Hint: For Some Arccos Players, there’s another “three” that could set them free
In a 2019 article, entitled “Why Your 3-Iron Should be Fired,” a panel of Golf Digest equipment writers declared “the 3-iron is dead” and compared it (unflatteringly) to a flip phone.
And let’s be honest, from the outside looking in, they’re right.
First, it's just a darn hard club to hit. So hard that only 20 percent of PGA Tour players carry 3-irons that aren’t “utility” irons. And on the LPGA, 3-irons aren’t just dead, they’re extinct.
Second, as economists would point out, there’s a superior “substitute good,” the 3-hybrid. These bastions of modern club design are not only easier to hit but also longer due to the additional carry they can provide.
But is there a case to be made for the 3-iron sticking around in the bags of avid recreational and amateur golfers for a while longer?
We combed through the Arccos data set of more than 300 million shots recorded over 5 million rounds in order to unearth a few interesting performance trends.
Here are three takeaways when it comes to the “family of threes.”
The 3-Iron is Not Dead Yet
Arccos players with zero to five handicaps still perform at a high level with their 3-irons, and even hit the ball slightly further with them than with their 3-hybrids.
For example, scratch golfers (zero handicaps) average 198 yards with their 3-iron and 193 yards with their 3-hybrid.
For five handicaps, it’s 185 versus 183. Once you get to 10-handicap Arccos players, you’d think the pendulum would swing toward the 3-hybrid, right?
Not so fast.
In fact, it doesn’t swing at all. “Tens” hit their 3-irons 179 yards and their 3-hybrids 176 yards. It’s not until we reach the 17-handicap that the script is flipped.
And even then, it’s nominal, with 17s averaging 166 yards with their 3-irons and 167 with their 3-hybrids.
So what gives?
An informal survey of Arccos Ambassadors, the most plausible explanation is that a ball struck with a 3-iron will have more roll-out due to its lower spin rate.
Cognitive Bias is Real
The vast majority of golfers do not hit their clubs nearly as long as they think they do. The old saying, “he’s a legend in his own mind,” exists for a reason.
That reason is cognitive bias, and it’s on full display around club selection when it comes to both 3-irons and 3-hybrids.
Arccos players with zero to five handicaps will opt for their 3-hybrids when facing shots between 226 and 230 yards. They’ll select 3-irons on shots from 200 to 230 yards.
How well do they actually execute these shots, on average? Their 3-hybrid shots measure between 183 and 193 yards, and 3-iron shots between 185 and 198 yards.
In other words, even the best Arccos players come up short on shots hit with either club!
This disparity becomes daunting with higher handicap players. Arccos players with 20-handicaps (bogey golfers as defined by the USGA) select 3-irons on 213-yard shots but only end up hitting it 162 yards. For 3-hybrid, it’s 220 and 163 yards, respectively.
The 3-Wood Might be the Proper Play
Granted, a 3-wood isn’t as easy to hit as a 3-hybrid. But based on the data, it’s a viable contender for certain Arccos players on shots they’d normally consider using either a 3-hybrid or a 3-iron.
Zero to five handicap Arccos players average 197-210 yards with their 3-woods.
However, they typically pull 3-irons and 3-hybrids when facing shots of 220-230 yards. With a 3-wood, they could decrease the disparity between how far they think they hit the ball, and how far they actually hit it, by 10 to 15 yards.
Six to 10 handicap Arccos players average 187-194 yards with their 3-woods, yet they select 3-irons and 3-hybrids on shots from 218 yards all the way up to 234 yards. They, too, could close the “cognitive gap” by 12 to 18 yards with a 3-wood.
For higher handicap Arccos players in the 20 to 25 range, the extra distance provided by the 3-wood’s loft, lie and shaft length is negligible (five to seven yards) over the 3-iron and 3-hybrid.
And with the 3-hybrid being a much easier club to get airborne off the fairway, and it’s dispersion being lower, it’s the smart play for bogey golfers.