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Tour pros are running away from hybrids. You should be running towards them

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On the PGA Tour, clubs most of us would call “utility irons” have replaced hybrids at a rapid rate. Twenty years ago, Todd Hamilton won the Open Championship using a Sonartec Md hybrid in a manner a weekend chop could appreciate—using it off the tee, for approach shots and even scooting chips along the ground with it. That set off a surge in hybrid use on the PGA Tour. By 2010 it wasn’t uncommon to see 130 to 140 hybrids in play and only a handful of utility irons at any given tournament. Since that peak, however, hybrid usage has slid to where they now number in the 30s at most events. Conversely, utility irons have surged to the point where their usage exceeds hybrids.

Such popularity begs the question: Are utility irons something everyday players should consider or are they better off with a hybrid?

To get to an answer, we first need to consider why utility irons are so attractive to the pros, despite players such as Webb Simpson (above) having two hybrids in the bag when he won the 2018 Players Championship. Utility irons have smaller heads along with a center of gravity closer to the face, producing a more penetrating, controllable flight. Companies also have added considerable zip to the face by using hollow constructions or stronger steel face inserts (which allow for thinner, springier faces) to provide the distance of a hybrid without the added height. All of which makes perfect sense for the pros, who hit the ball in the center of the clubface far more often than everyday players. Tungsten weights are often used to lower the CG enough to allow high swing speeds to get height when needed, too.

That said, you, my friend, are not a tour pro.

For mortals, hybrids are probably the better play. The benefit of a hybrid comes from an ease of use in getting the ball airborne as well as a greater margin for error thanks to the higher moment of inertia on a hybrid. Amateurs missing a utility iron will see a poor result. With a hybrid, a mis-hit will be far more serviceable, not to mention most players can use the additional launch. Hybrids also tend to have a slight draw bias. That’s one reason the pros run away from them, but most everyday golfers would welcome such help. In other words, although utility irons have a certain cool factor in the bag, why make the game more difficult?

Molly Braid, a teaching professional at Westmoor C.C. in Wisconsin, knows when to steer a student towards a hybrid. “I have players who are interested in a utility iron hit that and a hybrid and compare the landing angles, carry distance and roll numbers,” said Braid. “The majority of swing speeds and shot shapes perform better with a hybrid. They are more accurate in dispersion and have the ability to hold the green from a greater distance out.”

When it comes to versatility and ease of use, the hybrid has no peer in the bag and a number of golfers have gotten that message. According to numbers from Golf Datatech, an industry tracking firm based in Kissimmee, Fla., hybrids now account for almost 30 percent of all woods sold, up from a paltry 2.6 percent two decades ago. That number, however, has remained flat for the last 10 years, meaning there are plenty of bags sans hybrid, which, for many, is a mistake.

However, before you sprint out to buy a couple of these clubs make sure you’re not causing yourself other problems. For starters, watch out that you're not mucking up the distance gaps in your set makeup. Just because a hybrid has the same degrees of loft as the iron it might replace, it doesn't mean it's going to go the same distance. Odds are you'll hit it farther—probably one club farther. If you’re taking out the 3-iron, you might want to replace it with a 4-hybrid. Next, watch out for shaft lengths. A hybrid with a longer shaft may generate more clubhead speed, and then guess where you are again: Unwanted distance gaps.

Finally, for all the reasons to dig hybrids more than gasoline under three bucks a gallon, make sure you know how to properly use them. Braid has some tips to consider.

“Many players don't realize a hybrid is meant to be swung just like an iron,” says Braid, a Golf Digest Best in State instructor. “We aren't swinging up at it in any form. When setting up with the hybrid, pay special attention to the bottom groove of the club, making sure it is "square" to the target. Too many people try to square the topline and when they address the club it is delofted and closed. For ball position, the head should sit in the middle of the stance, which puts the ball slightly forward towards the target—about one ball width forward of center.”

The pros might be eschewing these clubs, but now you’re fully equipped to take full advantage of them.