2006: Long irons almost long gone

By James Achenbach

Augusta, Ga.

The trend is clear: Long irons are disappearing. This is true on the PGA Tour, it is true in major championships such as the Masters, and it is true at local golf clubs around the world.

Why have long irons become an endangered species? Because they are being replaced by easier-to-hit hybrid clubs and high-lofted fairway woods.

The 1-iron is long gone. The 2-iron is following a similar path. Only eight Masters players carrieda 2-iron (Charles Coody, Fred Couples, John Daly, David Duval, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Tom Watson and Ian Woosnam).

The 3-iron also is losing popularity. The Masters field included 90 golfers, and thenumber of players without a 2-iron and 3-iron was 23, or 25.6 percent.

Imagine that: For almost two dozen of the best golfers in the world, the longest iron in the bag was a 4-iron.

Augusta National Golf Club played at 7,445 yards for the Masters. Assuming that most touring pros hit the ball 15 percent farther than most skilled amateurs – a conservative figure, to be sure – a comparative yardage for the rest of us would be 6,328 yards.

So, playing a course of 6,328 yards or longer, it would seem to make sense for low-handicap amateurs to emulate touring pros in the configuration of their golf bags.

Here at the Masters, Tim Clark, Shingo Katayama and Gary Player carried no iron longer than a 5. Clark packed two fairway woods and two hybrids, while Katayama and Player had three fairway woods and one hybrid.

With additional fairway woods and hybrids, sometimes it is necessary to make a difficult decision about other clubs in the bag. When Phil Mickelson won the BellSouth Classic April 2 by 13 shots, he carried two drivers and removed a 56-degree sand wedge. This left him with wedges of 52

and 60 degrees.

Mickelson also banished the

56-degree wedge at the Masters. Furthermore, he replaced his 3-wood with a 3-iron for the first three days (a 5-wood becoming his sole fairway wood). At BellSouth, Mickelson’s longest iron was a 4-iron.

With cooler weather on the final day of the Masters, Mickelson put the 3-wood back in the bag.

What about Mickelson’s two drivers? Both are Callaway Big Bertha Fusion FT-3 models. One is 46 inches long, with about 9 degrees of loft and a draw bias. The other is 45 inches long, with approximately 10 degrees of loft and a fade bias.

Both driver heads say 9.5 degrees, but the lofts have been altered. Both clubs have an X-flex Diamana shaft from Mitsubishi Rayon. The Diamana has developed a loyal following on the PGA Tour and

was used throughout 2005 by Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh.

Consumers who want to buy this shaft should look at the Diamana Blue Board, which is the tour version of the shaft. The other Diamana models in the United States are the Red Board and Bassara.

Mickelson has said he can hit the draw driver as much as 20 or 25 yards longer than the fade driver. For control, though, the fade driver is his go-to club.

The usual suspects won the equipment counts at the Masters, including Nike’s repeat victory in the iron category. With help from past Masters champions Coody, Raymond Floyd and Craig Stadler, who played Nike irons, Nike edged TaylorMade and Titleist in iron usage for the second consecutive year.

Meanwhile, TaylorMade was first in drivers, fairway woods and hybrids.

Titleist dominated balls, wedges and putters. Of 52 Titleist ball users, 33 played the Pro V1x and 19 favored the Pro V1.

In other equipment news:

Vijay Singh returned to a 45-inch Cleveland driver after experimenting this year with several longer lengths. Mickelson, as well as Singh, has tried drivers as long as 47 inches.

The loft of Chris DiMarco’s Ping G5 driver was bumped from 10.5 degrees to 11.75 degrees to provide more carry distance.

Paul McGinley reconfigured the cartridges in his TaylorMade r7 425 to help him draw his tee shots. McGinley normally uses a fade configuration.

Retief Goosen carried a TaylorMade utility iron that is sold only in Japan. To make room for the club, he removed his 2-iron.

Sergio Garcia was the only player to put TaylorMade’s new Tour Preferred ball in play.

Justin Leonard, a Nike staff player, used a prototype Odyssey putter. It had a large mallet-like head with two “fangs” or bars extending at the ends.

Peter Lonard was the only player in the field with a 64-degree wedge.


















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