Hybridizing the Golf World

By: Blaine Newnham

Let it take its place in the "Garage Hall of Fame," right there with the push-mower and the 3- and 4-irons.

The 5-iron, I'm afraid, is history, long gone like its storied ancestor, the mashie. Before we glorify the hybrid replacement for the 5-iron, let's remember how it served us well, and how we'll miss it, even today, when we need the crisp, low-lined shot under a tree.

I can't help but remember my one and only round at Cypress Point, the "Sistine Chapel of Golf," when a grumpy old caddie all but spoiled the experience. It was 1968.

"Hit the 5-iron," he demanded, whether the shot was 150 yards or 250 yards. All day long, it was: "Hit the 5-iron."

His goal was for me - by using the most fundamental of clubs - to keep the ball in the fairway and out of the trees and ice plant and Pacific Ocean where he'd have to go try to find it.

The 5-iron was golf's civil compromise, somewhere between distance and accuracy, a reliable tool that got you where you wanted to go. But times - and equipment - have changed.

I don't trade drivers every season, or even every three or four seasons. I've always believed that the swing is more important than what is being swung, although I have to admit I can still remember, in the '80s, when I first hit the PING perimeter-weighted irons. They simply went higher and farther and straighter.

Then came the metal fairway woods and big drivers. Now, of course, we have hybrids that have taken over for long-irons - and mid-irons - much as the Ginty and Raylors and Bafflers did as the earliest of rescue clubs.

As much as a long-iron represented skill and power and the way it was, I long ago gave up trying to be like Hogan and hit them. The old Lee Trevino joke about how in a lightning storm you can hold up your 1-iron because "not even God can hit a 1-iron" rang true.

For most of us, there would be a better way. I'll have to admit I'm falling in love with my new 5-iron, a hybrid that comes in the coordinated Adams set for the most needy golfers, the new Idea a70S.

You get a set that has rescue-looking hybrids that replace the 3-, 4- and 5-irons. Then 6- and 7-irons that are relatively normal except for a muscle back that makes them transition clubs between the long and short irons, the 8- and 9-irons that look like normal cavity-back clubs. Shots simply go higher and farther for me with the new clubs.

I wanted to know why, and called Tim Reed, the Adams vice president for research and development. He lost me a bit in the techno-talk, but the gist of it was than once we had balls that were spinning less to give us more distance, we needed different weapons to get the ball in the air.

Surely it didn't help that over the past couple of decades the loft of clubs had decreased, a scheme that helped sales if not golfers. A 4-iron was called a 5-iron and we became convinced that we were magically hitting what we thought was a 5-iron farther.

Traditionally and historically, the 5-iron was 31 degrees. It is now closer to 27 degrees. So a 3-iron had the loft of a 2-iron and the 1-iron was toast.

"The lower-spinning balls put the stake in the heart of the long-irons," said Reed. "With the development of the Tight Lies we knew we had clubs that were easier to hit, but the challenge was to make them attractive and sellable and ultimately to incorporate them into a set."

For me, the 5-iron hybrid unquestionably looks and acts more like a wood than an iron. I worry that when a shot calls for 5-iron distance I have too much club.

You naturally tend to sweep the ball more with a hybrid, an easier move than the more precise "hitting down on the ball" with an iron. The ball goes a little farther, but more than anything it goes higher and lands softer. For that tough shot over a pond, the hybrid is the thing.

As strange as it sounds, to make an integrated set Reed said that Adams developed each club separately. They had to. Since the clubs were inherently more forgiving and produced more accurate shots, the shafts could be longer, allowing the player more distance.

The touring pros are now using hybrids. More of them play the Adams club that any other. It was exactly what Reed said his company had hoped for.

I miss the 5-iron. I no longer have a club that keeps the ball low to the ground. Maybe with the new clubs I'll have less use for the old one. I hope so.

This story originally appeared in Cybergolf on March 2, 2010.

Blaine Newnham has covered golf for 50 years. He still cherishes the memory of following Ben Hogan for 18 holes during the first round of the 1966 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He worked then for the Oakland Tribune, where he covered the Oakland Raiders during the first three seasons of head coach John Madden. Blaine moved on to Eugene, Ore., in 1971 as sports editor and columnist, covering the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He covered five Olympics all together - Mexico City, Munich, Los Angeles, Seoul, and Athens - before retiring in early 2005 from the Seattle Times. He covered his first Masters in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman, and his last in 2005 when Tiger Woods chip dramatically teetered on the lip at No. 16 and rolled in. He saw Woods' four straight major wins in 2000 and 2001, and Payne Stewart's birdie putt to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Blaine now plays golf at Wing Point Golf and Country Club on Bainbridge Island, Wash., where his current index is 12.6. In 2005, Blaine received the Northwest Golf Media Association's Distinguished Service Award. He and his wife, Joanna, live in Indianola, Wash., where the Dungeness crabs outnumber the people.