Hybrids are no longer “the new kid” on the block. For many golfers, they have become the answer to their golfing needs. Around for about twenty years, they were designed for the golfer who has trouble hitting long irons. They were first introduced by some smaller boutique style companies who recognized their value and eventually the major OEM’s began to offer them around the years 2000-2003. They were initially developed to address a common issue most recreational golfers faced and that was the fact that it was very difficult to hit the longer irons.
When these clubs first appeared on the scene they were referred to by several different names: utility clubs, rescue clubs and hybrids. The name that seems to have won out is hybrid. They have become so popular that many golfers have three or four of them in their bags. And then there are some who have opted to carry only hybrids. Yes, there are even hybrid wedges available.
Many amateur or recreational golfers reach a point in their irons where they just can’t seem to get any more distance. The problem with longer irons is that they have low lofts and unless you can generate higher club speeds as you go from a 5i to a 4i or a 4i to a 3i, you will not be able to get the ball up in the air, i.e., create an acceptable trajectory where you will have increased carry distances. Therefore, you are not likely to see an increase in distance. Hybrids have characteristics that enable the golfer to create or restore more appropriate gaps between their long irons.
Let’s look at some of the characteristics of a hybrid club so we can get a better sense of why you might want to think about trying hybrids, if you have not yet done this. Or if you have hybrids, you might want to consider adding more hybrids to your current bag. The big question is, of course, why are hybrids easier to hit than an iron. To answer this question, we must look at the design of a hybrid compared to the design of an iron. A hybrid head is much deeper from the face to the very back of the club. In an iron, the distance is much less from front to back. The increased distance in a hybrid allows the club designer to place the center of gravity deeper in the body of the club. A club that has a deeper center of gravity will launch the ball much higher than a club where the center of gravity is much closer to the face, as it is in an iron. Even in a game improvement iron with a wide sole and good perimeter weighting, this design will not hit the ball as high as a hybrid will. The location of the center of gravity of a clubhead is very important when it comes to the launch angle of the ball. If we consider what is going on at impact with a long iron, it will help us to understand the importance of center of gravity (COG). In a long iron, or for that matter, any iron, the clubhead is traveling down toward the ball, i.e., a negative angle of attack (AOA). With this negative AOA combined with the low loft of the clubhead and a COG close to the face of the club, it is not hard to understand that it is difficult to get the ball airborne. With a hybrid, with the same loft as the iron, the AOA is still down but it not as steep as an iron. This combined with a COG much further away from the face, deeper in the body of the club, it becomes much easier to produce a higher, preferable launch angle, yielding a much higher ball flight.
Another benefit that hybrids have over irons is “gear effect”. Gear effect is the reaction the ball and club have on an off center hit. For example, if you are hitting a driver and the impact is center face but towards the toe, the clubhead will tend to rotate in a clockwise manner. The ball, however, will tend to want to rotate in a counter clockwise direction. This results in a ball flight that may start to the right but will then start to move to the left, creating a draw situation. Gear effect is only possible when (1) the impact is off center and (2) the club’s center of gravity is well back from the clubface. So, gear effect is prominent in drivers, woods, and hybrids. Gear effect becomes a forgiveness factor when having the hybrids vs. irons conversation. Given that the COG is very close to the face of an iron, gear effect is virtually non-existent in irons. With a hybrid we know that with an impact toward the toe, the ball will maybe start a bit to the right but will then start to move to the left, because of the effect gear effect has on the spin axis. In an iron no such thing occurs. When you hit out on the toe of an iron, you will lose distance and the ball flight will likely tend to go to the right as the clubface begins to open as a result of the impact position. No amount of perimeter weighting can compensate for this. This type of gear effect is called horizontal gear effect. There is also vertical gear effect happening on impact which may be center of the face but above or below the center of the club. When a hybrid is struck above the center of the face, the launch angle goes up, but the spin rate comes down, resulting in a ball flight where you may not see much of a loss in distance. But with an iron, if impact is high on the face, you simply lose distance.
There is no doubt that hybrids have a definite forgiveness factor over irons because of both horizontal and vertical gear effect. Still there are those who hit their irons with precision and would not give up their irons, and that is great for them. The purpose of this article is to provide information to those who might be struggling with their irons. We are all different and what we need to get a little better at this game is unique to all of us. My best advice is to suggest you get tested by a professional clubfitter to see if hybrids might be an answer for you.