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Friday, June 21, 2013

What Should You Expect from a Hybrid?

This post started with a short video Ian Poulter did for MasterCard. It’s going to seem like I’m rambling a bit, but stick with me. I think you’ll find this post helpful.

First, here’s the Poulter video. You’ve probably seen it but, for those of you who haven’t...

What drew my attention was Ian’s statement that his 4-hybrid spins the ball about as much as a 6-iron. That’s a huge difference, folks! Since the ball is coming in much higher than a normal 4-iron, the combination of spin and trajectory can make a big difference for players who don’t hit the ball as far.

I started wondering if this 2-club difference in spin rates was typical. Would a 3-hybrid spin like a 5-iron? Perhaps more important for a weekend player, would a 5-hybrid spin like a 7-iron? While many players struggle to hit the longer clubs, most of us can hit a decent 5-iron… and getting 7-iron spin would certainly help us hold more greens.

That, in turn, got me to thinking about Jiyai Shin. No doubt you’ve heard TV commentators remark that she hits her hybrids as close as most players hit their wedges. I decided to see what Jiyai has in her bag. Bear in mind that Jiyai isn’t a long hitter – her stats at say she hits her driver around 241 yards – so hybrids must be a huge help to her.

I managed to find out what she had in her bag when she won the 2012 Women’s British Open (from this GolfWeek article) and when she Top-Ten’ed at the 2013 Wegmans LPGA (at this page). They match. Likewise, I confirmed at the Mizuno site that she’s played this same setup since March 2010.

Here’s a shocker, folks… Jiyai carries ONLY ONE hybrid! It’s a 23-degree hybrid, which works out to about a 4-iron loft. She carries three fairway woods – 3-wood, 5-wood, and 7-wood.

In my search for spin rate comparisons between hybrids and irons – which I didn’t find, BTW – I also turned up this page at comparing the lofts of hybrids and irons. The key thing I got from this page is that you can’t just match up the numbers when you replace an iron with a hybrid. That is, a 3-hybrid isn’t a direct replacement for a 3-iron; the hybrid actually hits the ball farther as well as higher. One commenter on the page mentioned that there was a huge gap between his 4-hybrid and 5-iron – a gap that was easily filled by a 5-hybrid.

So it appears from the info on the Hacker’s Paradise page that the numbers are roughly a club off. That is, a 5-hybrid probably replaces a 4-iron in terms of distance. Even if you match the lofts – for example, a 23-degree hybrid for a 23-degree iron – you’ll probably get a bit more distance because hybrids have longer shafts. But because of the higher launch angle, the hybrid will stop quicker on the green.

And all of that, in turn, made me wonder what loft Poulter has on his hybrid. His page locked up my browser, so I had to make do with his page at Cobra Golf. It informed me that Poults has TWO Cobra AMP Cell hybrids in his bag – a 3/4 hybrid and a 4/5 hybrid. Based on some other info I found (he carried a 21-degree hybrid back in 2011, for instance) I’m guessing that the 4/5, which is available with 23 degrees of loft, is the one referred to in the video.

I should note here that 23 degrees is a common loft for 4-irons. I should also note that the Cobra AMP Cell hybrid Poults can be adjusted to 25 degrees, closer to a 5-iron. He might have it set slightly different.

As a result of this, I think I can suggest a couple of questions you should ask yourself before you buy a new hybrid, and maybe even give you some idea what kind of performance to expect.

The obvious question is “Which iron do I want to replace with a hybrid?” That’s your starting point… but you should take that iron with you when you go to pick your hybrid.

The second question you should ask is “Do I care if there’s a distance gap around this club?” Based on some of the information I found on the webpages I mentioned earlier, a typical 5-hybrid hits it about the same distance as a typical 4-iron. Technically the 5-hybrid should replace the 4-iron, not the 5-iron. If you want the 5-hybrid to replace the 5-iron, that might be a reasonable switch… but you should be aware that you’ll have a larger distance gap between your 6-iron and the new 5-hybrid.

Such a gap isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You might decide you could just choke down on the 5-hybrid when you needed a 5-iron-length shot. Perhaps you could replace both the 4- and 5-irons with the 5-hybrid and free up space for another wedge or fairway wood; that might actually be a better setup for you. (Note that this is what Jiyai Shin appears to have done.) The point here is that putting a hybrid in your bag may affect your setup beyond just replacing one club.

Finally, ask yourself “What kind of improvement do I expect from this club?” Believe it or not, I think we can make a couple of decent guesses, based on the info in the video and the webpages I listed.

You took the club you plan to replace with you, didn’t you? Compare it to the new club. Is the new club the same loft? You’ll probably hit the ball about the same distance, but the higher launch angle should increase your ball spin. Figure you’ll get about one club more stopping power – for example, if your new 5-hybrid has the same loft as your current 5-iron, the higher launch angle will probably result in 6-iron spin.

Is the shaft longer? Are you comfortable swinging the longer club? The longer shaft should increase your swing speed and distance if you can swing the new club as well as the old one. If your new longer-shafted 5-hybrid is maybe an inch longer, it will probably give you something close to your current 4-iron distance – maybe even a bit more, because of the higher launch angle – and the increased swing speed should result in something between 6- and 7-iron spin.

Of course, nothing is certain in golf and these are just the best estimates I could come up with, based on the info I found… but I think they’re reasonable estimates. It’s at least something to start from, to give you some realistic expectations. If you get a new hybrid to replace an iron, feel free to leave a comment on this post to let me (and all the other readers) know what your experience is like.

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