Deciding on new irons is an exhilarating experience. But it also can be a big hassle if you don't know what to look for. Here are the answers to some basic questions.
1. What's out there?
Walk into any golf shop and you'll find racks of great-looking irons. For simplicity sake, I'll divide them into four classes Blades (ultimate shot control/workability), cavity-backs (offer a bit of workability and forgiveness), oversize cavity-backs (ultra game-improvement with max forgiveness) and hybrid iron sets (similar in function to oversize cavity-backs). You can determine your best option by simply making an honest assessment of your game (skill level, strength/weaknesses, how often you practice, etc).
You should understand that a club's "user friendliness" is determined by inertia properties, sole width (wider often means more forgiving) and face area/top line. And be sure to ask the salesperson to explain the club's center of gravity (CG) location and its effect on ball flight. You may be a natural high-ball hitter a club with an extremely low CG could hit too high for you.
2. Who should consider a custom-fit?
All of you could benefit, regardless of handicap. If possible, get fit using a launch monitor. These high-tech gizmos measure spin rate, ball velocity, launch angle, etc. This data helps the fitter determine the ideal clubs, and club specs, for you. Proper fittings also address a club's offset, blade size, shaft length, lie and grip size. I suggest outdoor fittings, where you can see ball flight and check divots. Whacking balls off mats indoors is okay but not ideal.
3. Which shaft is best for you?
Iron shafts range in weight from 50-gram graphite to 130-gram steel. (There's plenty of good lightweight steel and "heavier" graphite available as well.) The point is the best shaft for you may be entirely wrong for your buddy. Since shaft weight affects timing, ball flight and feel, it's recommended that you try a few flavors.
4. What's the optimal set composition for you?
Your makeup doesn't have to be 3-iron to pitching wedge. Can't handle a long iron? Get rid of it. Each club must perform a clear, defined function. You only get 14 sticks so there can't be overlap in terms of distance.
Have you thought of mixing irons from two or more sets? Some retailers don't love it when you mix and match but it's being done quite a lot these days. Consider, for instance, ultra game-improvement long irons (to get it up and land it soft) and blade-like mid- and short-irons (where you're more concerned with trajectory control). Hybrid clubs make an excellent choice as long-iron replacements too.
5. What other factors should you consider?
It seems obvious but you must like the club's appearance. This'll lead to more confidence and better swings.
The amount of offset is critical, too. Too little offset in your clubs may cause weak fades while too much offset may force you to hold onto the club rather than release it. Just the right amount promotes keeping your hands ahead of the ball and more downward contact. A final thought: Be careful if you bend lofts. Decreasing loft by 2-degrees, for example, will decrease the bounce angle as well. Which means you may hit it longer. But the clubs could also dig more than you'd like.
Rob Sauerhaft is the Managing Editor/Equipment for GOLF MAGAZINE