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July 19, 2017

Golf clubs, ranked

Phil Mickelson is going to try to win the British Open without using a driver. Like, at all.

And while that may sound strange on the surface, there’s sound logic behind the 47-year-old’s seemingly odd decision, given the tight, short layout of Royal Birkdale, host of the 146th Open Championship.

There’s also a little bit of a precedent to employing this strategy at Birkdale, albeit not quite to the same extreme to which Lefty plans on taking it.

When Johnny Miller won here in 1976 he used 1-iron off 12 of the 14 non-par 3s. And earlier this week, Rory McIlroy -- arguably the best driver in today's game -- said he doesn't plan to hit his best club until the 13th hole of each round.

But it looks like Phil Mickelson will take that conservative strategy to the next level. The five-time major champ doesn't think he'll hit any drivers all week. And he certainly won't be able to if he sticks to this plan.  []

Heck, this isn’t even the first time Mickelson has played a major without a driver in his bag. 

Remember when he introduced a completely new club at the 2013 Masters? It was dubbed the “Phrankenwood” due to the fact that it was mad-scientist-like creation that was part old-school driver, part rescue club, and part driving iron. It also sounds a lot like that “hot three wood” mentioned in the above tweet, so perhaps we’re going to get “Phrankenwood 2.0” this weekend.

Unfortunately for Mickelson, it didn't work out too well last time he employed this strategy at Augusta; he finished nine-over par and tied for 54th that year. 

Compare that to seven years earlier, when he won the 2006 Masters with not one, but two drivers in his bag – one to draw the ball the other to fade it – which is two more than he’s going to have when he tees off on Thursday.

And that got me thinking … What are the most important clubs in one’s golf bag? 

If we started removing them one at a time, and you were only allowed to play with clubs that remain, what would be the first to go? If you had to play a round using just seven of them (about half of what’s allowed by USGA rules), could you manage? What about if it was a three-club limit? Could you do it with one? 

Perhaps, most importantly, what would be that last club standing? 

These may sound like subjective questions, and to a certain extent, that’s true. Because every golfer is different – different swings and skill levels, varying degrees of comfort with each club and shot type (plus the fact that not everyone chooses to carry the same 15 clubs) – the first few clubs to go are more a matter of personal preference. 

But when it comes to the last club standing, it’s not. There’s a right answer. And it’s actually fairly obvious.

We'll get there eventually, but first, here's a look at what I keep in my bag (again, this may be slightly different from you, and that's fine) listed in the order of how far I hit them:

• 8.5° Driver
• 3 Wood
• Rescue (18°)
• Hybrid (21°)
• 4-9 Irons
• 48° Wedge
• 52° Wedge
• 56° Wedge
• 60° Wedge
• Putter

And now, here they are ranked from least to most important (read: useful):


These would be the first to go, and in all honesty, I'd barely miss them if they suddenly disappeared off the face of the earth. Come to think of it, I may have left my 56-degree wedge next to a green like five years ago and just haven't realized it yet.

6-IRON: Someone had to be first. I've got plenty of other clubs that can do what you do.

56° WEDGE: Not as lofted as my lob wedge, but not the club for a bump-and-run either. What purpose do you actually serve?

4-IRON: It's unfortunate his number had to come up so early because the 4-iron is a very useful club. You can hit it off the tee instead of your driver and still be able to reach many greens in two – I know firsthand because for years I couldn't hit a driver to save my life – or use it to punch out of a tough spot – again, I need you to trust my experience here. So why is it gone so soon? It's a combination of two things, but we'll get to that in a bit.

DRIVER: Easily the most overrated club in an amateur golfer's bag, the driver is difficult for even the best players in the world to control. Plus, if the object is to narrow this down to as few clubs as possible, it makes sense to ditch this one pretty early. You can, at most, use it about 14 times in a round. And in a large majority of those cases, it won't actually hurt you all that much if you drop down to a 3 wood.


These were a little tougher to take out, as I use all of them quite a bit.

PITCHING WEDGE: This can be a very useful club, but the only problem is I still have three wedges and a 9-iron in my bag. I'm going to split the difference and take this one out, leaving me with 52- and 60-degree wedges and still my nine iron.

RESCUE CLUB: I hit this further than any of my irons, but I still have two other clubs that do that. This is a really versatile club, but golfers played for years before rescue clubs were invented and they seemed to be doing just fine. 

8-IRON: Like the pitching wedge above, this is now a numbers game for my irons. I still have my 7-, 8- and 9-iron. Sorry, but I'm splitting the difference again. 

60° WEDGE: It's a nice club to have when you don't have much green to work with or need to chip over a bunker. But it's more of a luxury than anything else. My dad can't hit a lob wedge to save his life and still beats me every time we play.

HYBRID: Remember when I said there was a reason the 4-iron was taken out so quickly? This club goes that far, just with more loft.

9-IRON: I still have my 7, 9, and pitching wedge. I need the latter for chipping, the former for some distance out of the fairway or rough. And while the 9 can do a little of both, it just doesn't fit into the equation going forward. This was a tough call, but we've narrowed it down to five.


With the five clubs remaining, I think I could post a pretty decent score. Then again, I think that every time I go out and play.

5-IRON: I could easily swap this and the 4-iron and it wouldn't make a ton of difference once you get down to just five clubs in your bag, which is where we are now. The reason I went with my five? It's what I used for my first hole-in-one. You never forget your first (or your only).

52° WEDGE: We've arrived at the final four, and there's one club left for each of the four main shot types: tee shot, approach shot, chip, and putt. Unfortunately, chipping has to be the first to go. From the fringe or just off the green, you can try bumping something with a wood or opening the face on your only remaining iron. There are ways to work around this, but given the remaining choices, this is the obvious candidate to be left out.

3 WOOD: Taking this out is going to make getting off the tee a struggle, but that's OK. It's time. The reason it lasted this long is because it's much more versatile than the driver (you can actually hit it off the fairway) while remaining long enough to allow yourself to reach some greens in two. That's going to be a problem from here on out, but there's nothing wrong with laying up.

PUTTER: You might think this can be taken out long before now given that, like the driver, it only serves one purpose. But what other one club is your bag is going to take more strokes off your score? If you don't believe me, just consider how many times you putt in a round (typically around 30-35 for an amateur golfer). If you shoot 100, that means a third of your shots were actually putts. Drive for show, putt for dough, as they say.


7-IRON: This is the perfect club and one that feels most comfortable in an average golfer's hands. It's got a nice loft, but not too much. It's the one.

You can get enough distance to use it off the tee and still reach short Par 4s in two. When you get around the green, it can be used to chip (although that's easier said than done). And once you get on the green, you can use the blade to putt. Sure, it's probably not the best club for any one of those shots, but it's the only club in your bag that can come close to so many. 

Your putter? One purpose. A wood? Useless inside 100-150 yards. Your low irons? Good luck chipping or hitting approach shots. High irons and wedges? Sure, if you want to spend five shots getting it on the green.

Like I said, there's only one right answer here. Don't @ me.


[Wednesday, 4 p.m.] - Even though I said not to bother me on Twitter, I got quite a few replies. The best – and not just because he further solidified my argument – came from @brandonpliskin:

 I'm embarrassed. How the hell did I write this story without even mentioning Roy McAvoy?

[Spoiler: He goes on to shoot even par on the back with just his 7-iron.]

That's basically my entire story summarized in two minutes by Kevin Costner and Cheech. And it's hardly the only 7-iron scene in the movie.

I'll show myself out now.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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