Yo, Gear Guy! When is it time to buy a new set of irons, and how many wedges should I carry?

Yo, Gear Guy! When is it time to buy a new set of irons, and how many wedges should I carry?

Welcome to another edition of Yo, Gear Guy!, an interactive GOLF.com series in which our resident dimplehead (a.k.a., GOLF’s deputy editor of equipment, Mike Chwasky) fields your hard-hitting questions about clubs, fittings, gadgets, bounce, lofts, CG, MOI, and a bunch of other scary acronyms. Got a question for Gear Guy? Hit us up on Twitter, Facebook or email.

@joemignola: When is it time to buy a new set of irons?

Good question Joe, and depending on the age of your current irons, the answer very well might be now. Obviously, when it comes to technology-driven products it’s a good policy to replace your current model when it’s putting you at a disadvantage, and this is definitely the case with irons. If you’ve got a set of 10-year-old game improvement sticks then I can just about guarantee you’re leaving a significant amount of distance and forgiveness on the table. However, if you’re an accomplished player who uses one-piece blade irons, then while a newer set will make things easier you likely won’t see as much improvement as you would with a game-improvement model. The simple truth is you need to honestly assess your iron performance and see if you think you can get more from a newer model. If you’re a good player who’s lost some speed and distance over the years, a new set of irons can make a big difference. At the same time, if you’re a player that’s getting better and think you can improve your shotmaking control with a different category of iron (more compact), then you’re also in a position where a change could help. The easiest thing to do is bring your current irons to a clubfitter and test them on a launch monitor against some newer, competitive models. The results won’t lie and you’ll see very quickly how your distance, dispersion, and overall control are affected.

LOIS3INHORN on Reddit: My game improvement irons have the pitching wedge at 43 degrees, which I’m told is more like a 9 iron in a standard set. I’m a high handicapper, what lofts should I be looking at for the rest of my wedges?

This is a common issue/question that affects a huge number of players these days, given the advances in distance technology that has led to stronger lofted irons. As you say, 43 degrees is exceptionally strong for a PW, particularly when you consider that old school models where typically closer to 50 degrees. The reality, of course, is that it doesn’t matter what name is written on the bottom of a club, it’s just a tool to hit the ball a certain distance, so the loft (and shaft length) are the key factors. The key for you is to determine how far you hit your 43-degree club and then fill in the gaps with the remainder of your wedges. Since it’s usual to have around four degrees between wedges, you should be looking for a 47- or 48-degree model, and then possibly 52-, 56-, and 60-degree models to round out your distance gaps. If you don’t have enough room in your bag for four wedges, you’ll have to make a decision as to what’s more valuable scoring-wise – an extra wedge or an extra fairway wood, hybrid, or long iron. Though it’s up to you, I almost always advise adding another wedge, since it’s more likely to help you score.

Amessofamind on Reddit: Toe hang, face balanced, torque balanced and lie-angle balanced: Do any of these really make a difference? If so, what’s the best way to determine which one would suit me best?

Over the last 20 years or so I’ve answered this type of question more times than I can count, indicating pretty clearly how confusing putter fitting can be. The fact is each one of the weighting schemes you refer to often greatly affect the way a given putter swings during the stroke and how it squares up at impact. The common guideline when it comes to putter fitting is, if you have an arching stroke, meaning you like to open and close the clubface slightly during the stroke, then a heel-toe balanced model will tend to work better for you. The more rotation you have, the more toe-down your putter should be (think Ben Crenshaw and his end-shafted blade putter). On the other end of the spectrum are face-balanced putters, which are typically recommended for players who like to move the putter straight back and forth on the target line with minimal face rotation. Though these guidelines do very often prove to work well, there are unfortunately no absolutes in putter fitting. My advice is to analyze your stroke (or have it looked at by a qualified clubfitter), and then try to match your putter to your stroke shape. Like most things in golf, it will take some experimentation to find what works best, but it’ll be easier for you once you understand your stroke type. If you continue to be confused, book a putter fitting session with an expert.

@stevetvdirector: I’m currently playing a 17° 4 wood, 19° and 22° hybrids. Would you replace the 17° with another hybrid or keep the 4 wood?

That’s a tough one to answer, as I don’t know how far you hit each club, how far you hit your driver, or your long iron distances. Regardless, what I can tell you is when making that specific decision you need to take a close look at what you get out of your fairway wood and when you use it. If it’s an alternate driver for you and you hit it well off the tee, then a switch to a similarly lofted hybrid will most likely provide shorter overall distance in general and might not be what you need. Alternately, if the hybrid is primarily a club you hit off the fairway and you strike it more consistently than the fairway wood, then it might be a good move. The third option is a scenario in which you add a higher lofted hybrid (maybe 25 degrees) and lose the fairway wood. The key in this situation, and really any situation in which you’re trying to determine what mix of clubs to carry, is to figure out how useful each one is in terms of scoring. A good plan moving forward is to experiment with the hybrid you’re considering and test it against your fairway wood. You might find that you like alternating the two depending on the course you’re playing or how you’re swinging on a given day.

Nick via email: What do you think equipment companies thought of the USGA’s distance report?

There are some interesting facts in the report that can be interpreted in a different way that actually could allay fears that equipment technology will “hurt” the game moving forward. The most interesting takeaway for me comes from a chart (below) that illustrates distance trends as they relate to major advances in equipment over the years, like oversized titanium drivers and solid core, multilayer golf balls. In the chart you can see that after the introduction of titanium drivers in ’95 distance went up about five yards from the previous steel models. After that distance continued to climb up about four more yards (just under 275) until the original Pro V1 was introduced in 2000. In 2003, when basically everyone had made the switch to the Pro V1 or other solid core multilayer balls, distance increased to about 285 yards, which is close to another 10 yards. But from there to 2015, where the average distance is around 290 yards, there wasn’t a lot of gains on measured driver holes. What this suggests is that while there’s been a steady creep up over the years depending on major technological advances, with current regulations in place it’s unlikely that new advances will yield the kind of sea change we’ve seen at stages in the past. If anything, bigger, more well conditioned players, faster fairways, and greatly improved fitting through the use of launch monitors appear to play as much a role as anything when it comes to current distance gains. Another interesting fact is that variable driving distance of as much as four yards in a given year isn’t that unusual, suggesting that maybe there’s no reason to worry about changing the golf ball just yet.

@von_oberhausen: How much difference can a great shaft make vs. a good one, and what are ways to find the shaft that’s right for you without spending a lot of money on a fitting?

It’s not really a question of a “great shaft,” verses a “good,” one, but rather a properly fitted shaft versus one that doesn’t fit well. There are a ton of variables in shaft fitting, including overall weight, length, torque, bend profile, and feel, among others, and finding the right one without help from a fitter can be a crapshoot that takes a lot of work and costs quite a bit of money. Instead, the best way is to get fitted by someone who knows what he or she is doing. It won’t cost “a lot of money,” as you suggested, as an hour-long fitting session doesn’t require a huge financial commitment. If you choose to try and fit yourself through experimentation, it’ll end up costing you a lot more money and will be much less likely to yield optimal results. And just in case you’re not convinced that the shaft is truly, “the engine of the club,” the reality is a properly fitted driver shaft, for example, can very easily provide 5-10 more yards of distance and tighter dispersion with the same exact clubhead.

w.m3ng: I’m curious about how driver adaptors work. You reduce loft by opening the face but increase loft by shutting it. Sounds totally opposite to irons. I’m still baffled. Can you explain how it works to me?

You’re not the only one who finds adjustable driver technology counterintuitive, but believe me, closing the face does add loft and opening the face does decrease loft. Though I personally get it, I enlisted the help of Evan Gibbs, R&D Director at Callaway, to explain more clearly than I can. Here’s what he says. “When you sole the club on the ground you change the loft – if you where to hold it in space the loft wouldn’t change after a loft adjustment. It’s the contact points when the clubhead touches the ground that are the issue – the clubhead tends to shut a bit closed when loft is added and tends to flare open when loft is reduced. How much is dependent on the sole geometry of the club, as well as CG location and some other items.” Another thing to keep in mind here is the fact that some drivers feature an adjustable hosel design where face angle is decoupled from the loft, while others do not. So each driver, depending on the design, can and will react differently after being adjusted. You’ll have to experiment with your particular model to see how it functions, or enlist the help of a qualified clubfitter to get your club properly dialed in.