Iron lofts continue to drop. Is that a good thing?
Remember back when ESPN’s NFL crew had a segment called “JACKED UP!”? That catchphrase could well apply to most of today’s irons.
Iron lofts have been creeping lower for some time. According to Ralph Maltby’s book “Understanding Golf Club Dynamics,” the loft of a 5-iron was 36 degrees from the 1920s through the mid-1930s, inched their way to 30 or 31 degrees by the 1970s and gained another couple of degrees in the 1980s and 90s. In this year’s Golf Digest Hot List, the average loft of the 7-irons in the Game-Improvement category is 28 degrees.
Think about that. Today’s 7-irons are 8 degrees stronger than a 5-iron of 90 years ago. That’s about a four-club difference.
In his book “12 Myths That Could Wreck Your Golf Game,” club designer Tom Wishon said “When you go to the driving range for a demo day, you’re hitting your 6-iron farther than you hit your old 5-iron. [And] it’s because that shiny new 6-iron in your hands was a 5-iron only a few years ago and probably a 4-iron a few years before that.”
Why the rush to lower iron lofts? The reasons are many but start with what everyone wants: more distance. With the 7-iron serving as the fitting club, most companies have made sure the lofts on those clubs can compete in the hitting bay. It’s also why many companies now have a second pitching wedge or a gap wedge as part of their stock iron set offerings. Remember, if your pitching wedge is 42 or 43 degrees and your gap wedge is 52 degrees, that’s a two-club gap in the scoring part of the bag.
Unfortunately, many early attempts to strengthen iron lofts resulted in players having difficulty getting the ball in the air and screaming “full flaps!” when shots hit greens. Today, however, thinner faces, and the use of weighting (often tungsten), assist launch making strong-lofted irons highly desirable for many players.
Last year we asked one of our writers, Shane Ryan, to play with clubs on the original 2004 Hot List and with current clubs. Among them were Nike Slingshot irons and Mizuno JPX 923 Hot Metal irons. The Slingshot 7-iron was 34 degrees and the JPX923 Hot Metal was 28.5 degrees. While the ball speed of the lower-lofted iron was a predictable 10 miles per hour faster, the launch angle was more than a degree higher, the peak height 26 feet higher and the spin rate nearly identical.
That said, strong lofts are not for everyone. With many iron designs where the center of gravity has been driven low and back, weaker lofts create too much launch and won’t carry as far. That doesn’t mean stronger-lofted irons are for everyone, however. Slower swing speeds might not be able to get strong-lofted irons in the air and should seek out irons with higher lofts.
For more on the topic of loft-jacking, take a listen to the Golf IQ podcast.