Golf 2013: Hybrid clubs make their mark on course, even with pros
April 14, 2013 4:00 AM
K.J. Choi puts in work during a Masters practice round Monday in Augusta, Ga. Choi played the 2012 Masters with four hybrid clubs in his bag.
By Gerry Dulac Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Phil Mickelson took a bold step several years ago when he played -- and won -- the 2006 Masters with two drivers in his bag.
Mickelson used a "draw" driver when he wanted more distance on some par-4s and par-5s at Augusta National that, for him, required a left-to-right ball flight.
He used the "fade" driver when he wanted more control to land the ball in some of Augusta's firm fairways. The approach was so successful for Mickelson that he went back to using two drivers in the 2011 Masters -- this time with less success.
Players will do anything to gain an advantage, especially when it comes to using clubs that make the ball easier to hit or fly farther than other clubs. Just ask K.J. Choi, who played the 2012 Masters with four hybrid clubs in his bag.
Golfers who use that many clubs with head covers are usually found at South Park, not on the PGA Tour, and not at the Masters.
But Choi merely discovered what other regular players have discovered: That hitting a hybrid, or utility club as it is often referred, is much easier than hitting an iron.
The approach was nothing new for Choi, who carried two hybrids in his bag at Doral and three at Bay Hill in the weeks leading up to the Masters. Most PGA Tour players carry one hybrid in their bag, maybe two, depending on the course.
"In order to contend at major tournaments, I felt the need to get the ball up in the air better, higher, and to be able to stop the ball on the greens better," said Choi, a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour. "And that's why I put the hybrids in the bag.
"You know, when I actually tried it, it made my par 3s much easier to play."
Hybrid clubs have become an accepted and necessary part of any player's bag, even on the PGA Tour.
Higher handicap players use them instead of a 3-, 4- and sometimes even 5-iron because they can launch the ball off the ground much more easily.
Lower handicap players use them because they launch the ball higher and allow the ball to land softer on the greens than a normal long iron.
In its most basic form, the hybrid is a combination of the accuracy of a long iron and the forgiving nature of a fairway metal. They are designed to help players recover more easily from trouble shots in the rough, which is why they are also referred to as rescue clubs.
"I think the worst thing you can do to yourself is wanting to do something, but not having the courage to do it," Choi said. "And I don't want to be the type of person that regrets not testing something out when I feel that it's right."
Hybrids are revolutionizing the way the average player can perform on the course. Long par-4s that used to be unreachable in two are back in play. So are long par-3s. Those were holes players couldn't reach with long irons that were difficult to hit.
Now, club manufacturers have made it easier to hit a hybrid because they can shift the center of gravity to the bottom of the club head, allowing a golfer to launch the ball easier and with more control.
"The average player has a harder time launching 3-wood off the deck and hybrids make it easier to accomplish that," said Chris Marchini, general manager of Golf Galaxy in Robinson. "The other benefit is that the average player today can hit a 3-hybrid or a 4-hybrid a lot farther than they ever hit a 3- or 4-iron. And the consistency is there, too."
While the club head of a hybrid is similar to and made from the same material as a fairway metal (steel or titanium), the face is flatter, the shaft is shorter. The object of the manufacturer, of course, is game improvement: Allowing golfers to hit the ball with distance, accuracy and more ease.
Some manufactures, such as Adams, have started selling combo sets that feature three to four hybrids and irons no longer than a 6-iron. They are popular buys because the hybrids are easier to hit.
But most PGA Tour players carry at least one hybrid in their bag because it can fill in the distance gap between their longest iron and shortest fairway metal.
Just ask K.J. Choi, who knows a good thing when he sees it.