with Don Irving, Master Club Fitter, Artisan Golf
Whether we call it a hybrid, a rescue club or a utility club, we are talking about the same thing. We are referring to a club that shares characteristics with both a wood and an iron. They are available from 15 degrees through to the sand wedge.
Hybrids have been around the industry for at least 15 years and were designed as a tool to replace the difficult to hit long irons. Many amateur or recreational golfers reach a point in their irons where they cannot seem to get any more distance. For example, you might find that you hit a 5 iron around 170 yards carry but can only hit your 4 iron about 173-174 yards. The problem with long irons is that unless you can create significantly higher clubhead speeds as you go from a 5 iron to a 4i, a 4i to a 3i, etc. you are not likely to see much distance increase. This is precisely where most golfers find themselves. Hybrids have characteristics that enable the golfer to create more appropriate gaps between their longer irons.
So what is it about hybrids that make them easier to hit? In this article, I will discuss some of the design characteristics of hybrids which allow the golfer to hit not only longer but with better accuracy. The traditional blade style iron has evolved into the much more forgiving cavity back iron, which has more perimeter weighting in the head. This perimeter weighting means that if you hit out toward the toe or in toward the heel you will not be punished as much as if you had a blade style head. Hybrids are able to take perimeter weighting a step further. Because the clubhead is larger and hollow, a huge amount of weight is able to be placed away from the sweet spot of the club and therefore gives maximum forgiveness on off-centre hits. Another huge advantage in a hybrid is the fact that the face of the club has bulge and roll which simply means that unlike the flat face of an iron, the face of a hybrid curves from heel to toe as well as from sole to crown. When a ball impacts the face of a hybrid a “gear effect” occurs. If you hit toward the toe of a club the head will want to twist clockwise due to the force of impact. However gear effect causes the golf ball to spin in a counter clock wise manner. This produces a ball that may initially start to the right but will start to work its way to the left. Conversely if the ball is struck toward the heel the ball may start left but will work its way to the right.
Gear effect is so prominent that, assuming a neutral path and a square face at impact, very skilled players will deliberately hit toward the toe or heel if they are trying to produce a small draw or a fade in the ball flight. Gear effect on the flat face of an iron is almost non-existent. So in terms of forgiveness the gear effect produced by a hybrid far exceeds that of a traditional iron.
Sole design is another design characteristic where hybrids make life much easier. Traditionally a blade iron has a very narrow sole to accommodate a proper iron swing where at impact the hands are ahead of the ball, the ball is struck and the divot taken. Over the last number of years the soles of clubs have gotten wider to accommodate the reality of an average golfer’s swing. Most golfers are not able to produce this “perfect” impact position. In fact, the vast majority of golfers have a degree of “scooping motion” going on at impact, where their hands are behind the ball. It is actually more of a sweeping motion where having a narrow sole could cause a digging motion and that is why we are seeing more of today’s irons with wider soles. The hybrid sole is much wider to alleviate this problem. The sole of the hybrid club is able to travel along the turf thereby reducing or even eliminating any digging tendencies.
Another major advantage of a hybrid design is the ability of the designer to place the center of gravity lower in the club head and further away from the face of the club. There are two big advantages to being able to do this. First, a lower center of gravity means the ball will launch higher initially and the ball will carry further. This is one of the reasons golfers can establish proper gaps that they did not have with their long irons. The second advantage is for golfers who tend to have lower swing speeds and have difficulty getting a nice high ball flight. By creating a higher ball flight, hybrids can often give these golfers more distance without loss of accuracy.
One last design characteristic I would like to discuss is the shaft. Typically hybrids take an iron shaft, which means the tip of the shaft is either .355 or .370 inches in diameter. For the average player and, I would say, even for most players a graphite shaft is the best option. The lighter weight of a graphite shaft allows the clubmaker to put in a slightly longer shaft in a hybrid compared to an iron. This combination of a lighter overall total weight and a longer length often leads to a higher club speed which will lead to longer hits. It is this factor combined with the lower center of gravity that allows the golfer to create better gapping in his long irons using hybrids. The other advantage to graphite shafts is the fact that depending on the individual golfer’s swing there is a graphite shaft that will fit the bill. Whether you need a low launch, mid launch or high launch shaft, a lower spinning or a higher spinning shaft, there is one that will match your particular swing.
Hybrids have been a very welcome addition to the golfing world and can be a great addition to your bag. However, having fitted hundreds of golfers I can tell you that everyone is different. For many golfers hybrids are perfect but for some hybrids are not the answer. For whatever reason, they do not hit them well. Some people may hit higher lofted woods better than anything. I have customers who have woods going all the way to a #15 wood.
Many golfers are so successful with their hybrids that they no longer carry any woods, in fact for some the whole set is hybrids. The point is we are all different. So, to find out if hybrids would work for you visit a professional clubfitter and determine if hybrids may be the answer for your game.