Equipment game changers: Hybrids


Was the most famous shot in golf history struck with a hybrid?

On the surface, the answer seems obvious: It’s well documented that Gene Sarazen made his “shot heard ’round the world” albatross at Augusta National with a 4-wood. Hybrids didn’t exist in 1935. They belong to the world of modern golf equipment – crosses between long irons and fairway woods that have become a seemingly permanent part of the golf landscape.

But let’s take a closer look at both the hybrid and the scenario that unfolded for Sarazen on the final day of the Augusta National Invitational, the tournament that would come to be known as the Masters.

First, consider the shape of many hybrids today – long, narrow clubheads, with a slightly more meaty depth just north of the epicenter of the club when viewed at address. This profile is almost identical to the first woods. In fact, at one time a couple of centuries back, irons as we know them didn’t even exist, for using iron to make a golf club instead of a sword or a plowshare would be looked upon as madness. Instead, golfers set out with bags full of wooden-headed clubs that looked very much like the hybrids of today.

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Back to Sarazen. He trailed leader Craig Wood by two shots when he came to the 485-yard, par-5 15th hole. As he and playing partner Walter Hagen walked up to their drives, they heard a roar coming from the 18th green. They assumed, and soon it was confirmed, that Wood had birdied the 18th and Sarazen’s deficit now stood at three strokes.

Sarazen knew he had to go for the green in two. His ball lay behind a small crest in the hill in a slight depression, 235 yards from the hole. He chose his new Wilson 4-wood, which featured a scalloped back, toed the clubhead in for more distance, and lashed at the ball with a swing that distinguished him as a power-hitter, despite his 5'4" frame.

In 1935, the green complex had less banking and a smaller body of water in front of it than exists today. Sarazen’s ball narrowly cleared the water, bounced onto the putting surface, then rolled from right to left toward the pin before diving into the hole. Among the witnesses was Bobby Jones, who had made his way down from the clubhouse to watch his friends finish.

Now tied for the lead, Sarazen parred the 16th and 17th holes. After an uncharacteristically weak drive on No. 18, he again called on the services of his 4-wood to reach the green. He two-putted for par and a place in a playoff. The next day, in the only 36-hole playoff in Masters history, Sarazen defeated Wood by five shots, 144 to 149.

Sarazen’s 4-wood was the bridge between his long irons and his other woods, just as a hybrid is today, when few Tour players carry 4-woods. Typically, 4-woods had lofts between 15 and 19 degrees – the same as many modern hybrids.

Hybrids are still primarily the province of amateurs, who often struggle with long irons. But they’re seen on Tour, too, with players including Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Martin Kaymer having carried them.

And if the late Gene Sarazen could have been transported to 2017, we might have added him to the list.