MARANA, Ariz. — I've been snooping around the golf bags of the game's best players for about three years. As a group, the pros are demanding, exacting and almost always open to anything that can help them play better. With the money that's on the line, why wouldn’t they want any edge they can get?
Before I started to really pay attention to their irons, I assumed that all pros played a uniform set, but that's not the case. Players like Phil Mickelson, Anthony Kim and Stewart Cink mix and match different types of irons to create their sets.
For example, Mickelson uses a Callaway X-Forged 4-iron, but his 5-iron through pitching wedge are prototype Callaway RAZR Muscle Back blades.
There are two main reasons why lots of pros choose to go with more forgiving cavity back long-irons. First, they're simply easier to hit.
"Sometimes you stand there and you get an awkward lie and you just go, 'I know I'm a great player, but I just can't pull off this shot because the ball is sitting in a divot or a ball mark or whatever," Paul Casey said before the start of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
The Englishman, who is ranked No. 6 in the world, uses Nike VR Pro Combo long irons and VR Pro Blade mid- and short irons. Until recently, he carried an old Nike Pro Combo OS 2-iron. You can see his irons in the photo on the right.
"If that situation costs you one shot at a tournament, that's one shot too many," he said. "That could be the difference."
Just as they do for weekend players, cavity back long irons offer the pros larger sweet spots and more forgiveness than blades. Awkward shots like Casey described are simply easier to handle with the help of a little technology.
More reasons the pros consider dropping a cavity back iron or two into their bag: those firm, fast greens they face on tour.
"I used blades for a long time," Ian Poulter told me in the practice area at the Ritz Carlton Course at Dove Mountain. "But then I just wanted to hit my long irons a little higher, so going from a blade to something with a cavity just made a lot of sense."
Poulter, who is currently ranked No. 12 in the world, uses Cobra Pro CB irons (4-7) and Pro MB irons (8-PW). You can see his irons in the photo at right.
Hitting higher long irons helps stop the ball faster on the firm greens of par 5s and long par 3s. Generally speaking, hybrids and fairway woods don't stop the ball as quickly as irons do.
There has never been a better time to mix and match clubs for amateur players who want to create their own composite set of irons. Lots of manufacturers sell clubs individually, and in many cases, different clubs look very similar to one another in the address position.
Poulter told me the transition within his set has not been a problem, and at address his irons all look the same.
That said, the transition from an oversize iron to a cavity back, or from a cavity back to a blade, can create problems if you try to create a composite set by yourself. Without the help of a good club fitter and a launch monitor, significant distance gaps between your irons can inadvertently be created. To avoid this problem, a good club fitter might adjust your lofts or suggest slightly different shafts to blend two or more types of clubs into an effective set.
"I think it would help amateurs way more than it helps us pros," Casey said.
Assuming you don't practice as often as a tour pro, Casey's advice could well be worth heeding.
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