What's different between your irons and Tiger Woods irons?
Let's break it down simply. On the left column, Tiger's specs (straight from the company website). On the right column, a typical set you might purchase.
Tiger's irons are shorter, heavier, and higher-lofted than your typical set, especially if you buy newer iron models.
Yes, Tiger is a physical specimen. Even with his laundry list of injuries, it's no surprise he can still keep up with the big boys. That's with 'outdated' iron specs that most OEMs wouldn't even consider selling to you.
You're being sold potential distance, not true performance... but there's a catch!
Why are you OK with out of whack specs?
Consider this: Ping, for decades, only ever sold irons with 125-gram shafts in their irons. For decades, no one complained. It was the distance explosion that made them change their strategy. They decided getting into step with the "lighter, longer" crew would be best.
All it takes is one company to have the guts/nerve to make a dramatic change. If it doesn't sell, it's forgotten. But if it sells... everyone else is gonna jump on board.
But who cares about that? You do, it seems, because the OEMs are selling us irons that get longer, lighter, and with less loft. It's called Vanishing Loft Disease, and it's one of the hidden "costs" of buying new clubs.
Tiger's irons aren't distance clubs
Phillip Moore, in his book The Mad Science of Golf, says irons are for "controlled distance". Tiger can hit his 7-iron 172 yards (carry!), but his irons aren't what most today would be considered built for distance.
He has higher lofts, shorter lengths and heavier shafts. Why, when those specs are nearly foreign to most of us? Simple; it's because he wants control over his ball flight.
He knows that distance comes from:
- the swing speed he creates
- contact on the "sweet spot" with a club that's square to the target line.
Tiger's irons specs help him do that.
Tiger Woods Irons: the Discussion
With the advent of the vanishing loft, there's an ever-increasing need for a re-evaluation of your set make-up. Buying golf clubs isn't getting easier...
Now, I want to break down some of the things that were in the opener. You're going to see more of what I'm talking about!
Tiger doesn't have to have a Gap Wedge, because his Pitching Wedge is the loft of many current GWs. You can find the GW in sets of irons from 48 to 53 degrees, with the majority hovering more to the stronger side.
If you have a GW at 48 degrees, what do you do to fill the 8-degree gap between it and your 56-degree Sand Wedge? Keeping things evenly spaced with your wedges is the ideal way to go. That means at 4-degree spacing your set would consist of:
- 44-degree PW
- 48-degree GW
- 52-degree GW2
- 56-degree SW
- 60-degree LW
Five wedges... and what do you do with the top end of your set? Would you keep the 19-degree 3-iron as well as the 19-degree hybrid?
But let's be frank: you could buy a set of irons from 5-GW, and it'd be pretty damn close to Tiger's 3-PW set.
Check the specs to these clubs, and go back to Tiger's irons specs. From the 5-iron to the GW, they're almost loft-for-loft the same as Tiger's 3-PW set.
Crazy, isn't it? Sure, you can say you hit your 5-iron as far as your old 3-iron. You should- they're the same thing!
In this new set, Tiger's clubs are actually longer (38 5/16" 4-iron vs. 38" 6-iron) than what you'd be using, but that's OK. It's not much, but you'll get just a bit more control with the shorter length.
As we saw in the opener, Tiger's irons have about three times less offset than what you'll find in most iron sets. But what does offset do?
Take a look at this:
In a nutshell, offset's biggest thing is to set the head's Center of Gravity (CG) location. The more offset, the higher the launch angle because the club's CG location is farther back.
If you have a fast swing and the ideal ball-then-turf contact, you don't need a lot of offset. But there's a catch: according to Tom Wishon, in his Common Sense Clubfitting
bible book (p. 171 for those able to follow along):
- Irons have a very thin front-to-back measurement, especially when compared to the woods. The thicker "game improvement" irons are still not that different from "pro" iron heads.
- The variation isn't that great. Take our examples: Tiger's 4-iron has an offset measurement of 1.9mm. The non-Tiger 6-iron, with similar specs, has an offset of 5.7mm. Sure, it's almost three times less, but grab a Canadian ruler. How much is a 4mm difference, really?
- The shaft also effects how much the CG alters the trajectory. With a wood and its .335" diameter, it's comparatively weaker compared to iron shafts that have .355" and .370". The more stout iron shaft prevents the head from bending the shaft forward at impact.
Are you missing out on something? If you struggle with getting the ball airborne, an iron with more offset will help... but only a little bit. The difference between your clubs and Tiger's clubs aren't that great in this instance!
The Final Three
Swing weight, or head heft, is heavier in Tiger's irons because he uses heavier shafts.
No, duh, right? Well, yeah, but...
Here's the thing: if you want to see an appreciable positive change in distance with your irons, you'd have to drop the weight 35 grams!
Why 35 grams? If you cut the weight significantly like that, you're going to reduce the swing weight- by a lot. To get it back to where it was, you'd have to add 10 grams or more back to the head.
If you're already playing a 100-gram shaft, you'd need to drop it down to 65 grams. That's the same weight most people use in their drivers and fairway woods!
At what point does this become unreasonable?
Should YOU play with Tiger Woods irons?
This is why custom-fitting is so important! You may find you actually need something far from what Tiger plays. You may find you need something similar to Tiger's iron specs.
No, you may not have the inherent skill Tiger does, but that's irrelevant. You should still be playing the specs that best allow you to find the "sweet spot" most of the time, with what you consider a good trade-off between distance and accuracy.
What are your specs? How in tune are you with your gear?