This is part 2 of our fall fitting series, just in case you missed Part 1, check it out below:
Now to Part 2: Combo Sets
It wasn’t that long ago when having a uniform iron set was the only way to go. I say “kind of” because on TOUR and at your home track, there was the random set with a cavity back 1, 2, or 3-iron; when I was a kid, our club champion had a set of Mizuno blades with a Callaway Big Bertha 1-iron that he striped. It always looked funny in his bag, but at a young age, I understood the idea of optimizing your bag. The only rule here is you get 14 options; it’s up to you after that.
To follow in his footsteps, I built my first optimized set with my 2, 3, and 4-irons being Callaway X-12 and 5-PW were small cavity backs. The last full set I played before my current Apex ’21 was a set of Copper Ping Eye 2’s.
It wasn’t until the inception of the Utility iron that players started to dabble with a hybrid set, AKA combo set. Make no mistake that a lot of this was in response to the modern golf ball.
The older (wound, balata, for ex.) balls spun a lot more and were way easier to get in the air while being unruly in the wind and required some great skill to control. I guess there were Pinnacles, but….. let’s move on.
The idea was if players could have irons at the top of the set that launched high and landed softly in combination with mid and short irons that flew lower with a bit more maneuverability, the set offered the best of both worlds.
Now that the modern ball spins less at high speeds, the golf clubs were designed to build the spin deficiencies back into the shot with multi-material constructions and clever CG locations.
Basically, when the arrow changed, they had to tweak the bow to make it fly correctly. In other words, the bowstring is now made with vibranium and the bow something from another planet.
These days the options are plentiful, and there are ZERO reasons to dig out an iron set that gives you literally everything you require.
To simplify this, I’m going to limit this convo to our Apex offerings. YES, we can combo with the other products, but I’m writing an article, not a Harry Potter series. I’ll use myself (1 handicap) as the first model, my Uncle Rob (9 handicap), and one of my best friends Mark (14 handicap) as the models. I could make broad generalizations but let’s keep it specific.
I like to put Combo Sets into 3 buckets:
I’m just here for a good time: MARK
Better Player/Tour Combo: ME
I’m good but ill take the help: UNCLE ROB
I’m just here for a good time AKA MARK:
Mark is a 45-year-old, 14 handicap (been playing 3 years) that plays 1-2 times a week. His challenges are distance, launch and spin. He does chip and putt fairly well but ultimately it’s the long stuff that keeps his scores up. He actually doesn’t make a lot of big numbers but at the same time doesn’t really make a ton of pars or birdies. He plays the majority of his golf at Rainier Golf and CC in Seattle where ball striking is at a premium….along with everything else I guess. This track is nasty.
So let’s look at this from a Micro-Level, how do we get my buddy closer to the green quicker, and if he has a look at hitting it in regulation, how do we build a set that will get him the launch he needs to have a chance to hold the green and carry a bunker or two.
If I had to build Mark a set this is what it would look like:
Driver: Epic Max (12)
4-wood: Epic Speed (16.5)
7-Wood: Epic Max HeavanWood (20)
9-wood: Epic Max (23)
Hybrid #1: Epic Super Hybrid 5H (25)
Hybrid #2: Epic Super Hybrid 6H (27)
Irons: 7-AW Apex DCB
SW: Jaws MD5 56W High Bounce
Chipper: Odyssey X-Act Chipper
This setup gives him EVERYTHING he needs to navigate his home track. We have launch, spin (CSX), and a simple yet practical approach around the greens with the High Bounce W and the Chipper. Compared to the set he has now, which is mildly similar, this new one addresses every shot he will face, and we now have some nuance built into it. It’s ok to build a set to fit one course, especially newer players who tend to play the same track day in and day out. Notice I didn’t push for any great distance gains here; getting the ball up is far more important than picking up 15 yards. Mark isn’t a big guy but has a big career; his speed engine only goes 45 MPH with little time to make it go faster; I’m not gonna try and make it go 60. All he wants to do is shoot Par one day, and it’s possible under his current rhythm if his setup helps him.
The CSX, as opposed is the key to holding this together; at Marks ball speed, he is a perfect Chrome Soft player, BUT with his short game, I’d rather build more control in there and give him some spin relief on the longer shots, he already hits it straight enough.
I’m good but ill take the help AKA UNCLE ROB
My Uncle Rob is a 67-year-old former Club Champion. At the peak of his powers, he played to a consistent 1 that traveled everywhere. At 6’7 and having the tremendous athletic ability (Former NAIA All-American Basketball Player at George Fox), he still STRUGGLES with many things that higher handicappers do. He has the ball speed to hit any Sub 500yd Par 5 and CAN BE a fairly efficient long to mid-iron player. HOWEVER, he actually needs more forgiveness than maybe even my father. I’m not saying he needs the same set-up; it’s all relative, but with more launch and forgiveness, that 9 HDCP he plays to now could easily be a 2 or a 3. His equipment doesn’t help him at all. He’s playing a set that a scratch player might play. Cavity back irons Driver, 3-wood, 5-wood 4-PW, and a 52/56/60.
This is how I’d structure his new bag:
Driver: Epic Speed (10.5)
3-Wood: Epic Speed (15)
5-wood: Epic Speed (18)
Hybrid: Epic Super Hybrid 4H (21)
5-7: Apex DCB
8-AW: Apex ’21
SW/LW: Jaws MD5 (56HBW, 60HBW)
Ball: Chrome Soft
Rob is a mid-spin high ball hitter with anything l shorter than an 8-iron. Lower than that, he tends to hit these mid-flight fastballs that roll out quite a bit, but on off days, the lack of ball stability and launch gets him in trouble. The top of his new bag gives him plenty of forgiveness and launch to remedy a player that is destroyed by his mis-hits; he’s just fast enough to be dangerous and just short enough to be dangerous. What that means is he can get it out there plenty, but he doesn’t hit the ball well or hard enough to get away with it if he misses a little.
More forgiveness and launch create a completely new reality for him. I put him in Chrome Soft instead of CSX because he spins it just enough and can mitigate the rest by hitting it higher. Like my Dad, he plays Indian Ridge 3-4 times a week, so I’m thinking of his trouble areas at Indian Ridge.
I went with Epic Speed in the driver as opposed to Epic Max based on trying to give Rob a bit more room for ball speed off the tee. He’s already long enough but I think this head, with his flight, will add a 10-15yds. He’s is a Driver that’s about 6 years old at the moment.
The Epic Super Hybrid gives him a perfect 195-210 option, and DCB 5-7 makes what he does well already almost mindless. The rest of the set is built to point and shoot. This whole bag is curated to hit fairways but, yes, but most importantly, GREENS. He’s an 8-10 pars per round player mixed in with maybe a birdie or two, and the rest are a complete crapshoot. He doesn’t lose shots off the tee; he loses them from the fairway and around the greens. This new bag protects him on all fronts. His short game is not great, but we are building bags here, not giving lessons.
Better Player/Tour Combo AKA ME
My golf clubs have been well documented on this site, but I will share more about WHY my bag is set up the way it is in a moment.
In my opinion, the gold standard of combo sets is what Phil does; the whole setup is based on a strategy full of risk, insurance, and optimization. He’s willing to front-load his bag up top with the juiced-up driver and cycles his launch from high bombs to low-flighted darts. At the top of his iron set, he goes for UT irons simply for launch, he only wants to hit those straight up in the air, and from 6-PW, he wants total control. And we all know what he can do with a wedge. The point is, Phils set up is measured, very measured. I’d almost call it a kind of MONEYBALL situation.
Its a strategy we can all take something away from. If you are a player that will risk some dispersion for distance, what will you do to circumvent that as the bag goes on? If you want efficient like say a Jon Rahm who takes ZERO risks in his bag, what clubs need to go to make that so?
All good questions that all the players on TOUR ask themselves and so should you.
Now to my bag
Driver: Epic Speed 💎💎💎 (8.5)
3-wood: Epic Speed 💎💎💎 (14.5)
Utility: Apex UW (18.5)
Irons: Apex ’21 (Bent 2 degrees weak)
Wedges: Jaws MD5 50/10S, Jaws Full Toe 54/60
I would break my game down like this and it must be said that I’m basing it off of the times I play regularly which these days doesn’t happen much at home but I do play quite a bit when I travel. So I’ll call myself a 35-40 Rounds per year type player.
Strengths: Putter, Short Game, Short Iron Player, Driver
Weakness: Long Irons (4), Mid Irons (5-6)
I used combo sets for years to great success. Having a bag that beefy up top and clinical down low played right into my hands. HOWEVER, as years went on and I realized I was spin-challenged, I had to take a hard look at how I would calm the waters a bit. For me, it’s Iron play that kills (used to) me. When it was good, it was phenomenal, but when it was bad, it was God awful. So the decision was made to play with a clean set of forgiving cavity backs (Apex ’21 Wunder Spec), add some loft, and play with a spinner ball. Is it a combo set like the title sells? NO. But the point to all this is building a bag that enhances our strengths and reduces our shortcomings. My whole bag now is built around spin, forgiveness, and ball speed in the right places. I want ball speed on thin shots; that’s my miss, center thin. I can’t get that with Apex MB’s or even TCB. I do get it across the set with Apex ’21. Just that new feature alone took my handicap from the highest it’s been in 25 years (4) back down to a 0-1 where I used to be. GIR’s went from 9.5 per round to 12!! That’s nuts. I needed help, and I found it—what a concept.
What did we learn?
Getting fit is so important if you want to optimize performance, but the truth is a lot of the work is on your ability to evaluate your own game truly. YOU HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION to where you are losing shots. It’s easy to say my shortage sucks or my driver doesn’t work. How about understanding what good driving looks like for you? How about evaluating exactly where you fail around the greens and how severe of a situation you are putting yourself in. If the misses get better, the scores get better. FACT. Build the big miss out of your bag and when disaster happens, have some new tools to help you get back in the game. It might sound not very easy, but it’s not. Get honest, evaluate from multiple levels to find the root of the problems, and when you actually do get to a fitter, I guarantee you will end up with the right set-up.
UP NEXT: Part 3 SNOWBIRD SEASON
Next week we will tackle the Snowbirds of the world and no I didn’t forget my Old Man in this. I’m talking to the players in Palm Desert, Scottsdale, Florida, and Vegas. Your season starts in the next two weeks and I got something for the big guy.