The composition of your bag plays a heavy role in the score you shoot. You know your game and the shots you hit to get the ball around the course. The clubs you put in your bag are the ones you hit those shots with. Clubs that are meant for shots you don’t hit, get left out.
When I started playing (c. 1960), this was the standard set:
Wedges: P, S
Look in anyone’s bag and that’s what you’d find. Woods were sold as a set, and the set was 1,2,3,4. Smart players would swap out their 2-wood for a sand wedge. That was about the only decision you had to make.
Times have changed. Higher-numbered fairway woods are no longer just for the ladies. Raymond Floyd won the Masters in 1976 by trading his 2-iron for a 5-wood so he could float the ball onto the green on the par 5s. Everybody noticed. Tom Kite started playing with three wedges instead of two and became the tour’s leading money winner. Everybody noticed that, too. And then came hybrid irons.
So let’s refine the club selection rule. To score, you have to get the ball up to the green as quickly as you can. From there you have to get the ball into the hole as quickly as you can. The clubs you put in your bag are the ones that let you perform both tasks the best and the easiest.
From the tees I play (6,400 yards or less) I can reach all the par 4s in two, but none of the par 5s. There’s no need for me to load up on the long end. Once I get up to the green, I want to get down in two strokes more often than not. That might just mean two putts, but more often it means a chip and a putt. I want to find a way to make those chips and putts as easy to get as I can, because I set up more pars from greenside than from 160 yards.
So, I apply the Iron Rule to the short game: vary your distances by using one swing and differently-lofted clubs. This is how we play from the fairway. Around the green we can use one swing and differently-lofted wedges to get the ball close from varying distances. You get more predictable results from one swing with different clubs than from different swings with one club.
This, now, is my playing set:
Wedges: P,G,S,L (4-degree gaps)
Now I can still hit a 5-iron, but it’s an effort, and the 4-iron, too, but it’s a real effort. So out they went and in came the hybrids. No fairway wood. Haven’t missed it in three years.
Yes, there is a sense of loss when you know you’ll never see that solidly hit 5-iron arcing through the sky toward the flag again. But when you hit the same shot more easily and more often with a hybrid iron, you get over it in a hurry.
Four wedges? You would not believe how close I can get the ball to the hole by having the right club in my hand, and I don’t spend days at the range practicing.
I’m not finished, though. I’m looking at a 64-degree wedge, because sometimes I have to ease up with my lob wedge. That would mean taking out a hybrid. All I would do is look at the length of the longest par-3 holes on the course I would be playing that day and leave out the 2 or 3 that I wouldn’t need.
Never forget that golf is about getting the ball in the hole in as few strokes as possible. There’s nothing in the rules that says you can’t make that as easy as possible, too.
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