Bryson DeChambeau, from his wardrobe to approach, is an eccentric cat. This adjective especially applies to his equipment. DeChambeau is famously -- some would argue notorious -- for his utilization of single-length irons. The concept isn’t new. Bobby Jones designed clubs for Spalding in 1930 that featured irons with matched lengths in pairs; it was patented in 1975 and brought to the market in the 1980s in Tommy Armour’s E.Q.L. set. But the Armour batch failed to make waves and fell off the radar. It was DeChambeau’s recent fruition -- he’s one of only five players to win the NCAA Championship and U.S. Amateur in the same year -- that injected a sense of life and curiosity into one-length clubs.
After an impressive showing as an amateur at last year’s Masters, DeChambeau signed with Cobra. The industry viewed the partnership as a double-edged sword. You had the opportunity to ink one of the hottest names in the sport. The upshot? The understanding that the public would inquire about a DeChambeau-like product, but might be hesitant to actually buy. In early October, Cobra announced two of its new iron sets -- the King F7 and King Forged Tour -- would have single-length offerings.
From a market standpoint, the fervor over DeChambeau has relatively subsided. Though he finished fourth at the RBC Heritage, the SMU product struggled over the PGA Tour summer, having to go to the Web.com Finals to achieve his tour card. However, the 23 year old won the DAP Championship, guaranteeing his presence -- along with the one-length sticks -- in the big leagues for the 2016-17 season.
“I think you will see a change take place among junior golfers over this next year. I know it’s not just better for me but for all kinds of players,” DeChambeau said of his single-length clubs after the DAP Championship. “I think this was an important day. Maybe we look back and say this is the day the game changed.”
DeChambeau is finding success with these bats in the bag. Conversely, a man of his talents could break par with a garden rake and pool stick. The real question, one that was tackled at the Golf Digest Hot List Summit: are single-length clubs right for you?
The allure of single-length shafts is simple. Instead of the various setups, motions and ball positions demanded throughout an iron set, single-length clubs require one swing. In theory, the same movements promote consistency, and help focus -- perhaps compact -- practice time. As Golf Digest’s Mike Stachura pointed out, we all have a favorite iron in our set. The belief of single-length advocates is, why not have every club be built to that length?
In summary, single-length clubs are supposed to make the game easier.
“From a physics standpoint, it’s not flawed,” said one of the members in our academic panel. Added another: “We don't often see the marketing and science line up. This could be one of the rare cases.”
To a person, the academics were amazed how easy the clubs were to hit. Quite the statement, given they have played standard sets their entire lives.
Simplicity is not the only selling point. With the shorter irons, the user sees an advantage in distance. In my personal test, I was hitting the 9-iron about eight yards farther than the standard King Tour Forged. In longer irons, the shot dispersion -- a.k.a the lateral accuracy -- was tighter.
The set is advertised to everyone. However, beginners, juniors and those struggling with their game were targeted as the most likely to see benefit from the clubs. With the one length/one swing request, what better way to simplify a complicated game to a neophyte.
In most facets, the club's bite lives up to the bark.
Conversely, there's no such thing as a perfect club in the industry. Each product has its shortcomings, and that includes the single-length set.
“We found the problems that you would think would happen,” said one of the professors.
So what are the aforementioned issues? Going back to my personal test, the 4-iron length was not as strong as a standard set, and the accuracy in the 9-iron was a tad off. Moreover, because the 9-iron was longer, my distance gap was shorter. Essentially, I am covering less ground with a single-length set.
We’d be remiss in forgetting to mention height. Almost as paramount to distance is the ability to get an iron in the air. Slightly noticeable in the 6-iron and -- in my testing, at least -- blatantly apparent in the 4-iron, the single-length clubs struggle to rise. Depending on your course's setup, this varies in manageability. Again, treat this as a caveat, as it comes from my personal testing. In that same vein, some of the academics noticed the same issue.
“If you have a steep swing, these clubs work,” said one panelist. “For others golfers, height could be a challenge.”
Still, the Hot List academics were impressed with the single-length set. By most accounts, it constitutes a triumph. It's one of the more innovative products to hit the sport's landscape in some time.
Even the few critics agreed that -- if these clubs were not the answer they were looking for -- they undoubtedly will spur creative ways to simplify the golf swing. It’s also reasonable that debut products are not consummate. The next generation/iteration of single-length clubs should improve.
"This is opening the door to evolution,” remarked a panelist. It's highly feasible that the obstacles encountered could be alleviated with more time to acclimate to the one-length clubs.
In short, classifying this as anything but a success is a misinformed, short-sighted take.
DeChambeau said his win was the day the game changed. An academic offered a proviso.
“While we acknowledge this might not be everyone's present, this could very well be golf's future.”