Re-emergence of driving irons stretches well beyond British Open

Rory McIlroy's TaylorMade 1-iron David Dusek/Golfweek

Re-emergence of driving irons stretches well beyond British Open

Equipment

Re-emergence of driving irons stretches well beyond British Open

 

Rory McIlroy is not going to be mistaken for Chris Hemsworth, the actor who plays Thor in the Marvel superhero movies, but the 28-year-old from Northern Ireland also swings a seemingly magical hammer.

He debuted the club, a TaylorMade Tour Preferred UDI 1-iron fitted with a Project X HZRDUS Black shaft, on the day he announced he had signed an endorsement deal with TaylorMade at the Players Championship in May.

The former top-ranked player in the world rocketed one ball after another on the range at TPC Sawgrass on the eve of the tournament. Contrasting with his driver shots that soar high into the air, these were low bullets that came to rest about 280 yards away.

On firm courses with frequent strong winds, a club that produces low shots with lots of ball speed can be a round-saver. In years past, pros would reacquaint themselves with driving irons in early July as they prepared for the British Open.

Driving irons used to be fairly standard on the PGA Tour, but they started to vanish in the 1980s. The popularization of hybrids in the 1990s and 2000s pretty much were the nail in the coffin for 1-irons and 2-irons. And as clubs and balls improved with technology – and lofts became stronger on iron sets – strong players were hitting their 3- and 4-irons as far as the previous generations hit 1-irons, anyway.

But starting a few years ago, some players started carrying a driving iron more often, showing up at courses with a 2-iron or strong-lofted 3-iron and using it as an alternative driving club. Some players who use muscleback blades choose for their longest iron a cavity-back or hollow club with a hotter face, and they use it as a driving iron.

Jason Day

Jason Day with a TaylorMade M2 2-iron at the 2017 U.S. Open (Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports)

A big reason for the increased use of driving irons is manufacturers have improved their ability at manipulating the center of gravity in irons, and they can generate more ball speed with today’s irons as well.

Unlike the old butter knives that Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan might have played, many modern driving irons have extra weight positioned low in the head in the form of weight screws, tungsten or added mass. That pulls the CG down and makes it easier to get the ball up into the air. However, the ball flight of a driving iron is still lower than with a hybrid or fairway wood, so shots in the wind are not pushed offline as easily and tend to roll out farther after they land.

And many modern driving irons are hollow, so the hitting area flexes more efficiently at impact and produces more ball speed.

Callaway Apex Utility

Callaway Apex Utility (Callaway Golf)A big reason for the increased use of driving irons is manufacturers have improved their ability at manipulating the center of gravity (CG) in irons and they can generate more ball speed with today’s irons as well.

Unlike the old butter knives that Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan might have played, many modern driving irons have extra weight positioned low in the head in the former of weight screws, tungsten or added mass. That pulls the CG location down and makes it easier to get the ball up into the air. However, the ball flight of a driving iron is still lower than hybrid or fairway wood’s, so in windy conditions, shots are not pushed offline as easily and they tend to roll out further once they land.

Many are also hollow, so the hitting area flexes more efficiently at impact and produces more ball speed.

Many modern driving irons are also hollow or have designs that allow the face to flex more efficiently at impact. That allows the clubs to produce more ball speed and distance.

Cobra King Utility iron

Added weight in the back of the hollow head helps the Cobra King Utility iron create a higher launch angle. (Cobra Golf)

Advancements in shafts also have made it easier for players to use driving irons. While many players chose to fit their driving iron with the same steel shaft as in the rest of their set, others opt to go with a lighter graphite shaft.

For example, McIlroy’s Project X HZRDUS Black shaft weights 105 grams and is designed to reduce spin, while his Project X 7.0 Rifle shafts in his other irons weigh 130 grams and are designed to produce a higher shot with a little more spin than the standard Project X iron shaft.

 

Project X HZRDUS Black

Rory McIlroy’s Project X HZRDUS Black 1-iron shaft. (David Dusek/Golfweek)

As a result, players who use today’s driving irons are getting hybrid-like ball speed with a lower flight than a hybrid and the shot-shaping benefits of a flat-faced iron.

So should you be in the market for a driving iron? If you struggle to hit long irons well, absolutely not.

You also want to think about how often you are going to use a driving iron and what club a long iron would replace. If you plan to hit a driving iron once per round but would use the gap wedge you removed three or four times, the tradeoff might not be worth it.

Gary Woodland Titleist gear

Gary Woodland has a Titleist 716 T-MB 2-iron and 716 MB irons. (David Dusek/Golfweek)

However, if you are a strong iron player and compete on courses that have short par 4s and tight fairways, or if you live in a region where wind is an issue, then you might want to talk to a custom-fitter about your options.

McIlroy’s 1-iron is a lot easier to hit than the clubs Nicklaus and his peers used in the 1970s, but it’s still not for everyone.

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