It was September 2015 and a tall, lone figure was on the practice ground at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club. Gathered a little way to the side was a group of Americans – well wishers and supporters of their team which had come to contest the biennial Walker Cup against a strong Great Britain & Ireland side. But the Americans believed they had a secret weapon – the supremely talented 21 year old Californian, Bryson DeChambeau who had earlier that summer become only the fifth player to win both the US Amateur and NCAA Championship (the latter the top US College title) in the same year. He had joined a fairly exclusive club comprising Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore. The lone figure was DeChambeau. I edged closer and started to watch.
I already knew a little bit about him thanks to my research for the forthcoming broadcast of the match. Bryson was a physics major at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas and at the age of 17, fuelled by his coach’s inspiration and Homer Kelley’s instruction book, The Golfing Machine, he had built himself a set of single length irons. It made perfect sense to him. With the clubs being the same length, the same lie angle and the same weight he was removing some of the myriad of variation that bedevils golf. He reasoned he could use the exact same setup and exact same swing with every club. That first set of clubs had evolved into the set he was swinging that day on the practice ground at Royal Lytham. The irons were 37.5 inches long and the lies approximately 10 degrees more upright than normal, resulting in a high hand position at address. He could therefore maintain a straight line in profile from his left shoulder down to the golf ball and more easily execute a one-plane swing.
As I watched one shot after another being dispatched into the distance I did wonder was I watching a passing fad. After all, single set irons had been mooted as far back as the 1930s when Bobby Jones designed a set in which every two clubs were the same length – in other words, the 3 and 4 irons matched in length, the 5 and 6 and so on. There was no advancement until the 1980s when Tommy Armour EQL irons were produced, all shafts being the length of a 7-iron. The woods were the length of a 5-wood shaft. They didn’t catch on.
Would this slightly eccentric young American (he has worn the Ben Hogan flat white cap since the age of 12) change the thinking of the golfing world? Time, I thought, would tell.The United States lost that Walker Cup on the windy Lancashire coast but DeChambeau was the only one of the visitors to be undefeated with two wins and a half from his three matches. Not surprisingly, the professional ranks beckoned and in 2016 he broke through for his first win as a professional on the Web.Com Tour, the satellite tour to the PGA Tour. That same year he signed for Cobra, who committed to mass producing single length irons. Then came the potential game changer at the 2017 John Deere Classic. DeChambeau recorded his first PGA Tour win, closing with a 65 to turn a four-shot deficit into a one-shot victory over Patrick Rodgers.
The story of single length irons will undoubtedly continue to unfold and be helped by the success of the young Californian. He claims that many of his peers on tour have expressed an interest in understanding how the clubs could benefit their games. But, most telling of all, perhaps, is the release of Cobra’s figures in the first year they have mass produced single length irons. The Cobra F7 One Length irons accounted for a whopping 60% of their sales with the speed of their success taking the company by surprise.DeChambeau has been playing single length clubs for seven years now, believing utterly in the science behind their performance. I wonder, just wonder what the game will look like in another decade or two? Will the professional tours be full of players who have never swung variable length clubs, just as nowadays there are players who have never hit a persimmon driver? What a legacy that would be for Bryson DeChambeau. It’s exactly a year ago, at the PGA Show in Orlando, that Cobra showcased their revolutionary irons – what a twelve months it’s been. Bryson’s comment at the time? “This is something that is going to change the game.”