Martin Hopley
By Martin Hopley

Through a combination of a little coordination, lots of practice and a bit of luck I am fortunate to fall into the category of being a 'better player'. So why can't I also fall into a long, meaningful and emotionally satisfying relationship with a hybrid club?

I mean we are both are easy to play around with, speak the same language of golf, have the same shared common interest in pulping golf balls into the distance and on a par looks-wise (OK, but not great). Like all Jilted Johns I have come to the conclusion that the problem is with them and not me.

And I have support here. The very best players in the world don't have a hybrid in the bag. Tiger, Rory, Lee, Ernie and Phil do not usually carry one. Most prefer a lofted fairway wood or - heaven forbid - a long iron.

Callaway X-Utility PrototypeJack Nicklaus was renowned for his 1-iron and would his shot to the 17th at Pebble in the 1972 US Open, or for that matter Hogan's classic image of his 1-iron to the last at Merion in 1950, have had the same appeal down the ages if they had been hitting a rescue club instead of a butter knife on the end of a stick?

Tiger's stinger 2-iron in the early 21st century was something to behold and even that is de-lofted so it is closer to a 1-iron in old money.

A few years ago I was playing the Old Course on a blustery day. As my group rounded the corner to the 1st tee we bumped into no less than Peter Dawson who remarked "I hope you've got your 2-iron with you".

Not, "I hope you have that forgiving hybrid with you". He meant a club for slaying the mightly breeze and taking advantage of the Old Lady.

Now, I may be getting on a bit and time dulls the mind, but I have to say nailing a 2-iron is right up there with practicing to increase the world's population. It is ecstacy when you feel the impact, hear the sound only a well struck iron can make and get away with all your fingers intact to see the ball sailing through the air to finish next to the flag on a distant green.

I have flirted with a few hybrids in my time because I felt I should explore my pre-wood, post 4-iron personality. However after pulling several shots under pressure into the jungle down the last in the club champs it was revealed, somewhat ill-timed, by a friend who is a teaching pro that most wood style hybrids are designed to get the ball up in the air with a draw bias.

When you tee them up a little too high this design just makes them go left. Perfect for higher handicaps who have a fade or who don't have the club head speed for long irons, but not much use for better players who want a go-to club to get them in the fairway on a tight hole.

If this is you, but irons are not your thing, then why not follow Tiger and get a 18 or 21 degree 5-wood? You get the neutrality and flight of the iron with the distance and forgiveness of the fairway.

So what happened to the original hybrids? Something that looked like an iron, but had more forgiveness and liked wind as much as a kite surfer.

There were some great models around such as the Mizuno Fli-Hi and the various Adams Idea Pro hybrids that did this job for better players before the needs of the masses who play US-style parkland courses took over and 'wood' style hybrids became the norm.

Callaway X-Utility Prototype Thankfully help is at hand for the 'iron' hybrid fans. Mizuno have kept the Fli-Hi flag flying and in the bags of many Callaway players at the 2012 Open was the X-Utility Prototype that is more like an iron than a wood.

Feedback on tour has been very positive and Alan Hocknell, Head of Callaway R&D told me that this was a one-off project by renowned designer Roger Cleveland, but that we may see it end up in general production soon.

Judging by how many Callaway players had them in the bag it will be much sort after. Ernie had the 2, 3 and 4 iron versions in the bag as he landed the claret jug at Lytham and for me this style of club is the future for better players.

As Hocknell explained, it's not just a fad, technology is playing its part too. Manufacturers are now able to incorporate the design features that make woods so forgiving into irons.

Models such as the TaylorMade R11, Nike VR_S Forged, Ping Anser Forged are better player's irons with oversized heads, thinner faces and larger sweetspots than before. The long irons in these sets are so easy to hit now that I could see 3-irons making a comeback, or more likely the 4-irons will end up with lofts in the 20-22 degree range and be 3-irons in all but name.

So is the wood-hybrid on the way out? Not if you are a category two golfer or above as 'wood' hybrids are ideal for you. They are great from the rough, enable you to get the same performance from a 3 or 4-iron loft with less clubhead speed and more forgiveness. Stick with them.

For better players though, irons are generally more accurate and easier to shape than hybrids, hence why most pro's lay up with them. Designs are improving all the time so maybe a blind date with a 'proper' iron hybrid could be the start of a beautiful relationship.


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