Golf equipment truths: How to know when you should consider irons geared for a better player

Iron Forged Golf Clubs Blades

Getty Images/Mats Silvan

We are lucky to have two of the most knowledgable golf gearheads in our office. And they are sharing their golf equipment knowledge with you. Golf Digest's equipment editors, Mike Stachura and E. Michael Johnson, have covered the golf equipment business for decades, and there are few who know the equipment industry better. We've asked them to answer your questions in a weekly equipment round-up. Tweet them any equipment questions you have, and they might answer your questions next week. (Click here or here to ask them a question.)

When or how do you know when you’re ready to move to a players style iron? —@JPtri70_3

Hmmm, do you have an agent yet? Is there an endorsement deal coming your way? Do you practice your long irons more than your dog sleeps? OK, in all seriousness, here are a few reasonable signs that your game is ready to move into the smallest, least forgiving, shortest-flying irons in the game. (In general terms, Players Irons are largely single-piece clubheads that are forged or cast with very narrow soles, thin toplines and the smallest of cavity backs. They are the kinds of irons often used by tour players and top college golfers, along with muscleback blades—which by the way we do not recommend at all because the players who should be playing these kinds of irons don’t need our advice).

To consider players irons, first, it would be good if you’re shooting in the 60s way more than you shoot in the 80s, and the latter only happens during a Category 5 hurricane or snowpocalypse. Second, if your mid- and short irons are flying too high, and that trajectory isn’t something completely corrected with a shaft change, then you might find players irons better at controlling ball flight. Is it true you will be able to work shots more efficiently with a players iron? Perhaps because of the narrower sole, it will be easier to finesse shots than you might find on even a Players Distance iron, but if you even have the legitimate thought of working the ball, and it’s something you do on the vast majority of shots, then yes, Players Irons might give you the best opportunities. However you go about your search, besides working with a fitter, we urge you to strongly consider some kind of mixed set, inserting friendlier Players Distance irons or utility irons or even Game Improvement Irons at the long section of the bag to get you more ball speed, higher launch and less spin. Marc Leishman just won with three different iron constructions in his bag. I’m sure you’re a fine player, but we’re guessing “the Strapper” would be giving you six a side. In short, embrace the help of Players Distance Irons until it makes you worse, which in the case of most golfers would be right around the 12th of Never.

Do putter shafts matter? Stability shaft, Stroke Lab, etc., do they actually help? —@DLow_206

Help is such an amorphous concept, especially in a game awash in so many imponderable variables that its practitioners have sworn to the efficacy of soft metal bracelets and magnetic necklaces. Putters, of course, are their own special realm of alchemy and faith-healing, an emotional relationship usually reserved for old dogs and trucks. Fact is, though, there is an avalanche of science moving into the putting universe these days. Papers are even being presented as international science meetings. But there are some facts worth knowing when you’re thinking about the new shaft options like Odyssey’s Stroke Lab and the Stability shaft, among others. First, putter headweights have increased significantly over the years while the standard steel putter shaft has changed only moderately and certainly not significantly in weight. Does that matter? Well, there are a lot more players on the PGA Tour using a standard steel shaft in their putters than there are using something that’s fundamentally different. By the same token, there are a staggering number of players using something fundamentally different (primarily Stroke Lab) than ever before. (Odyssey says Stroke Lab putters were put in play almost 800 times a month on tour last year.) That’s one way of suggesting there’s something going on.

Another way that might be more valuable to you personally is to try it yourself. Devices like the Quintic, SAM PuttLab and even the GCQuad can determine just how well you’re returning the clubface to square and how consistent your impact patterns are, both of which will make your putting more reliable in terms of distance control and direction. All of these shaft companies have presented data that the main benefit of these shafts is consistency. That might be a hard thing to know for certain in a brief fitting experience, especially if you’re also changing the head style you’re using. Still, if you’re a bad putter, why wouldn’t you want to try something different? If you’re a good putter, I wouldn’t necessarily change, but I also wouldn’t mind getting tested on one of these devices just to see if you’re as perfect as you think you are. Odds are you’ve just become quite good at compensating for mediocre mis-hits, awful alignment and verruckt face angle. But then again it’s putting. It’s a love story, not a science project.

What are your thoughts on blending wedge sets? Do you advise blending my pitching wedge and approach wedge into my iron set, then adding a special sand wedge/lob wedge that fits my game? —@domewardbound

No part of your set needs to be more dialed in than your wedges. You’re going to hit more shots with these clubs that anything else in your bag except your putter so, like the handydandy repairman, you better have the proper tools for the job. How you arrive at that array of short-game clubs, however, requires a period of serious reflection. You don’t have to go all Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” but give some thought to the type of shots you play with each club. Are your pitching wedge and gap wedge almost always full swing clubs or do you work some short-game magic with them? Is that lob wedge your bunker club or just in the bag because you want to fill out your bag. That said, you asked for our thoughts so here goes: For starters we’re actually big fans of your pitching wedge matching your other wedges. Doing so provides a consistency in your scoring clubs that can be comforting to an everyday player along with predictable distance gaps. As for specialized wedges higher up, ask yourself how often you’re really going to use that club and if that is the best use of one of your 14 bats. It may be, it might not be. If you hit a lot of open-faced shots, then perhaps so. But only you know that answer.