Fully Equipped mailbag: Should I get a hybrid or utility iron?

Srixon's ZX hybrid can easily replace a long iron in your bag.

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Welcome to another edition of the Fully Equipped mailbag, sponsored by Cleveland/Srixon Golf, an interactive GOLF.com series in which we field your hard-hitting gear questions.

How should I decide between a hybrid or a utility iron? Marty J. – Colorado

We can’t read your mind or see your swing to make a fair judgment, but there’s one thing we know full well about you and for the matter, everyone else: nobody needs to carry long irons in their golf bag. Utility irons and hybrids are much, much easier to hit.

But wait … what’s a long iron? They’re no real delineation between what makes a long iron long other than most golfers assuming any iron that’s longer than a 5-iron is considered a long iron. That means irons 5-7 are middle irons and 8-PW are short irons, with wedges often referred to as scoring clubs.

Back to your question. Unfortunately, choosing between a utility iron or hybrid is one of the trickiest club selection decisions you’ll face in your golf bag. To make matters easier come time to choose the right long iron replacement for your game, here’s what you need to know:

Choose the style that matches your game

Hybrids resemble woods and utility irons (sometimes called driving irons) look more like irons. Now, this is where things get confusing. Typically, with woods, you want to hit the ball either on a level path or a slightly descending angle. But with a hybrid, even though it looks like a wood, it’s designed to hit the ball on near the same descending angle as you’d swing with a middle iron. That means you should hit down on your hybrids—even if it means producing a divot.

Utility irons, especially low-lofted ones, work better with shallower path angles. Either way, choosing a hybrid versus a utility iron isn’t a matter of skill, rather a choice based on what types of shots you like to hit, your natural swing tendencies, and what kind of versatility you’re looking for.

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Hybrids are more forgiving, but utility irons are more versatile

We might stoke a little controversy with this one, but in our testing, most average players will reap more benefits from a wood-like hybrid club than they will from an iron-inspired utility club. Things like added MOI, a lower center of gravity, and a springier face matter more than the ability to shape shots and hit stingers from the fairway or tee.

If that’s your jam though, then a utility club is where you should look. But remember, both hybrids and utility irons are way more forgiving than traditional long irons, and your personal taste ought to play into your decision. You may not like how hybrids look, or perhaps you prefer how utility irons feel. Again, it’s up to you.

Use loft as your guide to choosing the right one

Most utility clubs and hybrids are numbered but consider yourself warned. The model number really only matters if you’re comparing one of the same brand and models to another at the golf shop, and not when compared to the other irons or even fairway woods in your set back home.             

Case in point: You may find that a 21° 4-hybrid from one manufacturer flies about as far as a 19° 3-utility club does from another manufacturer. That’s just a hypothetical, but this is a real-life dilemma many golfers fail to recognize until after they purchase their long iron replacements.

Instead, always use loft as a means to help fill the gap between your fairway woods and middle irons—even if it means still having some overlap in the set. You may end up carrying a high-lofted fairway wood that has the same loft as your hybrid—but that doesn’t mean they’ll both fly the same distance and with the same shot height and trajectory. Your best bet? Find your way to a launch monitor to see the numbers and how the club you’re considering will perform.

Shaft metrics matter, too

It’s not talked about very often, but the length of your shaft can have a major impact on how far you hit the ball. This is even more true if you opt for either a steel or composite shaft. One recommendation we’d make is if you want to hit the ball longer without going down in loft, a longer shaft can help you. Conversely, we’ve found that shorter-length hybrids are a bit easier to wield, especially from thick rough or when hitting a crafty bump and run around the green.

Want to overhaul your bag for 2023? Find a fitting location near you at GOLF’s affiliate company True Spec Golf. For more on the latest gear news and information, check out our latest Fully Equipped podcast below.

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