8 Things for Golfers to Know About Single-Length Irons

The idea for a set of irons in which all the clubs, from the 3-iron to the wedges, are the same length, is not new. But single-length irons are getting much more attention these days thanks to one iconoclastic PGA Tour pro who is playing—and winning with—such a set on tour.

Single-length irons—which can also be called one-length irons or same-length irons—are, their advocates believe, designed for easier and more effective play. The reason? Since all the clubs are the same length, golfers can use the exact same set-up and swing with every shot. But there are detractors, too, who believe that single-length irons make distance control and proper yardage-gapping more difficult, and that amateurs don't have the swing skills necessary to make the best use of them.

So let's learn a little bit more about single-length irons and go over some of these factors in more detail.

01
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Bryson DeChambeau Is Behind the Interest in Single-Length Irons

Bryson DeChambeau pulls one of his single-length irons from his golf bag during the 2017 John Deere Classic
Bryson DeChambeau uses irons that are the same length (his other clubs are traditional lengths). Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The current interest in single-length irons can be credited to one PGA Tour iconoclast: Bryson DeChambeau.

DeChambeau, a physics major in college at Southern Methodist University, has no problem thinking outside the box. In addition to single-length irons, he has also experimented with face-on (aka  sidesaddle) putting.

When he was 17 years old, under the influence of his instructor at that time plus the instructional book The Golfing Machine (by Homer Kelley, published originally in 1979), DeChambeau fashioned his own set of single-length irons (they were all the length of a traditional 6-iron).

And he's been playing same-length irons ever since, also fashioning a swing to work with those irons: He stands and swings much more upright; he uses a single-plane swing; his irons are equipped with fat grips and he holds those grips more in the palm than in the fingers. The clubheads are all identical weights; the lie angles are all identical and about 10-degrees more upright than typical.

The point, DeChambeau says, is to "create a swing that's consistent from club to club, that doesn't have a lot of moving parts to mess up."

And it works for him. In 2015, DeChambeau joined Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore as the only golfers to win the NCAA Championship and U.S. Amateur Championship in the same year.

In 2016, DeChambeau won his first pro tournament, the Web.com Tour's DAP Championship.

And in 2017, DeChambeau became the first known golfer to win on the PGA Tour with single-length irons, at the John Deere Classic.

02
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Single-Length Irons Are Not New

There are new technologies in golf all the time, but there aren't a lot of new ideas. So it's not unusual for old ideas to get recycled, expanded upon, tweaked, improved on, especially once the technology catches up to the idea.

The idea for single-length irons goes back at least to the 1930s, probably much earlier. An antecedent can be found in a set of irons Bobby Jones designed for Spalding, in which every two clubs were the same length (3- and 4-iron were the same length, 5- and 6-iron, and so on).

Probably the first true, mass-produced single-length set was the Tommy Armour EQL irons set released in 1988. All the irons were the length of today's traditional 7-irons; the EQL woods were all the length of a traditional 5-wood.

The Tommy Armour EQLs had some sales success at first - recreational golfers were happy to give them a try (the Armour brand was one of the most successful in golf at that time). But for amateurs, the EQLs had problems with distance-gapping (golfers want a consistent yardage gap from iron to iron) and, in the lower-numbered clubs, loss of distance.

From then until DeChambeau showed up, one-length irons were a rarely seen product and, when seen, were made only by small, niche companies.

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The Differences Between Single-Length Irons and Traditional Irons

Single-length irons are exactly what they sound like: Every iron in the set is the same length.

In a traditional iron set - what some have started referring to as "variable-length irons" - each iron in the set is a different length. The irons get shorter as the number gets higher. A 5-iron is shorter than a 4-iron; a 6-iron is shorter than a 5-iron; and so on.

Why? Because the parts of golf club design that control how far the golf ball travels (in conjunction with the biggest factor: the golfer's swing) are the loft on the clubface and the length of the shaft. The longer the shaft, the faster the clubhead is traveling when it impacts the golf ball.

What advocates of single-length irons say, however, is that shaft length's impact on distance has been overrated, and that yardage performance can be maintained through other means (such as weighting properties and loft gapping).

How long are same-length irons? Most sets currently made are the length of a traditional 7-iron; some go with 8-iron lengths and others with 6-iron lengths.

04
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Pros and Cons of Single-Length Irons

Advocates of single-length irons point to one big benefit and a couple other pluses:

  1. With all the irons being the same length, a golfer can use the exact same setup and exact same swing with every club. No need to move the golf ball forward or back in your stance depending on the club used; no resetting to adjust to a club's length; no swinging more or less upright, no more one-plane or two-plane to adjust to club length. This is the major selling point and should benefit golfers of all skill levels. But this simplifying of the setup/swing might especially benefit beginners and high-handicappers.
  2. The lower-numbered irons in the set should be easier to hit than traditional irons because they have shorter shaft lengths than those counterparts. Shorter clubs are easier to control.
  3. And shots with the the higher-numbered irons and wedges in the set might fly farther than with traditional irons because those shafts are a little lengthier than their counterparts.

But No. 1 is by far the biggest "pro." In theory, single-length irons should help golfers achieve far more consistency from swing to swing, from shot to shot.

Ah, but there are detractors and skeptics, too. What are the issues with single-length irons they've pointed out?

  • The lower-numbered irons in a same-length set tend to fly a little lower than traditional irons. Not getting enough height on shots is already a problem for most recreational golfers.
  • There might be a sacrifice in distance with the lower-numbered irons.
  • In the higher-numbered irons and wedges, a golfer might give up a little bit of control (due to those clubs' shafts being lengthier than in traditional irons).
  • And the yardage gapping in a one-length iron set tends to be condensed - there is a smaller gap between consecutive irons, and from the first iron to the last wedge.

The good news for the future of single-length irons is that new designs and emerging materials and tech should be able to address the cons on this list, according to single-length advocates.

05
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Clubfitting May Be Even More Important with Single-Length Irons

Advocates of single-length irons believe that iron length plays a much smaller role in distance than traditionally believed, and that what role it does play can be made up for in single-length irons through properly matching club characteristics, including weighting properties, to the golfer.

And that could mean that clubfitting becomes even more important for a golfer considering one-length irons. Clubfitting - matching golf club characteristics to a golfer's body-specifics and swing type - is a benefit no matter what type of clubs are being discussed.

Many manufacturers provide on their websites lists of approved clubfitters. If you can't find such a list on the website of the company whose clubs you are considering, call the customer service number and make inquiries.

06
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Even If Single-Length Irons Work For You, It's More About You Than the Irons

Properly matching golf clubs to the golfer can greatly help in playing what is a difficult game to master. The right clubs with the right technology can make things easier for a golfer: they can minimize the effects of mishits and mistakes (e.g., lessening a slice); they can accentuate the positives (e.g., maximizing distance).

But they can't turn a bad swing into a good swing. Improving the swing is up to the golfer.

If you're interested in trying single-length irons, go into your experiment knowing that it's up to you to fashion a swing that works with your new equipment. Realize that you'll have to practice with your new sticks.

Make some calls to local golf instructors and see if you can find one who has experience with single-length clubs, or at least can express reasons why such a set might be good for a recreational golfer. If you find one, that's who you want to work with in learning your new clubs.

07
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Today, Only a Few Companies Make Single-Length Iron Sets ...

Post-Tommy Armour EQL, a few niche companies gave single-length irons a try. For example, One Iron Golf started making a set in the late 1990s, and still makes same-length sets today.

Other niche companies making single-length irons today include Edel Golf, which designed DeChambeau's first purpose-built set; Value Golf and Swedish company Zynk Golf.

Component company Sterling has a set, which is also offered by Tom Wishon Golf (because Wishon was a co-designer of the clubs), that has drawn good notice.

In 2016, DeChambeau signed with Cobra Golf, and Cobra has since become the first major manufacturer to get into the single-length game. Cobra released two sets in 2017, the Cobra King Forged One Length Irons and the Cobra King F7 One Length Irons.

As of this writing, Cobra remains the only major manufacturer in the one-length market.

Another option that we might be seeing in the future is iron sets with a limited number of lengths. Rather than all the irons being the same length, they can be grouped into subsets so that, for example, the 4-, 5- and 6-irons are the same length; the 7-, 8- and 9-irons are shorter but the same as each other; and so on for the wedges. A company called Equs makes such a set and the point, like with true one-length irons, is simplifying the setup and swing.

08
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... But That Will Change If Recreational Golfers Begin Asking for Them

DeChambeau's PGA Tour win with single-length irons at the 2017 John Deere Classic might be a game-changer. It might be the event that turns single-length from a curiosity into a more mainstream option.

Will it spur any of his fellow pros to try single-length? DeChambeau says other PGA Tour golfers have already expressed interest.

But what might cause more major manufacturers to get into the market is if any kind of demand, even just a small amount, comes from recreational golfers.

No major manufacturer wants to miss out on anything that has even a whiff of "next big thing" about it (remember when they were all rushing to make square-headed drivers?).

Could single-length irons some day rival - or even overtake - traditional irons in the marketplace?

Experimentation in design, materials and tech should, over time, address the current issues with single-length irons. It could go the way of metal drivers. In the early days of metal woods, better golfers tended to avoid them because their tech was just emerging and their benefits were mostly for weaker players, who got much more forgiveness out of them than with persimmon drivers. As metal woods matured - the technology, materials and designs improved - they started having appeal to the best golfers, too. Over time - 15 years or so, a relatively short time in golf's history - persimmon drivers disappeared from golf.

Traditional-length irons will never disappear, but we do believe that single-length irons have at least a chance of being the future of golf.