Since the first U.S. Open was played in 1895 at Newport Country Club, there have been scores of memorable shots hit by winning golfers.
Few were as significant as Ben Hogan’s iconic 1-iron to the 18th green in 1950 at Merion or Jack Nicklaus’ 218-yard 1-iron on No. 17 in 1972 at Pebble Beach.
For a while it looked like driving irons such as Hogan’s and Nicklaus’ were going the way of the Haskell ball and hickory shafts.
But advancements in design and materials jumpstarted a driving-iron renaissance that will be on full display this month at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills and again in July at the British Open at Carnoustie.
The appeal of driving irons is easy to understand. In windy conditions or on a tight course with firm fairways, control is critical. Hybrids tend to send the ball high into the air, where in windy conditions they can lose distance or be pushed into rough.
Driving irons produce a flatter trajectory that keeps the ball under the wind and bounding along the turf.
The tradeoff: Old 1-irons and 2-irons were hard to hit. Those old muscleback blades had about 16 or 18 degrees of loft, thin soles, minimal offset and tiny sweet spots.
Modern driving irons, however, are easier to use. While true 1-irons are rare, many PGA Tour pros carry a 2-iron. “The golf ball does not spin like it used to, and almost everyone out here is using TrackMan,” said Matt Rollins, PXG’s director of player operations.
“A lot of guys have learned to hit up on the ball, and when you do that, you don’t spin the ball a whole lot. Driving irons are really good when you can do that because on a dry golf course like Shinnecock … the ball is going to roll forever.” Tomo Bystedt, TaylorMade’s senior director of metalwood creation who also helped design several of the company’s current irons, said, “For people who prefer to hit irons instead of woods, there is a comfort factor in the flat face, less offset and the shorter shaft.”
Driving irons such as Callaway’s X Forged UT, Cobra’s King Utility Iron, Mizuno’s MP-18 MMC Fli-Hi, PXG’s 0311 X GEN 2, TaylorMade’s P790 UDI and Titleist’s T-MB are hollow, so their faces flex more efficiently than with vintage 1- and 2-irons.
That makes it easier to generate ball speed. Extra weight in the heel and toe of these clubs helps.
Don Brown, director of golf innovation and product strategy for True Temper, said advancements in shafts, especially the availability of products with a bend profile similar to a wood shaft but in a weight that is between a wood and an iron shaft, also have helped make driving irons easier to play.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have a 130-gram shaft in a pro’s 3-iron and then to drop to a 65-gram shaft (a typical driver-shaft weight) in a 2-iron,” Brown said.
“The 105-gram shafts bridge the gap and let players get a little more distance without the fear of losing control.”
Hybrids will better serve most recreational golfers. But good iron players who commonly play where the wind blows and the ground is hard might want to talk with a custom fitter and see if a driving iron is worth adding. But they’re not for everyone. “We don’t design these for the consumer,” said Dave Neville, Callaway senior director of brand and product management.
“For the Apex MB and the X Forged UT, we’re going off Tour-player feedback and we’re making it for them. Then we put it out in the market and if people want to buy it, that’s great.” Gwk
(Note: This story appeared in the June 2018 issue of Golfweek.)