Each time Bryson DeChambeau makes headlines, so too does his penchant for single-length irons. His recent U.S. Open win on Sept. 20, 2020, launched him back into that familiar position. DeChambeau has been playing with single-length irons for at least a decade. He is currently the only full-time player on the PGA Tour using a one-length set, but that may change soon.
Could making the switch to these less traditional clubs be just what your game needs? Are you ready to join the ranks of single-length enthusiasts who love these clubs possibly more than their own kids? Before we dive into that, let’s cover a quick history.
Single-length clubs join the golf scene
This might be the first time you (and, let’s be honest, me) have thought much about single length clubs, but the idea of a set of irons in which every club is the same length is not a new one.
Also sometimes called one-length irons or same-length irons, these clubs arose from the desire for an easier and more effective swing — a swing that would not need a change in the player’s set up or stance on the green each time a new iron or wedge was selected. No longer would golfers need to find the best stance and foot position for every single club in their bag; now, with one length for every iron and wedge, golfers could perfect their stance and move on to other adjustments their play may need.
Today, most single length sets are the length of a traditional 7-iron, although some are the same length as traditional 8-irons or even 6-irons. The idea for a set of clubs like this dates back, according to a handful of sources including golf journalistBrent Kelley, to at least the 1930s, though it was likely earlier. The Tommy Armour EQL irons set released in 1988 was likely the first single-length set to be mass-produced. All the irons had the length of today’s traditional 7-irons; the woods in the set were the length of a traditional 5-wood.
The EQL set gained popularity pretty quickly off the bat, but amateurs and recreational golfers struggled with the lack of a consistent yardage gap from iron to iron, and the lower-number irons often produced a loss of distance when compared to variable length sets.
Even with some growing pains, these clubs gained a loyal following, including that of David and Matt Lake — father and son, and founder and director of operations, respectively, of One Iron Golf, a leading brand of single length irons worldwide for more than two decades.
“My father, David Lake, like numerous avid golfers, practiced for hours on end with every club in his entire bag, and at the end of each year he would achieve only marginal results,” Matt Lake told me. “Why not practice and play using single swing instead of several? He believed that if all the irons were identical to each other and they fit the golfer — not just for club length but an ideal lie angle at address — greater consistency would have to be achieved. Nearly 25 years later, we are still proving he was correct with club fitting and club design.”
Making their 21st century appearance
In recent history, single length clubs entered the conversation again thanks to Bryson DeChambeau, who recently won the 120th PGA Tour, using his signature single length set. He is the third player to win the U.S. amateur title and the U.S. Open, according to The Guardian’scoverage of last year’s Open. Between the EQL’s 1988 release and DeChambeau’s entrance onto the golf scene, single length clubs were rarely, if ever, talked about or used in professional play.
When he was just 17 years old, using insights from his instructor as well as Homer Kelley’s instructional book The Golfing Machine, DeChambeau fashioned his own set of single length irons that were the length of a traditional 6-iron.
That unique decision has worked well for him: in fact, in 2015, DeChambeau won the NCAA Championship and U.S. Amateur Championship, joining big names Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore as the only golfers to win both competitions in the same year. DeChambeau went on to win his first pro tournament in 2016, the DAP Championship of the Web.com Tour, and at the John Deere Classic in 2017, he became the first known golfer to win on the PGA Tour using single-length irons.
DeChambeau has had plenty of time since then to perfect his single-length club swing. If you watch next time he plays, you’ll see that he both stands and swings more upright than those playing traditional clubs. His irons also include thicker-than-usual grips and the clubheads have identical weights — features that also are seen in the clubs manufactured by One Iron Golf.
Doing it right — and wrong
Properly matching characteristics of a club, especially weighting properties, to the golfer’s body measurements and swing type is particularly important when using a single-length set. But even when clubs are accurately fitted, how your clubs work for you — regardless of if you use a single- or variable-length set — comes down to your practice and your swing.
The right clubs with the correct dimensions and modern technology can certainly make having a good game easier, and can reduce the effects of errors like mishits and blatant mistake while amplifying beneficial characteristics like distance. But no club or technology will be able to fix a bad swing, bad stance or bad technique. That’s up to you, your practice time, and your desire to improve.
With the pros always come the cons. When it comes to single-length clubs, critics note that working with one club length no matter the loft of the clubface can make distance control and proper yardage-gapping more difficult.
This is because the loft on the clubface and the length of the shaft are the parts of a club’s design that control how far the ball can travel. Combined with the individual’s swing, these features can make or break a game.
But those like Lake, who have long advocated for single length clubs, say that the impact shaft length has on a ball’s travel distance has been overstated and that a consistent yardage performance can be achieved through attention to other club features such as head weight and loft gapping.
“Custom built single length clubs offer much greater consistency and accuracy over conventional irons,” Lake said. “Our fitting formula places the golfer in the ideal position the body wants to be to fully utilize the torso with every golf swing. The golfer will be more upright and closer to the ball with a properly fitted set, and greater accuracy occurs as a result. Having all irons being equal in club length, club weight, lie angle, using a center stance ball position etc. the only difference between each of our irons is a precise 4° loft angle progression for exact distance gapping of 10 yards.”
Skeptics also note that amateurs often lack the swing skills needed to use single length clubs to their full benefit. But I’d argue that the consistency presented by single length clubs is exactly why amateurs should start off using them instead of traditional variable length clubs. What better time to learn how to use a set of clubs that will help you throughout your entire golf career than when you’re a beginner — before all the bad habits have a chance to take hold?
The future of single-length play
With this latest win from DeChambeau, we may again see an increased interest in one-length sets. Some club manufacturers, like Single Length Golf, have added a disclaimer to their site, noting that the popularity of these sets has surged following DeChambeau’s September win and is having an effect on production and shipping time.
“These types of sets will only continue to increase in popularity,” Lake said. “It just makes sense having a single swing using a center ball position for all clubs. On top of that, they work well for everyone: Scratch golfers to weekend warriors, our fitting formula and clubs are not gender or age specific; they apply to everyone.”
Single-length advocate David Edel also toldGolf Digest, “I’ve heard from a multiple major-championship winner that within eight years you’ll see a quarter of the players on tour playing single-length irons.” Traditional irons will likely never go fully extinct, but it looks like the next dawn of the one-length popularity will soon be upon us.
Will you be joining the ranks of those obsessed with the single-length world?
Kaitlin is a contributing writer for Stick and Hack. Her dad is a lover of the game, so she's always owned a set of clubs—despite only occasionally making it out to a course. Kaitlin may not be a golf fanatic, but she loves writing, reporting, and spending hours searching for the answers to strange questions. (Got some odd questions related to golf or its history? Send a message her way!) firstname.lastname@example.org
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