I try not to get excited about all the exciting new technology in golf. Certainly not if it entails buying a $400 driver every year. But then in real life, I drive a ’93 Honda Civic with 170,000 miles.
Why? Because it works.
Over all these 50 years of playing golf and the 2 million various swing thoughts, what I remember about equipment most was hitting perimeter-weighed Ping irons in the ’80s. Shots were suddenly more solid, went higher and farther. That was worth investing in.
I also made the transition grudgingly to metal woods in the ’90s and cantaloupe-sized drivers in the ’00s but just could never get that excited about four installments of $39.95 to buy a can’t-miss wedge on late-night television.
With that said, I am ready to put the 5-iron in the Garage Hall of Fame, along with the push mower and the other obsolete irons (2,3 and 4) that preceded it.
But I don’t do it easily.
If I could, I’d still be trying to hit long irons the way Hogan did. How do you think he would have looked swinging a hybrid in that iconic image in the middle of the 18th fairway at Merion en route to winning the 1950 U.S. Open? Not very good, but imagine him with today’s equipment. I love the Hogan story about a practice round before the Open. After hitting three or four long irons to greens, he tells his caddie, “Be sure and fix the divots. We’ll be back here.”
But those were the days when the 5-iron, our most trusted and consistent club, was 31 degrees in loft, not 27. Days when the ball spun more. Days before the hybrids ushered in an era of higher, softer shots for all.
The 5-iron, I’m afraid, is history, long gone like its storied ancestor, the mashie.
But before we glorify the hybrid replacement for the 5-iron, let’s remember how well it served us. And how we’ll miss it even today when we need that crisp, low-lined shot under a tree.
Hybrids — half iron, half wood — have taken over for long irons, and now mid irons, much as the Ginty and the Raylors and the Bafflers did as the earliest of rescue clubs.
I’ll have to admit I’m falling in love with my new “5-iron,” a hybrid that comes in the coordinated Adams Idea a70S set, designed for the most needy golfers.
Rescue-looking hybrids replace the 3, 4 and 5. The 6 and 7 are relatively normal except for a muscle back that makes them transition clubs between the long and short irons. And the 8 and 9 look like normal cavit- back clubs. The bottom line? Shots simply go higher and farther for me with these new clubs.
I wanted to know why, so I called Tim Reed, Adams’ vice president for research and development. He lost me a bit in the techno talk, but the gist was that once balls were spinning less to give us more distance, we needed different weapons to get the ball in the air.
Surely it didn’t help that over the past couple of decades the loft of clubs had decreased, a scheme that helped golf club sales if not golfers. A 4-iron was called a 5-iron, and we became convinced that we were magically hitting what we thought was a 5-iron farther.
So a 3-iron had the loft of a 2-iron, and the 1-iron was toast. “The lower-spinning balls put the stake in the heart of the long irons,” Reed says. “With the development of the Tight Lies, we knew we had clubs that were easier to hit, but the challenge was to make them attractive and sellable and ultimately to incorporate them into a set.”
For me, the 5-iron hybrid unquestionably looks and acts more like a wood than an iron. And I worry that when the shot calls for 5-iron distance, I have too much club. You naturally tend to sweep the ball more with the hybrid, an easier move than the more precise “hitting down on the ball” with an iron. The ball goes a little farther, but more than anything it goes higher and lands softer. For that tough shot over a pond, the hybrid is the thing.
As strange as it sounds, to make an integrated set, Reed said Adams developed each club separately. And since the clubs were inherently more forgiving and produced more accurate shots, the shafts could be longer, allowing the player more distance.
The touring pros are now using hybrids. More of them play the Adams club that any other, which is exactly what Reed said his company had hoped for.
Nonetheless, I miss the 5-iron.
I no longer have a club that keeps the ball low to the ground. But maybe with the new clubs I’ll have less use for the old one. Hope so.