Hot List Tested

New study reveals the harsh truth about 5-irons


When in-the-know golfers hear the phrase “distance gapping,” their first and only thought is about getting the proper spacing of lofts and distances between their wedges. Fact is, the problems with distance gaps run all the way into the middle of your bag. How bad might it be? Our results with players at this year’s Hot List testing show that some players can’t carry a 5-iron farther than they fly a 7-iron.

In fact, in some cases, that 7-iron was carrying farther than the 5-iron.

There are a lot of culprits in this particular problem, but it starts with clubhead speed. Our findings show that if your driver speed is less than 90 miles per hour (a little below average for the average man and well above average for the average female), the 5-iron is not going to fly much farther than a 7-iron, if at all.

Using data from the Rapsodo MLM2Pro at this year’s Hot List testing summit, we looked at five of our Hot List panelists with driver swing speeds just slightly under 90 miles per hour. The average distance between the 7-iron and 5-iron for that group was just five yards, and none of them showed an adequate distance gap between the 5- and 7-iron. Two actually carried the 7-iron farther than the 5-iron. Only one in the group recorded a yardage gap between the 7- and 5-iron in double-digits, but even then the 16-yard gap would not be nearly enough to accommodate three clubs (5-, 6- and 7-iron).

The problem has become more prevalent in recent years because iron lofts have gotten much stronger. A decade ago, the typical loft for a 7-iron was around 30 degrees or higher. Now, it’s often as low as 27 degrees or lower. And 5-irons today have the lofts of 3-irons not that long ago. Lower loft might yield more ball speed, theoretically, but without sufficient swing speed, those shots will not generate enough launch or spin to carry far enough to create proper distance gaps. In fact, research from Mizuno showed that at 7-iron swing speeds between 70-80 miles per hour (again, LPGA level and better), a slightly higher lofted 7-iron (like 31 degrees) is going to carry farther than a lower-lofted 7-iron (28 degrees).

One key to gaining a better understand of your yardage gaps is using a stat-tracking device like Arccos or ShotScope to see real distance results. Ryan Kroll, a Hot List mid-handicap tester, has been improving steadily in recent years, but even he is rethinking his set makeup after looking at the numbers.

“I have noticed, which was validated by checking back in my Arccos app, that the 5-iron is the least used of my irons, and in fact, there is only a two-yard distance gap between by my 5- and 6-irons,” he said. “I would agree that the carry distance with the 5-iron is more challenging, and I have found more success with hitting a hybrid in situations where I have tried in the past to hit the 5-iron.

“At this moment if I were to revamp my bag, I would eliminate the 5-iron and replace it with a hybrid (which would be the second in my bag). Consequently I would expect my distance gapping to better.”

Rethinking what kinds of irons to play or where your iron set should end and where your hybrids or fairway woods should take over is one thing, but it’s also worth thinking about your set of clubs as having specific responsibilities. That might mean a set of irons that includes two or three different models, with more game-improvement or super-game-improvement heads creeping into the long or even middle irons portion of your bag.

“You have to ask, ‘Is the longest iron, whatever it is, producing the most playable ball flight,’” said Chris Marchini, director of golf experience for Dick’s Sporting Goods and Golf Galaxy. Marchini stressed that golfers should pay no attention to total distance with an iron and more attention to another launch monitor statistic: landing angle. This is the angle the ball flight takes as a shot is coming into the ground. An ideal number for an iron shot needs to be in the mid-40s at least. “Players should stop thinking about what the number is on the bottom of the club and more about how the ball is flying with one club vs. the next one in the set. The average player today has at least two clubs in the bag that are serving the same purpose, and maybe more.

“You’re allowed 14 in the bag, but make sure all 14 are playable and all 14 serve a purpose.”