Bryson Dechambeau, who is on the verge of pulling off one of the more rare feats in golf in winning the NCAA and U.S. Amateur titles in the same year, is nothing if not distinctive. There’s the Hogan cap, the studious fascination with cult instruction book The Golfing Machine, his un-college golfer-like major in physics at Southern Methodist, and of course, his impressive victory at the NCAA Championships. Then he goes and posts the low-amateur round at the U.S. Open.
But none of that is the most interesting thing about Dechambeau. It’s his clubs. Through his own study of the golf swing, his desire for a repeatable single plane motion, and the fairly diligent work of the clubfitting team at Edel Golf, Dechambeau is getting attention for using the only set of clubs like his at the U.S. Open. He plays a set where all the irons and wedges are the same length, approximately that of a standard 7-iron.
But is this success the precursor of a new equipment trend average golfers should explore? A quick read from a survey of Golf Digest’s 100 Best Clubfitters suggests not quite yet, although there is intrigue.
The main enthusiasm for the single-length shaft method is a more simplified swing, theoretically more repeatable and consistent center face impacts. Bill Choung from Dallas-based CompuGolf says it’s a fact that average golfers struggle to make contact as clubs get longer.
“I truly believe that the worse the golfer you are you will benefit more from a club that is altering your swing to help you hit the sweet spot more often,” he says. “And length of shaft is a way to do that.”
The idea has been tried before. In the late 1980s, Tommy Armour Golf pushed a set of irons called E.Q.L., based on the idea of a single swing. These clubs were built to 6-iron length. That set never gained real traction, perhaps in part because the company’s 845 irons were exceedingly more popular. While there is something of a technology lull in the iron market today, Dechambeau’s method is at least getting some buzz.
But before you head out and cut all your iron shafts to 7-iron length, you better recognize that you’re going to need more than one adjustment to make it work. And it might be an adjustment that standard golf clubs can’t possibly make.
“We are all used to swinging a golf club that’s basically D0 to D4,” Choung says. “So if we just arbitrarily cut these things down and didn’t have the ability to adjust the weights on it, you could end up with a 3-iron that’s super stiff with a swingweight of C3.”
Dechambeau had his clubs custom made by Edel Golf. There are non-standard head weights through the set to accommodate the single shaft length and the shafts change throughout as well. Even the lofts are tweaked from standard to provide distinct distance gaps. The long irons start with five-degree increments between 20-30 degrees, the middle irons are 4-degree gaps (30-50 degrees) and then the wedges go back to 5-degree spacing (50-60 degrees).
Nick Sherburne, who directs clubfitting for national custom fitting chain and 100 Best Clubfitter locations Club Champion, says all those club changes might be too much of a challenge.
“It can be done but would require many steps that the average golfer wouldn't do,” he says. “I don't see the juice being worth the squeeze in many cases.”
Sherburne points out that Dechambeau’s swing, a central part of why he’s adopted the single length shaft approach, utilizes very little wrist hinge. That’s just not practical for less athletically gifted weekend hacks.
“For most golfers with limited flexibility, the wrist hinge is imperative to creating speed and power,” Sherburne says. “You take that away from the average golfer and distance will be adversely affected.”
Still, questions persist about shaft length. If you can produce more on-center impacts with a certain shaft length, you will produce better ballspeed, and certainly more ballspeed than an off-center hit might produce with a longer shaft that generate another half-mile per hour of clubhead speed. Is there a middle ground, perhaps single shaft lengths for the longer irons (4-, through 7-iron) that might yield more on-center strikes and better distance?
But would you still be able to achieve the desired distance gaps through the bag. Craig Zimmerman, general manager at Redtail Golf Center in Oregon, says that’s a big obstacle.
“The obvious benefit is that you would address every club the same way,” he says. “Although there are generally only one-half-inch increments between traditional irons, I would fear that having them all the same length would create too much distance overlap.”
Of course, it’s even more complicated a scenario than that. Because Dechambeau and the team at Edel use uniquely weighted heads throughout the set (heavier longer irons, for instance), he can create a similar striking force at impact. The golf ball gets its distance through force at impact, and the formula for force is mass times acceleration squared. If a stronger player could swing a shorter heavier head as fast as he swings a lighter longer head, he would be able to achieve the desired distance gaps.
Martin Brouillette, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Sherbrooke in Canada, has done numerous research projects on golf equipment and is a member of the Golf Digest Hot List Technical Panel. He thinks the traditional set is just that, a tradition.
“There is no practical and modern reason why irons should not be all the same length,” he says. “By the proper variation of clubhead loft and inertia properties, you can get the same distance and gapping as ‘normal’ sets.”
Of course, it may require more natural speed than many average golfers possess. There is evidence that some golfers can create speed with lighter and longer shafts, but it is also the case that some other golfers can’t.
It may come down to the power of fitting individual golfers to individual specs of not only shaft flex and club type, but unique lengths for each golfer. At the very least, it might be something that an ambitious club fitter might pursue. Or perhaps even an enterprising equipment manufacturer. With fitting and swing analysis tools more prevalent and more accurate today than they were in the past, the evidence behind whether this fundamental change could work for you (or for the masses) would seem easy enough to discover.