs for fun, challenge, skill development.  Today is about scoring and use of limited practice resources.  If lower scores – and potentially saving money – are appealing to you, read on.

This Lesson Is For You If:

You’re considering buying a new set of clubs or new irons

You want to shoot better scores

You want to hit more good shots on the course

Some Distance Checkpoints

Let’s start with a general guideline about distance.  The established rule of thumb is that for every MPH of driver swing speed you have, you can get 2.5 yards of carry if you’re fully optimized.  For those that don’t do math, that means an 80 MPH swinger’s best drive will carry 200 yards.  At 90 MPH you can top out at 225 yards; at 100 MPH, it’s 250 yards.  How much roll you get from there depends entirely on where you play.

Now that we know how far our driver can potentially go, let’s figure out how far our favorite iron actually goes.  Find a flat hole on your local course or get on a quality launch monitor and hit 10 shots with your favorite iron.  How far did those shots go on average?  How far did the median shot travel?

Two Scenarios

Every player is going to have different numbers for their driver potential and favorite iron distance, but I’m going to walk through two possible scenarios to illustrate the concept.

Player A

Driver swing speed: 80 MPH.  Potential driver carry distance: 200 yards.

Favorite club: 7I.  Actual carry distance: 140 yards.

Player B

Driver swing speed: 100 MPH.  Potential driver carry distance: 250 yards.

Favorite club: 8I.  Actual carry distance: 155 yards.

Distance Gaps & Filling Out the Set

Before I walk through these players’ new set ups, I want to establish a rule: you need at least 10 yards of carry distance between clubs.  There is no point in carrying a club that goes 150 and another that goes 155.  I’ll explain the why behind this later.

Player A

This golfer has a 60 yard gap between their favorite iron and their driver.  This leaves room for five more clubs, but, unless this player is a ball striking wizard, it will probably be three.

Start by finding a club that goes as far as possible off the turf.  This could be a hybrid or a FW, depending on the player’s preferences.  Let’s assume it’s a 4W that goes 190 yards.

Now we can work up from the favorite iron.  It’s unlikely that the 6I goes 150 yards, so we’ll go right to the 5I.  We’ll guess this goes 155.

At 80 MPH, there’s little chance that this player can make use of a modern 4I or 3I, so, if they want another club, it will be a hybrid or FW designed to carry between 165 and 190 yards.  That may seem like a big gap, but, if we’re being realistic, very few players have much distance control with long clubs.

To fill out the lower portion of the bag, we’ll just try to create 10 yard gaps.  Experience tells me that Player A’s 8I is not 10 yards shorter than the 7I, so we’ll skip to the 9I.  We can also probably skip from the 9I to the Gap Wedge.  We will probably add two more wedges – 54, 58 or 55, 60 – to give the player some options around the green.

Player A’s full set is: Driver, 4W, Hybrid, 5I, 7I, 9I, GW, 55, 60, Putter.  10 clubs instead of 14.  What’s the benefit?  I’ll get to that as soon as we help out Player B.

Player B

This golfer is likely to have more clubs because of his speed.  If he’s a reasonable ball striker, he’ll likely carry a “full” set of irons – let’s say PW through 5I.  At 100 MPH, he’s borderline on the modern 4I.  As a guideline, I’d suggest a 10 handicap or better can make it work.  We’ll assume he’s a 15, so he stops at the 5I.

On to this player’s wedges.  If he wants to carry a full array of short game tools, he’ll be look at a set up of 50, 54, 58 or 50, 55, 60.  With the putter, that brings his total with driver, irons, and wedges to eleven clubs.

Player B now has three open spots and a 60 yard gap between his 5I and his best drive.  I would strongly suggest that he leaves at least one unused.  Get a FW or hybrid that goes as long as possible and something that can carry 205 yards with some consistency.

Why not bag another club?  Because, as a 15 handicap, it’s unlikely that he’s going to find anything he can reliably hit 220 in the air.  In fact, 220 may be the reality of his “as long as possible” club.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” – Bruce Lee

The Benefits of Fewer Clubs

Be Better With What You Have

None of us get to practice as much as we want.  For most of us, it’s a victory if we get to the range once a week.  Are we going to get much better dividing our 50 practice swings over 14 clubs?  Absolutely not.  By removing unnecessary clubs, we devote more practice time to the clubs that matter.

While we are improving our skills with these clubs, we are also getting to know them better.  When we know our tendencies with each club, we can implement better course management and shoot lower scores.

Make Better Decisions

Part of the logic behind bigger distance gaps between clubs is that it helps us make smarter decisions.  If I have a 150 yard shot, and I’m carrying one club that goes 155 and one that goes 148, I’m likely to try to smash the 148 club.  If my choices are a 155 club and a 140 club, I’m improving my chances of making the smart decision and hitting the 155 club.

Additionally, when we have fewer choices we will experience less decision fatigue.  Golf is a mental game, and we should take advantage of anything that reduces mental stress.

Save Money

Finally, buying fewer clubs means spending less money.  Particularly for Player A, the savings are substantial – he’s buying half as many irons!

Though many people don’t realize it, this kind of club buying is available to every golfer.  Whether you shop at a high end club fitter, a big box, or online, you can order the exact set make up that you want.

Save some money, lighten your load, and shoot lower scores.  Carry fewer clubs.

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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.

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14 Comments

  1. Charles Bartholomew

    Wow, good food for thought. Thanks for the enlightenment Matt.

  2. Dear Matt,
    this a very interesting article. Let me give a few thoughts on this:
    Player A:
    Well, I think with appropriate shaft, 80mph ss is able to hit 6i those 10y longer than 7i. However, you assume that he is not able to do it, then I much doubt he would be able to hit 5i those 155y you assumed. No way. If he can not hit 6i properly, he would hit the 5i for max 145y with some flat ish trajectory. Though I agree that 3 clubs between 7i and driver is plenty for 80ss.
    What I am not getting, why do you assume that 80ss does not have 10y gaps in clubs shorter than 7i? With appropriate shaft he must do. Even if the gaps are just 8-9y, I would definitely not recommend anyone giving up two clubs on short end as you suggest unless for fun, development or challenge. If only for those tee shots to par 3s… 12 clubs seems to have meaning to me for a serious Player A.
    Player B (proxy myself – 103ss and 14hcp and weekend golfer):
    My 5i I expect to carry 175-180y on good strokes. Good drives I expect 230-240. I surely have space for 3 clubs inbetween. 4i (or hybrid) at 190, 5w at 200-205, and 3w at 215-220 with lower trajectory as 5w. Yes, I would survive with a 4w and 3hybrid, but why? I absolutely play and meaningfully use all 14 clubs in my bag. Though it is true that my scoring is just a bit worse when I go out only with 9 clubs. :-)

  3. I have been playing 6 clubs for two years and carry a 5.2 handicap.
    I find it’s all I need since it always boils down to the putter.

  4. John Sweat

    I really enjoyed this article and it really has me thinking about my set up as I rarely use more than 8 of the clubs in my bag. I might have to take pair the bag down for a round to see how it works out.

  5. I got rid of my 3 and 5 wood for a 4 wood. I would like to try a 7 wood. How far would a 7wood go for swinger A .
    Thanks.

    • Matt Saternus

      Robin,

      That depends on a lot of unknowns. My examples were just meant to be simple. Any individual looking to put together a well-fit bag should work with a fitter.

      Best,

      Matt

  6. When I was younger and much more consistent player, I either carried my odd or even irons, a 3 wood, sw, putter. I lived in Vegas then and when it started to warm up there in May, it still made walking doable. What helped my game was adjusting the clubs for whatever yardage I needed. I was a pretty good stick then, practiced a lot, played to a 6. I wish I had the time to practice now.

  7. Like this one! I don’t think I ever played with a full set myself though am close at the moment (10 clubs + putter). In all honesty I could leave 3 irons out (6,8,10) – at 25HC I am far from consistent enough to hit the exact distances. Totally agree with the part where you are a few yards short of one club so you try and belt it the distance anyway. Bigger gaps take that bravado/silly thinking out. A few years ago I played for a year+ with a 3w, 6i, and gap wedge + putter and it didn’t affect my handicap much (and no, it wasn’t stuck at 36). That’s a bit extreme perhaps though it certainly frees up your thinking. I still occasionally do that on a Sunday just for fun.

    Nice article. I should send this to my golf buddies but I know what their reaction will be already.. each to their own I guess

    • Matt Saternus

      Piter,

      Thanks!
      And you know what they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

      Best,

      Matt

  8. Noel Guillaume

    Great article – serious choices here !

  9. WhoaNellle

    Brilliant! Just finished a quick afternoon 9 with D, 4W, 5H, 8I, PW, SW, P. Virtually the same setup our golfing forefathers called a “play set,’ minus the graphite and carbon fiber …

  10. This is really great reading !! Matt you are now at the top of my first read of the day from my favorites.

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