length_pic1Think you know your toe show?

Avid golfers and professional club fitters love to try different clubs to find that magic combination to help lower the score. Let’s say you have two different #5-irons that you or your customer is evaluating. Both have the exact same length, lie, loft, and shaft, flex (frequency), swingweight, grip and grip size. On paper these two clubs should be identical, correct? But you hit one better than the other and can’t understand why. We wanted to investigate and show you the reason you may not have even considered why these two clubs may not be the same.

You have a ball resting on the ground. You grab your #5-iron and start to address the ball by setting the club head behind the ball. You stand far enough away from the ball that your arms feel comfortable, and then you alter your hand height. Chances are you are using the center of the sandblasted area of the face where the score lines reside as your focal point. At this moment your only intent is to hit the back of the ball with the front of the face toward a target.

length_pic2How Length is Measured
How far we stand behind the ball or how high our hands are positioned is directly related to the length and the lie of the club. Let’s go back and revisit how the length of the club is measured. The method most used involves placing the club in the playing position with the center of the sole touching the ground. Then a 48” ruler is placed along the backside of the club with the correct lie angle with the tip of the ruler touching the ground by the club’s heel. The final length is measured at the edge of the grip cap. This method is used in all cases except putters that the shaft is not located at the heel.

However, what is wrong with this picture? Think for a second what we are attempting to do. We want to hit the back of the ball in the center of the face. The length of the club, as shown, would be fine and dandy if the goal was to hit ball with the bottom of the hosel. On an iron, we have a sandblasted area where the score lines are present. This helps us to frame the ball and it provides us with aiming point. Therefore we have to factor in this additional 1.8” (approx.) in how far we stand from the ball.

length_pic3Blade Length
As previously mentioned, we have two clubs with identical specifications, except for one thing I did not add; one of the clubs has a longer blade length than the other. If you look closely at the diagram on the left, you will see two club head profiles superimposed over one another. The club head outlined in black has the shorter blade length of the two. The one in red is the longer.

The longer the blade length, normally the wider the sandblasted area or score lines area. Thus two clubs with the same length and lie, the focal point (CL) will now be further away from the golfer.

If a professional took the same swing with these two clubs, but blindfolded so they couldn’t make the visual adjustments, they would hit the club with the longer blade length more in the heel of the club relative to the center of the sandblasted score line area. While you might not think this is very much, it could be off slightly over 0.4” using a club with a very long blade length to the very same numbered iron or even hybrid that has a much shorter blade length. That even includes that the length and the lie of the two clubs are exactly the same!

length_pic4How it Affects Impact
The iron on the top pictured to the left is one with an elongated blade length set into a specification gauge. The red vertical is the center of the sandblasted score line area and the circle is representative of the ball.

A hybrid club with the same lie angle is positioned in the specification gauge (as shown below). This hybrid has a shorter blade length. Now look at the same position from above of the red vertical line and outline of the ball. With the same set up, a golfer would consistently hit the ball out near the toe relative to the center of the face (depicted by the blue outline of the ball). Effectively the golfer is hitting the ball with a shorter club even though the assembled length is the same.

Also don’t always assume the center of the sandblasted score line area is the best place to hit the ball because it doesn’t always coincide with the center of gravity (CG). But it is helpful if the manufacturer can provide the proper aiming point at which is optimal to hit the ball. Realize the further away impact occurs relative to the CG, the result will be less distance as well as diminished feel at impact.

Self Check
One way to check to see why you might hit one club better than the other with all things equal is to look at where impact is made on the face of the club. You can use impact decals or just look at where the grass stains or wear pattern occurs on the club face. Let’s say your impact is made toward the heel of the club. Aside from standing further away from the ball, this can be corrected by making the lie of the club more upright. This effectively reduces the distance you stand from the ball and makes your swing plane more upright. The further out the sandblasted score line area effectively flatten out the swing plane will be possibly causing miss-direction.

If you find yourself hitting in the heel, then either try gripping down ¼ – ½” on the grip to see if that might help you more consistently hit the center of the face on. Custom fitting / repair shop may be able to alter your length or adjust the lie properly. So it should come at no surprise to see game-improvement irons that have elongated blade lengths to be more upright than the traditionally shorter blade length player’s irons when you look at the specifications. Don’t assume that if you use a 38” #5-iron with a 61º lie, your next #5-iron needs to be exactly the same length and lie to obtain the same results; it is only a starting point.

length_pic5Toe Show
There is also one more consideration that you may not have even though of and that is called the “toe show”. The toe show is simply the area out on the toe of the face of the club that is devoid of score lines or decorative sandblasting.

This is depicted by the red area in the diagram. If the toe show is reduced, then the center of the sandblasted score line area is position further away from the golfer, the same affect as if the blade length increased. While the blade length of these two clubs are the same, the golfer would likely set up behind the ball differently because of the position the manufacturer located this area.

However it is more commonly that a manufacturer may increase the toe show or effectively shift of the sandblasted score line area to the heel. This can made an iron with a longer blade length appear a little shorter than what it might be or help frame the sandblasted score line area closer to where the center of gravity should be. It is something you cannot be fit for or altered, but you might wonder why on one iron or wedge the toe show might be as little as 0.6” to as much as 0.8”.

I’ll end on this thought, there was one time I was testing a particular iron. No matter how many different shafts I tried it never did quite feel solid. The ball flight would show it as well with the ball more prone to fade pattern. Even after making the lie more upright helped a little, but not like I expected.

Finally it dawned on me to align the ball at address closer to the toe in order to get the solid feel at impact and the ball flying straight. To make a conscious effort to do this each and every time requires practice, something the average golfer doesn’t have the luxury of. You may find that you will have certain preferences when it comes to club head style. I came to the realization that I don’t fare well with clubs with a long blade length without some additional alterations.

If you have been playing a long time with a game improvement set with an elongated blade length to a more traditional iron with a relatively short blade length, you may have to retrain yourself on how far you stand from the ball in order to have the same success. Just remember to watch where the impact marks are on the face of the club.

10 Comments on The True Length of a Golf Club: Factoring in Blade Length and Toe Show

  1. Dennis says:

    Wow, I once questioned the way we measured the length of a club. I too found it disturbing that no matter how much loft/lie adjusts and it still hit the same not near the centre of tje club. So I began adding a 1/2″ to my clubs and it really made that difference. Thanks for verifying what I was doing.

  2. Jeff writes, “Finally it dawned on me to align the ball at address closer to the toe in order to get the solid feel at impact and the ball flying straight. To make a conscious effort to do this each and every time requires practice, something the average golfer doesn’t have the luxury of.”

    John Ford of The Golf Institute in Naples FL recognized this and came up with a way to deal with it years ago.

    Look at Patent #6,729,967. It shows the way he builds his custom-fit clubheads. They have a series of depressions on the topline of the irons and just above the face on the woods. John’s final fitting for the clubs includes face impact tests. Depending on where you strike the ball, John fills in one of those indentations with paint, giving a dot where you should set up to the ball so impact occurs at the center of the face.

    It really works.

  3. John S says:

    Great info. On the one set of irons I have built, I noticed the static CG was 3/16″ closer to the hosel than the centerline for each head before assembly. Does the effective CG of the assembled club shift significantly from the static CG of the head? Would a static test to determine the horizontal CG location have value, such as the balance point on the face with the shaft horizontal and supported on the butt end of the grip?

    The bottom line for me is that I’m coming back to golf after 12 years away, and the 3/16″ is the least of my problems, but I still want to “groove my setup”, ‘cuz that’s where it all starts.

  4. frank guglielmi says:

    Interesting philosophy but, if indeed, you should be aligning the ball with the toe of the club in order to make contact with the ball at the center of the sandblasted area then if you align the ball in the center of the sanblasted area wouldn’t you hit it off the heel of the club?

  5. Richard Berger says:

    Good (or experienced) players know that each club in the bag is slightly different and requires some adjustment anyway. The so-called mythical “perfect repeating swing” is just that…a myth. Turf conditions, uneven lies, everything about an actual golf course requires that you know your clubs well enough to hit them under many different types of conditions. Sometimes the adjustment requires concious thought, sometimes it’s automatic…but to expect to play golf like you were hitting off a mat at a range will surely lead to frustration.

  6. Jim Benjamin says:

    The fellow I’ve been working with on my swing has me address the ball in the heel with my driver because now that I’m making a better swing my downswing is inside my address dynamics and I was hitting the ball off the toe of my driver and many times skying the shot real short. I notice I hit a lot of my irons off the toe too and they don’t feel as solid. Time to get out the face tape I guess. The article is very enlightening.

  7. Matt L. says:

    I’ve always had trouble measuring both irons and woods because the heads I replaced were quite different from the new ones. This shed a lot of light on the subject.

    As for lining up towards the toe, I’ve made an observation that has changed how far I stand from the ball – At 6’5″, when I look down at the ball and line up to the center of the face, I realized that the angle of my perspective distorted where the ball actually was. When it looks like it’s dead center, it’s actually towards the heel. I’ve started lining up like the ball is more towards the toe. If I then prop up the club at the same lie and look straight down on the ball, the ball is dead center. I’ve never heard anyone address that issue in any printed lesson I’ve seen.

  8. Gene W. says:

    Hi Jeff: I too found hitting long irons easier by lining up on the club face with the correct length, distance, from the ball. Too make this procedure easier, I teach my students to address the ball in the middle of the clubface.. next, slowly lift straight up on the club up about 1 1/2″ inchs,above the ball, you will see that the impact zone is now closer to the heel of the club, whince, you address the same club from the same position at address on the toe, you will see when you lift it straight up, the same height, the club is now near the center of the club face every time.

    This technique is truly remarkable, especially with metal woods,hybirds, and the use of impact tape will help with exercise. Remember the backswing is a mirror of the down swing.

  9. David Wilson says:

    I’m 71 years old with macular degeneration in my right eye. I can’t hit irons very well unless I have very long blades. I have an old set of Big Head irons made by ‘Head’ but they don’t make them anymore. I need to move to graphite shafts and was wondering if anyone knows who makes the longest blade there is, clone or not. I would appreciate any help I can get on this.

  10. Jeff Summitt says:

    David:

    If you can hit irons well, have you thought about high lofted fairway woods or an unconventional set up like our Acer XDS Wide Sole hybrid? The lack of offset provides for a larger effective hitting area from heel to toe.

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