What Should Be the Longest Iron in Your Set?Published on 09/11/2023 · 8 min readIf you're pondering which iron should hold the title of "longest" in your golf bag, this guide has the answers. Learn the role of hybrids, shot dispersion, and more!
Photo by Trattie Ritratti
When I asked what the longest iron in my set should be 29 years ago, my coach responded quickly with a 3-iron. Fast forward to today, and many manufacturers don’t include a 3-iron in their sets, but where does that leave you? In this post, I’ll explain which iron should be the longest in your set as a slower swinger and how to make the correct decision.
After reading, you’ll know how long irons differ from hybrids and why the latter is more popular with amateurs. I’ll also reveal why shot dispersion, launch, accuracy, and frequency of use are pivotal in selecting your longest iron.
What Is a Hybrid?
A hybrid carries a smaller club head than a fairway wood, launches higher, and offers superior forgiveness than long irons. Hybrids bridge the gap between fairway woods and long irons for a lenient, reliable alternative off the tee and on approach. You’ll encounter hybrid lofts from 18 degrees.
Mark Crossfield explains that hybrids often contain a rolling face, which combats heel and toe mishits and promotes straighter flight. In my experience as a right-hander, a toe strike starts to the right before curving slightly to correct my mishit. The more sizable hybrid construction allows engineers to add extra weight low and deep in the clubhead, prompting an effortless high launch.
The TaylorMade M4 Rescue Club epitomizes the reliability and leniency of hybrids. Its expanded sweet spot, clean turf interaction, and towering launch deliver ample carry distance and improved long-game accuracy.
Hybrid vs. Wood
Despite the compact shape of a hybrid vs. wood, I find the former easier to swing. The semi-crown design of hybrid clubs and their shorter shafts make it easier to control the clubface. I consistently square the clubface at contact and manage to find the sweet spot more than I did with wood.
The beginners I’ve played with over the years feel the same way, often sharing their satisfaction with hybrid ball speed, launch, and carry distance. Mid and high handicappers struggle to connect fairway wood shots off the deck, often because of a steep angle of attack and an excessively forward ball position in their stance.
The fairway wood club head typically strikes the ground before the ball before bouncing up and catching the ball on the top. This causes a weak strike, loss of ball speed, launch, carry, and total distance. Conversely, the shorter shafted hybrid and smooth gliding sole encourage clean contact with the ball on each shot.
Hybrid vs. Long Iron
I find the larger profile hybrid clubs are far more forgiving, higher launching, and more accurate than long irons. Despite containing similar lofts, the hybrid hoists the ball high into the air, while a long iron launches marginally lower. The reduced sweet spot on long irons causes me to lose velocity and increase spin, resulting in a lower launch.
My inconsistent long iron ball striking impacts my distance and accuracy. Once I pull out a 4-iron, my shot dispersion chart is a mess. One shot goes the maximum length, and the next is short. Also, I’ve noticed that I miss to the left and right of my target. In comparison, my 4-hybrid delivers reliable accuracy and distance.
The somewhat curved blade on hybrids reduces the impact of heel and toe mishits for straighter results. Long irons haven’t been as lenient. Contact with the heel sends the ball directly left, while a toe strike shoots the ball to the right of the target.
What Is a Combo Set?
A combo set packages hybrids and irons together to give beginners distance, accuracy, and forgiveness through the bag. Golf club manufacturers swap out long irons for hybrids at the top of the bag for a wider sweet spot, an elevated launch, and optimal carry distance.
Most combo sets feature a maximum of two hybrid clubs, and a 6-iron is generally the longest iron in the golf set. The Callaway Rogue ST Max range is a perfect representation of a modern, long, and forgiving combo set.
What Are the Longest Irons in an A la Carte Set?
The beauty of building your bag is the freedom to select your clubs individually. A packaged or combo set often caps your longest iron at a 5 or 6 because it works for most slower swing speed high handicappers. Although I’d advise against it, you may consider adding stronger lofted irons to your set if you desire a lower-launching golf ball.
Taking this route opens you up to the possibility of adding a 3 or 4-iron to the bag, the same clubs I played for over 20 years. They allowed me to shape my shots more on approach and delivered controlled flight, but my off-center hits were punished. This is why I switched to hybrids.
How to Determine What the Longest Iron Should Be?
I recommend determining the longest iron in your bag based on shot dispersion, accuracy, launch, and frequency of use. In the sections below, I detail the impact of each factor on your long-game club selection, distance, and accuracy.
Shot dispersion represents where your ball landed on all shots with a specific club. Naturally, we want consistency and prefer to generate roughly the same distance and direction on every shot. When you notice that one iron delivers erratic distance and accuracy results, consider leaving it out of your bag.
In my case, that club is a 4-iron. On some shots, I generated over 196 yards with it, but on mishits, my yardage went down to 180, my average 6-iron distance. I also found myself missing the target to the left and right. I solved the challenge by employing a 4-hybrid with the same degree of loft.
The 4-hybrid was a breeze to launch as it forgave my mishits, provided some resistance to slice curve, and produced sufficient carry distance. The longest iron in my bag now is a 5-iron.
As an amateur, we’re bound to mishit the odd shot, as I’ve done for decades. My off-center long iron strikes also sent my ball directly left or right due to the reduced sweet spot. The curved face design, optimized weighting, and offset profile contribute to greater forgiveness on your tee and approach shots.
The angled face provides a corrective curve on heel and toe strikes, helping to bend the ball back toward my initial target. In my experience, hybrids further enhance accuracy with their offset profile, simplifying squaring the clubface at contact for straighter shots.
In my case, my accuracy drops when I hit a 4-iron, which forces me to substitute it for a 4-hybrid. I now enjoy greater accuracy in this part of my game. In your case, look at the least accurate long iron in your bag and substitute it for the hybrid equivalent.
Do you prefer an easy, high-launching golf club to ensure your ball gets airborne for optimal carry distance? Or are you after a lower, controlled launch with a workable flight? High handicappers should look for high-launching clubs, like hybrid designs that promote consistent long-game carry distance.
In my experience, most mid handicappers can swing a 4 iron, but the results are inconsistent. Instead, I suggest swapping the 4 iron for a 4 hybrid and making your 5 iron the longest in your set. That’s how I operate as a mid handicapper.
I launch my 5-iron consistently over 13 degrees, but my 4-iron results are usually different. Occasionally, I launch it higher than my 5-iron, while sometimes, I send it lower. The inconsistent results prompted me to bench my 4 iron for a 4 hybrid, and I’ve enjoyed the consistency since.
The final factor in determining the longest iron in your set is the frequency of use. Given my inconsistent 4-iron results, I stopped using it, and before I got my 4-hybrid, it wasted space in my bag. Instead of keeping it, I should’ve immediately changed it for a more reliable option, like a hybrid.
In your case, you might avoid a 5 or 6-iron. Relegate it to the closet, bring in a hybrid, and start generating greater long-game consistency.
Consistent Launch, Accuracy, and Distance
So, what should be the longest iron in your set? You can determine the answer by evaluating four factors: shot dispersion, accuracy, launch, and frequency. I recommend ridding your bag of irons that produce inconsistent distance and accuracy.
High handicappers are better off with high-launching golf clubs built to enhance carry distance and forgiveness. I suggest removing any long irons you struggle to consistently get airborne. Otherwise, it'll hamper your distance quest. Finally, if there is a club in your bag you hardly use, dump it and switch it for a reliable one you’ll get more use out of.
If you’re still unconvinced about the longest iron for your set, I recommend talking to one of our Curated Golf Experts. We’ll guide you in selecting the optimal golf club set-up for your swing.