2006: Creative club mix can yield benefits, fyg

Carlsbad, Calif.

Kip Puterbaugh runs a longstanding golf school and academy at Aviara Golf Club, but neither Puterbaugh nor any other instructor has seen an iron quite like this.

It is the world’s longest 5-iron.

Longest, meaning the ball flies a country mile when hit with this club. Standing on the back of the range at Aviara, John Hoeflich launches another home run. Back, back, back, back.

Hoeflich is the creator of this club, the Nickent 3DX Hybrid. The secret behind the world’s longest 5-iron is not really a secret at all: It has the loft of a 3-iron (22 degrees).

Golf purists may be unhappy about this knocked-down loft, but amazingly the 3DX Hybrid launches the ball high in the air. Several golfers tried it at Aviara, and all were able to achieve what looked like a normal 5-iron trajectory.

Welcome to modern golf club design, where the weight is concentrated in the sole of the iron and the center of gravity is substantially lowered.

Hoeflich has a fertile history of producing hollow iron heads, and this is the best yet. It was introduced at the PGA Merchandise Show in January and will start shipping to retailers in March. The iron head is made of stainless steel, with a graphite back plate that is pressed into place to cover the hollow cavity.

“The composite (graphite) piece is 2 millimeters thick in the middle,” Hoeflich said, “and it acts like a muffler. It helps achieve the great feel we’ve got with this club.”

Up and down the set, these irons have strong lofts, such as 34 degrees for the 8-iron.

“This is not a macho thing, it’s a swing thing,” added Hoeflich, something of a quote machine.

Rather than length, Hoeflich maintained, what the 3DX Hybrid is all about is proper spacing. Every golfer should be seeking this spacing – or uniform distances from one club to the next.

The 5-iron is the longest iron in the 3DX Hybrid set. Although Hybrid appears in the name, these irons really are not hybrids. Nickent chose the name to encourage golfers to fill out the set by adding hybrids in what would be the 4-iron and 3-iron lofts.

Nickent offers two varieties of hybrids, one (3DX Utility) more wood-like and the other (3DX Ironwood) more iron-like. “Woodies” and “ironies” is what Hoeflich calls them. The 3DX was the most-used hybrid on the Nationwide Tour in 2005.

Two other golf companies, Tour Edge and Adams Golf, were pioneers in combining irons and hybrids in the same set. Other companies, including Nickent, have followed.

Nickent, headquartered in City of Industry, Calif., has paid particular attention to providing manageable spacing between the irons and hybrids.

“We encourage people to check their sets,” Hoeflich said. “Many golfers with a hybrid in the bag will find a big gap. Nobody wants a 4-hybrid that goes 30 yards farther than a 5-iron.”

Hoeflich’s idea was to solve this dilemma with the world’s longest 5-iron. On the other end of the set, he added a 10-iron as well as pitching, gap and sand wedges.

“I have always been fascinated by what golfers put in their bags,” Hoeflich said.

After designing the popular 845 iron for Tommy Armour Golf and then working on the DCI iron for Titleist, Hoeflich later created clubs for Head Golf, Liquidmetal Golf and TaylorMade.

In 1996, Hoeflich started HD Golf, and produced the fascinating Izzo Stix “short set” that contained combination 2/3, 4/5, 6/7 and 8/9 irons.

Those combo irons were aimed at travelers and other golfers who wanted to carry fewer than 14 clubs. With the modern proliferation of hybrids, however, keeping the set at 14 can be a challenge.

Here are a few suggestions for creating extra slots in your bag:

  • Take out the 9-iron. Bend the 8-iron slightly weaker to cover the gap. Hit a three-quarter shot with your 8-iron rather than a full shot with your 9-iron. You’ll be surprised how quickly you forget about that old 9.

  • Manipulate the lofts of your irons to allow the removal of some other iron besides the 9. As long as the increments between irons are consistent, there should be no problem.

  • Dump the 3-wood. Play with a strong 5-wood. Many golfers don’t hit the 3-wood high enough, anyway. They can hit a 5-wood almost as far with a much better trajectory.

  • Take out any long iron or middle iron that is troublesome. Add another hybrid. Some golf shops now sell iron sets that start not with a 3-iron but with a 5-iron or even a 6-iron.

  • Don’t forget that 9-woods and 11-woods can be extremely valuable clubs. Fairway woods tend to hit the ball higher than hybrids. There is a reason why teenage phenom Morgan Pressel still carries an 11-wood.

“Golfers need to be honest with themselves about how well they hit their clubs,” Hoeflich said, “and they have to be inventive in figuringout exactly what goes in the bag.”

Hoeflich, of course, is betting that back, back, back, back will become a popular concept.

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