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Published: Thursday, 4/21/2005

Hybrid clubs designed to make game easier

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Just about every manufacturer is in the hybrid game. The clubs are part metal wood, part iron. Just about every manufacturer is in the hybrid game. The clubs are part metal wood, part iron.
LISA DUTTON / BLADE Enlarge

Lee Trevino once suggested that only God could hit a 1-iron.

Most amateur golfers, especially those with double-digit handicaps, would put a few other clubs in that category, too.

We all are, or were, carrying at least a couple irons in our bags that are little more than useless.

Oh, sure, we try to hit those long irons, especially with courses getting longer and greens getting firmer, but often to no avail.

Now, there's an answer.

It's part metal wood, part iron. Simply stated, hybrids are becoming the most important clubs in golf.

Hybrid clubs are longer than a typical long iron and shorter than a typical fairway wood. A thicker sole shifts the center of gravity farther back in the club head and that back-weighting helps with increased launch angle and forgiveness.

And they're not just for duffers.

According to a Golf Digest survey, about 150 PGA Tour players had hybrid clubs of some type, including flat-faced, "iron-like" clubs, in their bags last year.

The average player is more attracted to the "wood-like" hybrids because that golfer has always found more of a comfort zone with fairway woods than long irons and the shorter shaft of a hybrid, compared to a fairway wood, creates the best of both worlds.

"Long irons are hard to hit, in large part because you stare down at that blade and they just look hard to hit," said Tom Olsavsky, the director of product creation for TaylorMade-adidas Golf. "You have to hit them square to get the ball up in the air and they are not at all forgiving. You mis-hit a long iron and it doesn't feel good and the result doesn't look good. There's a very low confidence level for most golfers.

"What the industry has created with hybrids is a type of club that produces good shots even when mis-hit. It provides a clean impact and gets the ball up in the air.

"Now, hitting from a certain distance, we've replaced clubs that many golfers had no confidence in with clubs that are the favorite clubs in their bags."

TaylorMade was among the first in the industry to create hybrid clubs, coming out with its Rescue Mid during the summer of 2002. That gave the company a large edge in market share that it still enjoys, although it now has plenty of competition in the hybrid game.

While Olsavsky doesn't believe long irons will ever become obsolete, his company is among many that are now producing sets of clubs that feature hybrids. TaylorMade's new Miscela 10-club set features a driver, a 3-wood, three hybrid clubs that are lofted to be the equivalent of 4-through-6 irons, and five irons (7-8-9-PW-SW).

"We've talked to a lot of the large retailers and there are enough golfers who still want a 3-iron or 4-iron that I don't see them disappearing," said Olsavsky, an Ohio native who has been with TaylorMade for nine years. "I think some golfers are still unsure of what the hybrid will do for them.

"Heck, a majority of the golfing population probably still hasn't hit one. So those long irons won't become obsolete. But I'll guarantee you they are much less popular and that trend will continue as more and more golfers try the hybrids."

Randy Stamitoles, the PGA professional who manages the golf shop inside Dick's Sporting Goods at Spring Meadows, said sales of hybrid clubs have been brisk.

"A lot of people are asking for them," he said. "They might not know exactly what they're looking for, but they've heard the clubs are easy to hit and make it easier to get the ball up in the air.

"One of the selling points for these clubs is the lift that is created. People playing balls that are designed for distance sacrifice spin, meaning less softness and control around the green, but you get some of that back because shots off hybrid clubs come into greens higher and softer."

Dick's stocks hybrid clubs from about a half-dozen manufacturers with prices ranging from $50 to $180.

Like TaylorMade with its Rescue Mid, most all of the big-name golf manufacturers are in the hybrid business either by piece or integrated into sets.

Among the best of the so-called "wood-like" hybrid series are the Callaway Big Bertha Heavenwood, the Nike CPR, the Ben Hogan Edge CFT, the Cobra Baffler, the Nicklaus HiMax, and the Adams Idea i-wood.

Several companies that many consumers previously weren't familiar with have become major players in the hybrid game.

Sonartec's MD line has a slightly higher center of gravity in the sole and does not seem as easy to get airborne as many of its competitors, according to some reviewers, but it is one of the clubs of choice for professional and low-handicappers.

Sonartec is providing TaylorMade with some of its toughest competition on the PGA Tour while another young company, Nickent Golf, is making hybrid strides on pro tours with its Genex 3DX Ironwood, which amateurs will find very reasonable in price.

Tour Edge's Bazooka JMax is a tad awkward looking with so much of the club-head weight distributed in the sole. But that's what makes it so easy to hit.

Tour Edge has taken the full plunge, offering sets of clubs that are either combinations of what it calls "iron-wood" hybrids with traditional irons or complete hybrid sets right down to the pitching wedge.

Vulcan Golf has done the same with its Hybrid Woody line, another less-expensive offering even with graphite shafts.

Other well-known manufacturers like Titleist, Ping, Mizuno and Cleveland have put much of their emphasis on "iron-like" hybrids that will be most popular among better players.

Like the metal wood a quarter of a century ago, hybrid clubs have made an immediate impact and should be here to stay.

With their consistent and powerful feel, a higher launch angle and trajectory, considerable ball spin to firm greens, and a superior forgiveness factor, there should be at least one in every bag before long.



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