My custom made irons are about 10 years old, and I have been able to hit them quite well. However, I have lost one club length in distance over the years. Will a new set of irons help with the distance?
Your question is not as simple as you imply, simply because it is not a yes or no answer.
One of the reasons for your decrease in distance has nothing to do with your set of clubs but rather a change in your swing and a decrease in head speed, which most often is a result of a decrease in your range of motion.
Studies have shown that a three month regimen of stretching has allowed golfers to gain about 5 mph in clubhead speed. This will increase the distance of your drives by approximately 10 yards, assuming you are in the 85 mph head speed range and launching the ball at about 14 degrees and with 3,500 rpm – close to optimum for this head speed.
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The distance you will get out of your irons, with this increased range of motion, will be a little more than half this amount (i.e. about 6 yards).
Six yards for your irons and 10 yards on your drives is a lot more than you will get out of a new set of irons or a new driver – assuming you have been reasonably well fitted in the first place for your existing set. Don’t expect to be able to buy more distance. We buy hope and there is a lot of it for sale.
Having said this, I do think that after 10 years you are probably in line for an upgrade. Advances in iron technology have not been significant over the last 10 years or so – even driver technology has not seen major advances. There is very little room to go and most manufacturers find themselves against the ceiling.
What has happened in the last five years is that long irons have been replaced with hybrids. The mid-irons (5-iron through 9-iron) have become a little more forgiving because of the increased MOI, lowering the CG (center of gravity) and moving this farther back away from the face – especially in the most forgiving club category.
In combination with the wider and heavier sole, the ball will be launched a little higher. As a result of this higher trajectory, some manufacturers have decreased the loft for the same length club to get a lower trajectory. This will increase the distance when compared to the same numbered club in your 10-year-old set.
Norm, there is no magical equipment as we are continually led to believe. Infact, we want to believe, but if a new set gives you confidence then upgrade. A newly configured set with a few hybrids and some stretching exercises may allow you to enjoy your game a little more and get a few extra yards.
Have fun and play from the right set of tees. What I would like golfers to say when coming up the 18th is, “ I wonder if I have time for another nine” rather than “ thank God it's over.” We can make this happen by being better informed and not let our ego get in the way.Frank
Frank Thomas, inventor of the graphite shaft, is founder of Frankly Golf. Thomas is chief technical advisor to GolfChannel.com. He served as technical director of the USGA for 26 years and directed the development of the GHIN system and introduced the Stimpmeter. To email a question for possible use in an upcoming Let's Be Frank column, please email firstname.lastname@example.org