There might not be a shot that says “player” more than a low, boring 2-iron laced off the tee with driver-like rollout. Who among us hasn’t dreamed of ripping one of Tiger Woods’ low-slung “stingers” on command? Well, modern technology might be bringing this shot to more players.
The latest utility irons have thinner and hotter faces attached to hollow bodies that are weighted low for launching the ball higher. These clubs can even make a case for replacing the hybrids in your bag – at least for golfers with above-average swing speeds. For sure, there’s no reason for anyone except the most elite players to carry a traditional 2-, 3- or 4-iron. If you have one, and it’s not being used to stir the logs in the fireplace or to deter intruders as your last line of in-home security, it’s useless. For many average golfers, hybrids have taken their place. But utility irons are now a viable option.
1. WILSON STAFF MODEL
The hollow head features a seven-gram weight in the sole to lower the centre of gravity. The thin face insert is made of a high-strength carbon steel. 18°, 21°, 24°
2. TITLEIST U510
This low-profile utility is aimed at average golfers. The key is an L-shape, thin, steel-alloy face and 95 grams of tungsten for a higher launch. 16°, 18°, 20°, 22°
3. PING G410 CROSSOVER
A lighter, maraging-steel face insert and a 30-gram tungsten chip in the toe provide forgiveness in a more traditional – but hollow – shape. 17°, 20°, 23°
4. TOUR EDGE EXOTICS EXS 220 TI-UTILITY
Thin beta titanium wraps around the sole in an L shape to add flex and save weight, allowing for a compact look. 17°, 19°, 22°, 25°
5. TAYLORMADE P790 UDI
The forged-steel face wraps around the sole, which uses a slot for extra flex. A tungsten bar low in the foam-filled hollow body maximises launch. 17°
6. SRIXON Z U85
Designed to fit in seamlessly with the company’s iron lineup, this hollow-body entry features a high-strength steel face joined to a forged steel body. 18°, 20°, 23°, 26°, 29°
7. NEW GROUND LONG IRON
The knuckled sole design is meant to move the head more easily through the turf on fat shots, and the longer hosel encourages a draw bias. 16°, 19°, 22°
These modern driving irons depart from the long irons of yore thanks to new high-strength steel and beta-titanium faces that flex like drivers, not only increasing ball speed, but reducing spin and improving launch.
“You’re getting the launch that hasn’t been possible before,” says Marni Ines, Titleist’s director of product development for irons. These faces also are lighter, freeing up mass to reposition to the perimeter for forgiveness. “It’s really a unique product.”
In testing with Club Champion, America’s national clubfitting chain, hybrids and utility irons flew higher and carried farther than a standard 4-iron. Plus, the utility iron launched an average of 2 degrees higher than the iron.
“The 4-utility seems to be the straightest no matter how you look at it,” says Nick Sherburne, co-founder of Club Champion. “The hybrid launched the highest.”
“A great way to practice a stinger is hitting shots off a downhill lie.”
However, for the highest handicappers in the test (15 and above), utility irons actually carried shorter than the standard 4-iron. Utility irons therefore seem best for players with faster swing speeds who make centreface contact. Also, because of the natural draw bias of hybrids, utility irons might work better if you’re fighting a hook – a tendency of better players. But if your miss is a fat shot, the hybrid’s wide sole could help.
In the end, you have to consider whether you prefer a potentially straighter tee shot with a utility iron or the forgiveness and higher launch of a hybrid – and whether you have the swing speed to hit that “stinger.”
SWING LOW TO KEEP IT LOW
The beauty of the stinger is that it’s reliable, says Golf Digest Teaching Professional Josh Zander. “It’s not going to move left or right all that much,” he says. The keys? Play the ball in the middle of your stance, no farther forward, and set up slightly open to your target (aligned left for righthanders). “The open stance counteracts the ball position because your swing path is more to the right,” Zander says. Then abbreviate your swing on both sides of the ball. “Visualise swinging under a tree limb or a low ceiling,” he says. “Finally, hit down on the ball with the shaft leaning towards the target through impact. A great way to practise a stinger is hitting shots off a downhill lie.” —RON KASPRISKE
SHOULD YOU STING IT?
A robot test of the stinger shot with an 18-degree utility iron at four swing speeds reveals this isn’t the shot for you unless you can swing it 100 miles per hour. The slowest swings tested lost about 15 yards at the steeper, stinger-like attack angle of minus 8 degrees versus the conventional, shallower attack angle of minus 2 degrees.