Golf EquipmentSeptember 13, 2019

Why your 3-iron should be fired

In a new equipment mailbag, our editors explain why your longest iron has worn out its welcome

Nothing against your neighborhood golf store, but they have nothing on our experts. Golf Digest's equipment editors, Mike Stachura and E. Michael Johnson, have covered the golf equipment business for decades, and there are few people who know this space 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.)

J.D. Cuban

I play a 190-yard par-3 where I normally hit my 3-iron. The rest of my foursome keeps telling me to get a hybrid instead. Are they right? I really like my 3-iron. —Justin C., Waldwick, N.J.

We’re sure you really like your flip phone, too. The mere fact you’re asking this question leads us to believe that you’re not exactly knocking down the pin with that club. Regardless, the 3-iron is dead. Period. Hell, only 20 percent of PGA Tour players carry a 3-iron that’s not a utility iron. That number fades to almost nonexistent on the LPGA Tour. Are you better than an LPGA Tour player? Didn’t think so. Most equipment companies require you to custom order 3-irons these days. Why? Because hybrids will give you more height and more forgiveness, useful for any golfer. But also be aware that it will give you more distance. A 3-hybrid usually goes farther than a 3-iron. So you might actually want a 4-hybrid if you’re looking to hit a specific yardage. Our testing with Club Champion showed that even 6-hybrids were better for a lot of golfers than 6-irons. Even if you can’t bear to part with the look of an iron, one of the modern utility irons—they’re hollow with fast-flexing faces—will make you think about your old 3-iron the way you think about Blockbuster Video. Cool and functional at one time, today utterly useless.

Do you foresee the big manufacturers increasing the safety band on face conformance in reaction to the new driver-testing initiative announced by the PGA Tour? —@CountDownDave

Great question. In short, no, we don’t see anyone substantially throttling back. Think of it this way. The players are driving in a 65-mile-per-hour speed zone but know they won’t get stopped for speeding unless they go over 75. Their drivers are, effectively, at the equivalent of 73 or 74 miles per hour, and if they somehow go over 75, they'll get a warning instead of a speeding ticket. I think if you knew all you’d get is a warning, you’d drive faster, not slower. That’s why we feel fairly certain that the extremely high majority of drivers being played on the PGA Tour are not under the USGA’s speed limit, but rather lurking in the tolerance zone. That’s how precise manufacturing is today, and that’s how much distance matters, even if it’s just feet, not yards. Sure, the likelihood might be that companies will internally test their players’ sticks more frequently and let their players know if they’re getting close because a driver that’s close could creep over the limit through use, so what passes one week might not pass the next. But no one is intentionally trying to go over the limit. Of course, the difference between slightly under the limit and slightly over can be measured with a foot-long ruler. Here’s the full rundown on the new procedure on tour.

Photo by Shane McCauley

Do you think the “rusted” out wedge face fad will gain any steam? —@41NAS

“Gain any steam?” Where ya been, bud? Go to any tour event and you’ll see plenty of rusted wedges. And most of the major manufacturers in wedges have a “raw finish” offering that will rust over time. How much does the added friction contribute to spin? Not all that much, especially because most of the rust you see isn’t coming in contact with the ball (at least we hope, because it’s on the back and hosel). But the look is tour-pro cool (Patton Kizzire's wedge is shown, above) and certainly doesn’t hurt spin. As equipment guys we hate to say this, but the best way to improve spin with your wedge is clean, solid contact. In other words, practice or lessons, or both. And remember this, if you haven’t replaced your wedges in three years, you’re losing spin regardless of whether the club is plated or not.

For irons and woods that have been properly fit; how long before technology has evolved to the point where one should get new clubs? —@dcgolfer99

There are a couple of things at play here. To your question, technology is constantly evolving, so it becomes a bit of a cost-benefit analysis on your part. A good rule of thumb if you want to keep up, however, is a new driver every three years and new irons every five years. Wedges often depend on the amount you play and practice with them. Range balls can be hell on grooves. But also don’t forget this: Your swing likely has evolved over time, too. What your specs might be at your last fitting very well might not be what they would be today. Also, a 1-degree upright lie angle on Iron A might be standard on Iron B because company specs differ. Just as Alec Baldwin’s character in “Glengarry Glen Ross” said to “always be closing,” our mantra here is “always be fitting.” Get a relationship with a clubfitter in your area (our 100 Best list is a good place to start), and realize that nothing makes a fitter happier than making you happier. This ain’t the DMV, man. A clubfitting is a spiritual awakening, and not just for your golf game. Embrace it now, you can thank us later.