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Worried your irons aren't spinning enough? Think again

June 28, 2024
Divot iron shot.jpg

If you’re worried about not generating enough spin with your irons, you’re probably worrying about the wrong thing. (Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be worrying about your irons because, well, golf.) The fact is our Hot List testing reveals data that suggests the amount of spin a typical iron needs to generate is getting less and less. But given where golf technology is taking us with modern iron design, less spin isn’t going to hurt you when it comes to holding greens.

Time was in the early days of launch monitors, fitters, teachers and eventually better players had a standing guideline for what was the proper amount of spin for each iron in the bag. Simply put, for whatever number iron you were hitting, the ideal spin for that iron was 1,000 times that number. Thus, a 7-iron should be generating 7,000 rpm, a 5-iron should be generating 5,000 rpm and a 3-iron … well, if you’re carrying a 3-iron, you should stop reading this and go get yourself a hybrid stat.

The idea behind the 1,000 multiplier was that amount of spin was a good gauge for what would be ideal to get a shot to hold a green. PGA Championionship winner Jason Dufner explained in a May 2013 article in Golf Digest about how it was his go-to self-check. “Jason looks at the numbers after every swing,” said Fordie Pitts, Titleist tour rep. “There’s not a lot of gray area with him.” Dufner was diligent, but of course was a bit more his usual laconic self, “It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it helps.”

In fact, if you look at some recent data from the PGA Tour, provided by Trackman, the average spin rates continue to hold to that 1,000X rule. According to Trackman, the average spin rate for a 9-iron on the PGA Tour is 8,793 rpm, for a 7-iron it’s 7,124 rpm, and for a 5-iron it’s 5,280 rpm.

But for the irons being purchased and played today by average golfers, that rule seems to be fading away. Our testing shows just how much, thanks to numbers revealed by the Rapsodo MLM2 Pro launch monitor during our player testing sessions for the 2024 Hot List. It is a result of everything from swing changes (faster and faster speeds) to iron design (lower centers of gravity leading to higher launch angles) to stronger lofts, and even golf ball performance. It’s also because launch monitors are telling us more about ball flight, and particularly what a ball actually needs to do to keep it close to the intended target. That’s what become apparent to Brad Schweigert, chief product officer for PXG and a veteran club designer for nearly a quarter century.

“If you’re talking about a single-piece, solid body iron, like the forged blades you often see on tours or even our T irons, you can still see spin numbers like that,” he said. “Working with tour players on our staff, they're very cognizant of that idea, and they still want those numbers, and it can be hard to convince them they don’t have to get there, especially with where our technology can go.”

Schweigert’s point is that modern irons open up new ballflight rules, certainly when you’re talking about players distance and game improvement irons, but even with some designs being played at the tour level. The key are the increasing number of thin-faced irons and hollow body designs where a separate face can deflect at impact and create greater rebound.

“The more flex you get in the face, the higher launch you’re going to get, along with less spin, and that’s going to lead to a higher peak height and the kind of steep landing angle that’s going to hold the green,” he said. “As long as it gets to the right overall trajectory and it comes down relatively soft, it’s not like the spin rate doesn't matter so much anymore, but it’s not what you’re focused on. Because you can see landing angle and all the other launch parameters, at the end of the day, it often comes down to what is the peak height.”

We all know that terms like spin and launch angle and ball speed are routinely displayed in a typical launch monitor session. But increasingly, because of our understanding of ballflight, so too are attributes like “landing angle,” which refers to the trajectory of the ball coming into the ground, and “peak height,” which is the maximum height in a shot’s trajectory. Generally speaking, the ideal landing angle for an iron for an average golfer is around 40-50 degrees (steeper as the iron lofts get higher), although PGA Tour players will opt for even steeper landing angles to help them stop shots on typically firmer greens. Also, it’s worth noting that when you’re looking at your irons, you should focus on getting them to reach the same peak height, regardless of whether it’s a 5-iron or a 9-iron. That’s going to get your shots to hold the green more consistently.

When we ran simulations with Foresight Sports FSX Play software, we saw that a 7-iron that produced slightly faster ball speed and a higher launch angle (in other words, a stronger-lofted iron with a faster-flexing face) rolled out barely a foot longer than the same 7-iron that generated 500 rpm more spin. The key difference in how those two irons performed: The stronger-lofted iron produced more ball speed, which led both to a higher peak height and a steeper landing angle. Of course, as an added bonus, the stronger lofted iron also carried six yards farther. This is precisely why modern game-improvement irons are seeing significant distance gains for average golfers.

In our Hot List player testing we saw much lower spin rates than the 1,000X ratio, and those spin rates got lower as we moved from players irons to game improvement irons. The average spin rate for all 7-iron shots in the Players Iron category was about 6,000 rpm, but for Game Improvement irons, that spin rate dropped to around 5,300 rpm. Let’s remember that Game Improvement irons routinely have 7-iron lofts that are 4-6 degrees stronger than Players irons.

Coupled with their stronger faces, those stronger lofts are a big part of the reason that the old views about the ideal spin for your iron shots don't apply now. Since some of today’s 7-irons might have the lofts of a 6-iron (or maybe even a 5½-iron) from a couple decades ago, you might see spin rates that are much lower than the ideal 1,000X from past thinking. Still, if you are properly fit, that lower spin still comes with a similar or even higher launch angle. That combination, along with more ball speed because of the lower loft, is why you might hit your new irons farther while still being able to hold the green. The key is to focus not on spin, but on peak height and landing angle.

As Scott Felix of Felix ClubWorks, a perennial Golf Digest Best Clubfitter in America location, explains, “If we’re getting shots coming out of the air too shallow, it’s going to be harder to stop that ball. That’s why I’m always looking at things like peak height and landing angle to dial in the right iron so a player can hold greens.”