ARDMORE, Pa. — Paul Azinger said the U.S. Open will be the week of the long iron.
Just not the 1-iron.
This week’s national championship at cherished but snug Merion Golf Club puts a premium on accuracy and will lead many to leave the driver and even the 3-wood in the bag on many of the holes that feature gaunt fairways rimmed with grave rough.
But few — perhaps no one — will reach for a 1-iron, a long ago weapon favored by the best in the game, with the most famous being wielded by Ben Hogan in the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion. His fabled 1-iron delivered on the 72nd hole, from about 200 yards to 50 feet, from where he two-putted to force a playoff he won the next day, was captured in Hy Peskin’s timeless photo, one of the game’s most enduring images.
A plaque commemorating the shot rests in the fairway in the 18th hole of the East Course. But today, players drop a ball and hit much less than a 1-iron to the green. Tiger Woods hit 5-iron, Graeme McDowell a 4-iron.
Tiger Woods used to hit the 1-iron. He stole it from his dad. But that was a long time ago.
“The running joke out here is, well, when I got here in my teens I used a 1-iron, in my 20s I used a 2-iron, and in my 30s I used a 5-wood,” Woods said. “You see where this is going, right? So I’m shaping a 11-wood from about 120 out there when I get older.
“But I used a 1-iron pretty much my entire junior golf career. It was part of the game. I used a 1-iron a little bit into my early career on the Tour. But I think when I was 21 I pretty much was resolved to using a 2-iron instead of the 1-iron. I had to take the 1-iron out and put the 2-iron in. Now it’s either 2-iron is in or the 5-wood is in.”.
Steady advancement in golf ball and equipment technology have left the 1-iron behind with the dinosaurs, usurped by hybrids and beefed-up long irons. According to the Darrell Survey, a leading independent market-research company that records golf equipment usage of pro and amateur players and tallies the clubs used on the PGA Tour, only one player had a 1-iron in his bag for this season, and that was at one event. Last year only one player had a 1-iron in his bag for six events.
“It’s just a different world now,” said Paul Azinger, 1993 PGA Championship winner and ESPN analyst. “There’s no need for it. Guys make changes in lofts, as they always do at the U.S. Open, and you get close to a 1-iron loft, but there’s really no need for that club anymore.”.
Not when hybrids hit the ball higher, making it land softer. And hybrids cut through rough with far more ease than a 1-iron.
“If you get a real 2-iron in a set of golf clubs today, it’s the same loft as a 1-iron was 30 years ago,” two-time U.S. Open champion and ESPN analyst Andy North said. “But you won’t have players putting a club like that in their bag this week because they don’t need to. They can hit 3-iron off the tee and they can get 5-woods or utility clubs. It’s just having a golf club in your bag that you have confidence in that you can put it in the fairway.”.
And that won’t be the 1-iron.