By Jonathan Wall, PGATOUR.COM Equipment Insider
Don't look now, but long irons are making a mini-comeback on the PGA TOUR. Some would contend they never went away, but with the re-emergence of the driving iron this year, coupled with the trend of replacing long irons with easier-to-hit hybrids, it seemed like long irons were on the verge of getting squeezed.
Or at least it looked that way until a couple weeks ago when Jason Day did something out of the ordinary for the average TOUR professional at the PGA Championship.
In search of a club to use off the tee at Oak Hill that was not only long but a bit more accurate than his fairway wood, the Aussie pulled his TaylorMade 4-wood and replaced it with a second 2-iron that was bent to 16.5 degrees and lengthened one-half inch, giving it the same specs as a modern-day 1-iron.
Day, who first started using the 1-iron this year at the HP Byron Nelson Championship in preparation for The Open Championship, was the only player in the PGA Championship field who played the entire week with a fairway wood-less bag.
The creative setup resulted in a T8 finish, his third top 10 in a major championship this season.
When one player has success with a unique bag setup, it's considered a one-off or an aberration. But when two players in back-to-back weeks have the exact same setup — and the second player happens to win? Well, it's worth taking notice.
The second player in question was Patrick Reed, who won the Wyndham Championship last week for his first PGA TOUR victory.
Since switching from Nike to Callaway at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, Reed had been using a bag that consisted of driver, 3-wood and 2-iron.
But after taking a look at the layout at Sedgefield Country Club's, site of the Wyndham Championship, Reed decided to take out his Callaway X Hot 3Deep fairway wood and add a second 2-iron — a Callaway X-Forged that was bent to 15 degrees.
According to Callaway Tour reps, Reed wanted a club that allowed him to hit more fairways without sacrificing distance and felt the stronger lofted 2-iron was the perfect club for the job.
Reed not only thrived with Callaway's FT Optiforce driver and two X-Forged 2-irons in the bag, he managed to finish 11th in driving distance (297.8 yards) for the week.
Of course, Reed and Day aren't the only players on TOUR who've had success this year with two of the same long iron. Keegan Bradley shot a course record 60 at the HP Byron Nelson Championship with two Cleveland 4-irons.
So what can we make of the recent rise in additional long irons? Although they may be course-dependent clubs — both Oak Hill and Sedgefield played just over 7,100 yards, which is short for TOUR standards — it's clear some players are looking for a particular iron that can't be matched by a utility iron or hybrid.
Take Jason Day's TaylorMade RocketBladez 1-iron, which features a 2-millimeter-wide speed pocket that acts like spring at impact for increased ball speed. To put the technology into perspective, Day was hitting his 1-iron roughly 275-280 yards at The Open Championship.
With a penetrating ball flight and an optimum spin rate, it's easy to see why the Aussie opted for the long iron over, say, a hybrid that may have spun a little too much.
One of the 4-irons Keegan Bradley's been using this season is an easier-to-hit Cleveland 588 MT that has 21 degrees of loft and is a game-improvement long-iron that features a hollow head design that allows weight to be distributed for a lower, deeper center of gravity.
Bottom line: today's traditional long irons are easier to hit than their predecessors — and come with improved technology that make them longer and more accurate.
Creative bag setups don't always work, but this year in particular players have managed to produce big wins and top-10 finishes on a regular basis with additional long irons and driver-less setups (Phil Mickelson at The Open Championship).
Carrying a stronger lofted version of the same iron, in Reed's case, or an easier to hit version like the one Jason Day put in play at the PGA Championship likely won't work for everyone.
But based on the success rate over the past few weeks, don't be surprised if other players follow suit and give it a shot in the future.