Also, if you wanna dive in, here is the full 25min discussion of Jaacob and Tom, presenting Sterling Irons (R), how it all started, what went into it, the benefits of using them, and much more:
Jaacob Bowden: Hi, my name is Jaacob Bowden, I’m here with my friend Tom Wishon. We are the co-creators of the sterling irons single-line irons, and we are here today to tell you a little bit about ourselves, maybe the history of single-line irons, how we came together on this project, and then talk to you a little bit about the features and benefits, and why we feel these are really a great set of irons.
So, to start, why don’t we just tell us – let’s talk about ourselves a little bit.
Tom Wishon: Happy to. I’m Tom Wishon, I’m a longtime veteran, 35 years in clubhead design, 25 years in shaft design, 25 years in club fitting research technology. I’ve written 10 books in the field of golf equipment performance and club fitting research technology, hundreds and hundreds of articles to try to educate golfers about the truths about their equipment because as you well know, the marketing of golf clubs includes a lot of embellishment and a lot of promises, and that’s always been something for me in my career that I’ve been very, very adamant about trying to make sure the people knew the truth about equipment so that they can make the best buying decisions for their game.
Jaacob: What did you know about single life irons?
Tom: Well, it’s kind of interesting. I’ve always had a lot of interest in the history of golf equipment, and I’m an avid collector of old golf clubs, old golf books, and all of that sort of thing. So, I first became aware of it. I know it was around in the 1970s. There does exist a patent which of course, has been expired for the invention of golf clubs made to one length. My first experience with single lengths was back in the 1980s when I was working for a company and one of my jobs was to teach schools that taught people how to build custom golf clubs, and there was a Canadian physicist by the name of Eric Cook who came down and was in one of my club making schools, and in talking to him, I found out that his goal to learn all about lovemaking was because he wanted to create a company that sold sets of irons that were all made to one length, and he did do that; his company was called Iso-Vibe Canada. This was in the middle 1980s. Of course, it was a very small company with very little marketing, so it didn’t do much. Over the years though, there have always been companies that have count on the idea of making sense of irons to one common length. I mean, obviously, the reason, the logic behind single length iron technology is the fact that when you make every iron in a set exactly the same way, what you end up with is that every possible element that can control the swing feel of the golf club is identical, and so we are talking about not just the links being the same, but the same shaft flex, the same shaft way, the same total weight of the golf club, the same swing weight or head weight, the same balance point of all of the golf clubs, the same moment of inertia of all golf clubs. Everything that controls what you feel in the rhythm and of the timing, and the tempo of your swing is identical in a single length set, and then of course, there is the benefit in your area in playing the game of set up. Tell us a little bit about how single length can improve your shot consistency by how you set up to the ball and swing .
Jaacob: Well, as you can see, Tom knows his stuff about golf clubs, and how I found out about the concept originally was when I was 27, I was a 14 handicap golfer, so just an average golfer, and I made a decision to quit my engineering job and pursue a golf career. So, I quit my job, and then I just did nothing but play golf for a year to try and cover that ground, and I was always the type of person that I was willing to try things outside the box and I also felt like I needed to find advantages over other golfers to be able to cover the amount of grounder that I needed to with such a late start in golf. So, in my research and studying of the game and how to get better, of course, when you start looking for advantages with equipment, you come across Tom’s name because of all his books, and I remember how I originally first came into contact with you, I was reading one of your books to help educate myself on golf club performance, and I had a question about what was written in one of your books, so I just sent an email to your website, just assuming that some random person would respond, and then lo and behold, I get a response from Tom himself and I was just over the moon excited, and then it started – this was back in 2006, I believe, so it started a back and forth and the beginning of a friendship, but right around that time as well, I came across a company that was making single length irons and I was like, hmm, this kind of makes sense. They are all the same length, all the same head weight, all the same MOI, all the same swing weight, this could help me in my goal of going from an average Joe golfer to hopefully, a tour player, and so I ordered myself a set and four months after I bought a set, I shot my first tournament round, professional tournament round, in the 60s, and so I was completely sold on the concept like, man, this is great, my iron plate has never been better! And, this was in 2007, and so over the next couple years, I just continue to get better and better with my iron play and I got my handicap all the way down to a +5.8. It was at my home course and not every course, it was the time of my life when I was practicing the most too, so certainly, practicing a lot was helping, but I felt like the single length irons had given me the advantage as well, and I remember, there was a period where there was a one month. It where it was probably the best I’ve ever played and I had a 64 which was [0:07:09] around the courses, couple of 65’s, and most of my rounds were between 67 and 69, and I felt like if I broke 70, it was a terrible day so it was such a great feeling, and so I was looking to get out and play more tour events. I played, oh, about 30 or so tour of events and I made a few [0:07:30] on various tours around the world, but this was also at the time when it was difficult – I found it difficult to get sponsorship money because it was right after the financial crisis, and in 2010, the USDA made to the groove rule change, so as soon as they made that groove rule change, all of a sudden, I could no longer play the single length irons that were available at the time. So, I asked them, oh, can you update the grooves, and also, I would like to make these couple changes that I feel like would help them perform better, and for whatever reason, they just didn’t want to do it. So, I was like, man, I still really want to play single length irons, like how can I do that? So, the first time I came to you, you weren’t interested in the project, and so I was like, oh, man, and I’d gone to Tom because he’s the smartest person I’ve ever met as far as equipment goes, so then I was like, how can I figure out a way to play single length irons again? So, I went to David Adel of Adel Golf, and I believe this was in 2011, maybe a year or so after the groove rule change, and this was before Bryson DeChambeau had come on the scene, and this is kind of a funny story. I think I was in Texas visiting David in November and he said no to the project, but then I later learned out more recently that Bryson had showed up on his doorstep a few months later asking to make a single length irons sad, so it was kind of funny, I feel like I inadvertently planted the seed in David’s head to make Bryson’s single length irons, but it all worked out great because David said no, I went back to Tom again later a couple of years afterwards and for whatever reason, I came up again and this time, he changed his mind and you said yes. Do you remember?
Tom: I remember. It was the fall of 2013.
Jaacob: What was the change?
Tom: Yeah. You were in the United States to compete and play in the Speed Golf Championships which were at Bandon Dunes Golf Club that year, and while you’d had a not so stellar first round, your second round, you ended up shooting something like 71 in 55 minutes on the Old MacDonald course at Bandon Dunes, and I’m impressed with that, but no, actually what it was, Jaacob came and visited me at my office and workshop, and company facility at Durango, Colorado. Basically, almost sight unseen, walked in the door with that, and we were talking about it again, and all of my mindset about single length clubs was all based on the awareness of what companies had done before, and they all had basically chosen a six-iron length, 37 ½ inches for all of the clubs, and I was just not thrilled with that approach at all because for one thing, if you make all of the irons six-iron length, that means your nine, pitching wedge, gap wedge, sand wedge are all going to be at least 2 inches, sometimes more than 2 inches longer than what you are used to in your conventional length set. That much additional length in the scoring clubs just makes them harder to control for accuracy, much more difficult to control for distance, and so that was one. Now, I know that the reason that these companies at all chosen six-iron length was the fact that it couldn’t go to short with the single length because that would drop the clubhead speed with the lower loft irons to the point where they could elevate the shot properly and get proper full carried distance compared to what they would get in their conventional irons for those particular heads in the set. So, that was one of the things that yeah, good concept, identical swing feel, same setup, same stance, same swing planes, same repeatability for your swing, but something was missing, and in a conversation when Jaacob came by, he just posed the question to me. He said, because we had been talking about this and he said, “Well, could you design the set so it would perform and work at a shorter length?” and for me, in my whole career of designing clubhead’s and doing all sorts of different clubhead designing technology first, all of these things originate with the best way I can put it is this little lightbulb up here at all of a sudden, if it flashes and goes on, then I’m captured. I’m interested in the project and I thought, I can do this and the reason is because it was back in 2000 and then going in 2004, that I did an awful lot of work in technology for modeling and designing high COR faces in clubheads. Well, everybody knows the first ones were in a driver, okay? Not very many people know that my company and I had the opportunity to design the very first high COR face [0:12:43] wood, the first high COR face hybrid head, and the first high COR irons, and so that was what eliminated the lightbulb up there, was that we could do this at an eight-iron length, at 36 ½ inches, and I can still provide the ball speed and the distance in the lower loft irons because we can design the iron with a high COR face. None of the other companies really had that technology going form, and then as we transition down into the higher loft irons in the set, the high COR face isn’t needed because now, you are closer to your normal clubhead speeds, and so we can shift over to conventional design. Well, I wanted to make these things so that I’m in the world of custom fitting. I want everything to be as adjustable and able to be changed to fit every different golfer for their size, strength, athletic ability, and [0:13:38] corrector estate, so I chose to design all the head, the bodies of the head from carbon steel, from an 8620 carbon steel, so they’d be eminently bendable for loft or like changes for fitting with that. The number five, six, seven irons and soon to be [0:13:55] are all designed with a very thin machine high-strength steel face and that is what the trick is for increasing face flexing to increase the COR and increase ball speed with that, then the number eight through sand wedge and soon to be lob wedge in the set are of a one-piece carbon steel design, all nickel chrome plated for all the heads, so they keep their appearance and they look good for a long period of time with that. Initial testing was really good. Now, it’s interesting watching when we saw the test group people. It’s a little strange in the beginning to pick up a low loft iron, like 23, 27° of loft that’s only 36 ½ inches long. One of the guys in the test group put it the best way – he said, if you all like, you just gave me a junior club. Well, actually, you’ve got your eight-iron for all lengths for all of the clubs in the set, so testing went well, made a few tweaks on the loft so that we could ensure it that the distance gaps would exactly what they needed to be to convert from a conventional length to a single length set, and I liked it. I was really happy, and really, it was one of these things. It is a design and as Jaacob has found out with an awful lot of people that we have fit for the design, a lot of people just from day one immediately start seeing an increase in improvement in shot consistency with the irons, swing repeatability, accuracy – [0:15:33] who is an equipment writer for Golf Week Magazine wanted to test a set, so we custom built a set for him and the first thing he commented, he said, “I’ve never in my entire life,” and Jim is it like me, in his 60s, he’s never had an iron he hit as accurately as he hit these. He came back a few days later, made the comment, he said, “My swing coach has had me working on a swing move that I haven’t been very consistent with, but since getting the sterling single length irons, that swing movement that my coach wants me to do is much easier to do and I’m repeating it far more frequently,” and he made the comment, he said, “I haven’t had this much fun with a set of golf clubs forever.”
Jaacob: I never even really thought of that as a benefit. It can help you make your swing changes. That was something I never even considered, but it really makes sense.
Tom: Well, yeah, exactly, because in our world of fitting, one of the things that we really preach to custom club fitters is the standard length that big companies give you for drivers is a much too long for you to be able to control the ball, achieve your utmost accuracy, achieved the highest percentage of on-center hits. 45 to 46-inch long drivers are no good, and tons and tons of club fitters have fit golfers with 43 ½, 44-inch golf clubs, and now, not only do they automatically improve in accuracy and on-center hit, but now, if they go take lessons, it’s easier for them to make the swing changes because the club isn’t getting in the way of their body being able to make those swing changes. Same thing could happen here because remember, everything that controls swing feel is identical – everything, perfectly duplicated in every single iron, and then you are in the same exact stance, spine angle, posture, ball position, your swing plane does not change like it does in a conventional set of irons. With each change in length, you have a little changing your swing plane. It is identical with these things, and to be honest with you, I have designed over 350 sets of club heads in my long career, 35 years of designing heads, and this is starting to really come forth as probably the best set of irons I think I have ever designed.
Jaacob: I thought this was definitely me having the experience in the single length market and knowing the ins and outs of what needed to be improved. I felt like there was certainly an opportunity to improve there, but yeah, with all the testimonials that keep coming in…
Tom: Yeah, those are amazing.
Jaacob: It’s a really amazing that certainly, these are the best single length irons but maybe there even the best irons out there.
Tom: You know, a lot of people don’t want to think about making this change in the single length because golf is a very traditional game, and I understand that. That was even a large part of my initial hesitancy to get involved in the project. I thank Jaacob for thinking outside the box and saying, could you design this so it could work with a shorter length, much easier to control. I mean, I ask all of you golfers, how many of you hit your eight-iron more consistently on center than you hit your six-iron or your five-iron? Most of you, I’m sure, will agree, and that’s what starts the basis of this, is you are swinging your set of eight irons but with the changes in the head design that we have made, each one hits the ball the proper distance you need for each one of these irons and in fact, many of the golfers feel that they are hitting a lot of the irons in this set longer than they had before which is always fun in the game.
Jaacob: That was one of the – when we sat down in our little whiteboard in 2013, that was one of the things that I wanted to accomplish, was one was have the clubs go meet or exceed the modern-day distance expectations, and then well, some of the other things too, is they needed to be USGA conforming. At the time we started, there were no other USGA conforming single length sets.
Tom: Single length sets.
Jaacob: And then, the aesthetics of some of the other sets out there weren’t my personal taste so I wanted to design something that I felt suited my looks, my preferences, I guess as far as aesthetics goes, so we wanted to create something that looked cool. Me being a fan of your stuff, I’m a big believer in custom club fitting as well. So, that was one of the requirements that we really wanted to be able to make these be able to be fit to the golfer as best as possible for [0:20:20].
Tom: Well, from my standpoint, when you decided you wanted to launch sterling irons and offer the single length sets to golfers, I didn’t want to be involved with the direct sales consumers unless we could be involved with custom fitting the sets. So, what when I worked with Jaacob, we created a means through sterlingirons.com where we either will allow the golfer to input their own specs if they know them for sure, what they want, or they can answer a series of questions, and then I with all of my many years of experience will go through and translate all of those answers into a specific finite set of fitting specification. So, everybody who comes to sterlingirons.com, their irons are going to be different; there are no two sets that are exactly identical because we are custom fitting for the set makeup within this, whether it’s going to be five to sand wedge, six to sand wedge, or what it may be, we are custom fitting for the shaft within this and that means for the shaft weight, the shaft flex, the shaft bend profile within that, that means we are custom fitting for the total weight of the golf club, we are custom fitting for the swing weight, the clubhead feel when you swing it, and we are custom fitting for the lie angle as well with this, and the –
Jaacob: And grip size as well.
Tom: And the grip size on top of that, so then we custom build these one set at a time for one golfer at a time, and I can guarantee you, in doing the lie changes in the custom fitting, every single one of these sets, every single one of these heads is also check for the loft to make sure it is on spec, and I’m doing all of that person a leave myself, so I’m pretty good at it after this many years and I can guarantee you that the loft and lies are within a quarter degree of what we said they are, within that. So, I’m very proud of the product as it’s going out these days.
Jaacob: So, not only are you getting the benefit of single length irons in general, but the level of custom fitting which is a really important thing as well, is it really, really personal anything that’s one of the reasons why they are performing so well.
Tom: Well, in the testimonials and responses we are getting, I mean, we will show you some of those. They are just unbelievable and I have to tell you about one that’s really near and dear to me. One of the things that I really like is knowing that something I created is making someone enjoy this game a little bit more. It is more fun for me to hear from a golfer who loves something and playing better than it almost is to create the club in the first place, but we got a testimonial, a letter from a blind golfer in Oregon and as you can well imagine, they imagine trying to play the game with a real site impairment or be completely blind? The man was regularly shooting in like 106, 108, somewhere around in there with this and of course, playing with a conventional different lengths, and so as he said, the boat was a different length for me, the boat was in a different position for me. It was really different, it was really difficult for me to relate to that but he said, when I got your custom fit sterling single length irons, all of a sudden, with all my irons, I’m in the same exact posture and position, I’m in the same exact ball position, same swing and everything, and within a matter of three weeks, the man’s score was going from mid-100s down into the low 90s, and imagining how much enjoyment – I mean, you can just read this guy’s enjoyment between the lines with that and I felt so good to have a small part in that.
Jaacob: One of the neat things that you can’t see in irons that allows us to be able to have all the clubs have the same – we custom fit for swing weight and all those types of things is inside the bore of the hosel here, there is a space for a lay plug that allows for –
Tom: Yeah, custom swing weighting on this with that, so like we said, it’s one set at a time, one golfer at a time, all custom fit – no two sets identical – none. No other company does that in their offering and certainly, none of the other single length companies with that.