Gear Questions You’re Afraid to Ask: What clubs should you have in your bag?

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You should choose the club setup that works for your game.

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Welcome to Gear Questions You’re Afraid to Ask, a series produced in partnership with Cleveland Golf. In the latest installment, we discuss how to go about building the best club setup for your game.

In last week’s column about hybrids and woods, I mentioned that the typical golf bag sequence looks something like this: driver, fairway wood, hybrid, 3-PW, sand wedge, lob wedge and putter. I didn’t say it was necessarily right or wrong — I said it was common, and no doubt the same or at least very similar to the sets most golfers carry.

A week later, though, the notion of a “typical set” has been floating through my mind.  

I wondered, “Just because it’s standard, does it mean the above set matrix its right for all golfers? Is it even right for me?”

So, I did a little personal research.

I’m not the smartest man in golf by any means, but I do have an uncanny ability to remember the clubs that I used during the last three rounds that I’ve played. After a quick mental review and some scorecard peeking, I realized that I did not use my 4-iron, 9-iron, and gap wedge at all during my last three rounds of golf — each played at a different course, mind you. I also realized that the reasons for this are fairly simple.

First, I like to hit my pitching wedge hard, so I almost always choose it over hitting a normal speed 9-iron. Same goes for my 4-iron — I hate that club and almost always opt to hit a harder 5-iron and risk coming up a little short than try to put a smooth swing on a 4. And my gap wedge? I still don’t know why I carry one. I almost never use it.   

What about you? Have you ever done an audit of your own set to see if you’re using all your clubs, or are there some in your bag that are just there because they look good or because you might need them? If you discover that you’re not getting the most use of your whole set, it might be time to make some changes. Here’s some ideas:

Cleveland RTX ZipCore

Cleveland takes its wedges very seriously, as it should, having made some of the most influential designs in the last several decades. The all-new RTX ZipCore wedge rewrites the way Cleveland interprets wedge design with a slew of new innovations intended to help players gain consistency while also enabling more versatility. Which, in case you haven’t noticed, is a damn hard thing to do. (Well, maybe for Cleveland it’s not.)

1. Have irons in the bag you never use? Take them out

There’s no rule stating what clubs you have to have in a 14-club set. While 14 clubs is the max, you can carry as few as you want. If you’re like me, maybe you’re better off ditching a couple of clubs that you never use in favor of another wedge with a different bounce angle or a beater iron for shots off hardpan and the desert rocks.

Also, if you haven’t tried it, try dropping some even or odd-numbered clubs in your iron set and see if carrying less sparks joy on the scorecard.  

2. Carrying duplicate is a dangerous game

Dropping clubs that you don’t need can be a good thing — mentally and physically. And replacing them with duplicate clubs can be advantageous (hey, Phil Mickelson won the ’06 Masters carrying two drivers), but it can also be a wicked assault on your mind’s ability to trust your equipment, especially with drivers and putters.

As a club tester for nearly two decades now, I’ve felt this plight firsthand having played several times while switching back and forth between different drivers only to never get into a groove with either one. The temptation to use a different putter when you miss a putt is equally consequential, especially when switching between two totally different putter types like a heel-toe blade to a face-balanced mallet.

Pick one driver and one putter before your round and leave the alternates in the trunk.

3. Start with your scoring clubs

Most of the shots you’re going to hit are within close range of the green. Choose the wedges and short irons that you need first, then work your way to hybrids, fairways and the driver. Pay attention to more than just loft — factors such as bounce angle, head shapes and sole grinds are equally as important to consider.

For instance, a Cleveland RTX wedge may have the same loft as a Cleveland CBX2 wedge, but each may promote a totally different shot trajectory and feel. And, do you really need that gap wedge? I still carry one because I keep thinking I might need it, but I’m getting close to letting it go in favor of a high-lofted hybrid to replace my 4-iron, or as I mentioned in the first bullet, a second 56-degree wedge with a high-bounce angle to improve my sand shots.

4. Grips and shafts matter, too

Do you have the same grips on all your clubs? I don’t, and maybe you shouldn’t either. When it comes to shorter clubs, my grips are much bigger and have almost no taper at all. This is because I absolutely loathe hooking a short shot. Furthermore, because I prefer to swing my wedges a little harder to prevent decelerating, my wedge shafts have a higher stiffness rating than do my irons. There’s no right answer for all golfers here — some players (even the really good ones who play for a living) prefer softer wedge shafts and sometimes, have smaller grips for a better feel in the hands.

(A certified club-fitter like 8AM Golf affiliate brand True Spec can help you dial in the proper grip/shaft combo for any and all clubs in your bag.)

5. You do you

Fancy carrying two 7-irons? Want to play a 10-club set to lessen club selection confusion and focus more on shotmaking? Adamant about carrying your grandpa’s hand-me-down chipper? You do you. Even if you stubbornly insist on carrying two drivers or two putters despite my advice, it’s ok.

A golfer who is confident in his/her golf bag will likely play better than one who carries clubs for vanity sake or ones that “might” get used someday.  Furthermore, it’s also ok to make changes to your set as needed or based on where you play. The important thing is to not choose your set based on an industry-standard or what’s common or typical.

Go with what works for you!   

Want to overhaul your own bag for 2021? Visit the expert fitters at our affiliate brand, True Spec Golf. For more on the latest gear news and information, make sure to check out our recent Fully Equipped podcast in the Spotify link below.

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Ryan Noll Contributor