The concept of single-length irons is not a new one. Bobby Jones, the only player to win all four majors in one year, in 1930, used single-length clubs. So did the Canadian golfer Moe Norman, who was widely regarded to be among golf’s best ball strikers. Jack Nix of Albuquerque obtained a patent on the one-length concept in 1976. He later sold it to Tommy Armour Golf, which introduced a line of single-length irons in 1989. The line bombed, and the concept never gained widespread appeal.
The logic behind single-length iron sets is simple: It promotes a more consistent swing and eliminates the need to make stance, ball position and swing-plane adjustments as the club gets longer or shorter. Bob Philion, Cobra Puma Golf’s president and chief executive, described it as “playing with a bag of 7-irons.”
It has been nearly seven years since Puma purchased Cobra, and a bag of 7-irons may represent the company’s best chance for a breakout product in the highly competitive $5 billion golf equipment market, which has been stuck in the doldrums in recent years. Nike even got out of the market last year.
These days, most advances in club technology tend to be incremental, in part, because of stiff regulations enforced by the United States Golf Association. Against such odds, it may be as difficult for a game changer to emerge in the current marketplace as it is for DeChambeau to win the Grand Slam.
Conventional golf clubs are built in half-inch-length increments with varying club-head angles throughout the set. This process became the industry standard decades ago, so that club manufacturers could mass-produce a product that previously was custom-made.
To DeChambeau, 23, this amounted to 13 swings he needed to master. The physics student in him wondered if there was a better way.
In 2011, DeChambeau began experimenting with swinging on a single plane, a technique championed by proponents of Homer Kelley’s cult classic The Golfing Machine. DeChambeau’s study of the golf swing led him to ask his golf coach, Mike Schy, the type of question that is easy to ask but difficult to answer.
“What do you say to a 17-year-old kid who asks to make all the clubs the same length?” DeChambeau said. “That’s crazy.”
Schy said, let’s do it. But one can’t simply cut down a traditional set of irons. Long irons would be too light, short irons too heavy. So they “garage-punked” DeChambeau’s TaylorMade set, slathering the long irons with more than $200 of lead tape. They drilled holes and burned through three grinding wheels to achieve the proper weight in the wedges. It took three weeks to assemble.
DeChambeau’s first swing with an 8-iron flew a perfect 160 yards. When he stiffed a 5-iron from 200 yards, he turned to Schy and proclaimed, “This could change the game.”
As soon as DeChambeau turned pro after the Masters last April, he signed a lucrative endorsement deal with Cobra. The World Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman, became one of DeChambeau’s biggest supporters when he watched him win the 2015 United States Amateur. Norman endorses Cobra clubs, and Philion, Cobra’s president, said he leaned on Norman for counsel before signing off on the company’s single-length iron bet.
“One of the things that stuck with me was Norman said that in his prime, during the period he was No. 1 in the world, he would have tried it,” Philion said. “I thought, ‘Wow.’ He said, it just made sense.”
DeChambeau said he shed tears when the first batch of Cobra irons were presented to him. He put them straight into his bag and commemorated the moment by signing the frosted glass wall in Philion’s office in permanent ink: “The day the game changed, July 13, 2016.”
Soon after, DeChambeau visited Cobra’s headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif., to test his clubs.
“We’re thinking he’s coming for two days, tops,” said Mike Yagley, Cobra’s director of research and testing. “The punch line is he stayed for six days.”
By the third day, Cobra issued DeChambeau a badge so he could come and go as he pleased. DeChambeau became the intern, fetching coffee for the mechanical and aerospace engineers while peppering them with questions.
“I’ve never seen anyone on tour who can hold his own in the R&D world like he can,” Philion said.
Cobra is not the only company that used the merchandise show to launch single-length clubs. David Edel, a boutique maker of high-end fitted irons and putters, made DeChambeau’s earliest single-length sets. While other pros are constantly looking for an edge, Edel said, DeChambeau wanted all golfers to benefit from his findings.
“Bryson looks at the bigger picture in that he wants to grow the game,” Edel said.
It is rare that the success of a product is so tightly linked to that of one player. When DeChambeau won on the Web.com Tour in October, it was the first time a player had won a PGA Tour-sponsored tournament using a set of irons all the same length.
For now, DeChambeau is a lone wolf for the concept in the professional ranks, but with the 2015 N.C.A.A. men’s individual championship and United States Amateur title on his résumé, DeChambeau has already validated his unconventional technique while sparking curiosity among gear heads.
“I’ve had more people ask me about single length than just about anything in the last six months,” said Michael Johnson, senior editor of equipment for Golf World and Golf Digest.
Yagley said retail orders of single-length sets outpaced forecasts, prompting Cobra to divert some production of stock inventory to make one-length sets out of them.
As if DeChambeau were not enough of an equipment trendsetter, he intends to shake up the conventional thinking about putting, too. He started using a sidesaddle style on tour this season. That putter is not for sale yet, but if he succeeds with it, it may be soon.
Asked whether the single-length irons or the sidesaddle putter would be more likely to gain acceptance with the general public, DeChambeau did not hesitate to answer.
“Both,” he said.