Shaun Womersley might be the most fascinating person I’ve ever come across. A year ago I asked a mutual friend who’s the most interesting person he’d met over his 40 years working in golf and Shaun’s name came up in less than a second.
He’s certainly the most down to earth. And comfortably the biggest. Having played professional rugby for 10 years, he was signed on after just seven games, he needed a temporary job so he got some work in the returns and repairs department of Slazenger’s factory near Horbury near Wakefield.
His dad Brian worked there and, along with Tom Gamble, would look after many of the big names in the game including Seve Ballesteros.
“Dad once had a right barney with Seve because he had some woods made and dad finished them off just as he wanted and the next time they met Seve said they need sorting,” he said.
“Dad said ‘you’ve taken all bulge and roll off them’ and dad wouldn’t touch them so Tom ended up making him some new woods. Two years later Seve did say that he had changed them, he played a lot with his clubs.”
Shaun would then work his way through each department, at one time he was up to putting on 850 grips a day – ‘I had to do the job better and do more as my dad worked there’ – before making clubs for a living himself.
Which is where, 30 years ago, he came up with the idea of single-length irons as we’ll let him explain.
“The old clubs always used to be in half-inch spreads between each club so your 3-iron to your 4-iron would be half an inch and so on. Then the manufacturers started to change that to make people believe that they’re hitting their irons further. So in effect your 3-iron nowadays is closer to a 1.5 iron back in the day.
They have increased scale length, reduced the head weight and cranked up the loft and they have also played around with the head design to try and get a higher launch angle for that loft.
So a modern set of clubs are longer and have stronger lofts than they used to be.
“With Seve and the pros they would have clubs that weren’t necessarily in half-inch increments. They would have blocks of two or three irons that were a similar length so the scoring irons might be a quarter of an inch or less difference on three irons. Seve would play about with them and grind some weight off the heads to get the feel right.
The really old players with the hickory clubs would spend a whole lifetime looking for an 8-iron equivalent that would work because of the nature of the hickory shaft. That went into the 1960s and 70s and then, as the technology improved, the focus became more on the swing itself as opposed to the clubs.
So that twigged me into thinking clubs could be a certain length. All mine are and have been for 30 years – it just seemed the logical thing.
“Other people have done it. Tiger Shark were one of the first ones and Tommy Armour did one, there was a guy called 1-iron Golf and others have had similar ideas but the premise is always that everyone can hit a 7-iron so let’s make them all a 7-iron length like Cobra have done with Bryson DeChambeau. But, in my opinion, it’s not about that. The length is a bi-product, it’s not the be all and end all.
“The other component is the attack angle. That’s the angle that you create at 9 o’clock in the downswing so, once you hit that position, it is very difficult to move the club off-line. Which is why the pros will often practise from that position.
When you put the two parts together you then use the optimum body posture. Everybody has a posture where, if a ball is on the floor, you would set up to it without a club and create certain angles. It is exactly the same for putting and it will guarantee you that it will match to some degree their favourite club in the bag while also looking at how you swing the club.
If you are perfectly balanced and you swing in that position it makes no sense to not swing it in that position and be off balance.
“Everybody is different and based on things like inside leg, arm length and how you are balanced. But the line on which you attack the ball is pretty much set in stone which is why amateur golfers struggle with longer clubs as they attack the ball the same way and don’t change. Marry the two up and there will be a crossover point between your optimum posture length and the attack line and that’s what you fit around.
There is no point having a perfect posture with a 5-iron but you attack the ball with a 1-iron swing and drop it flat – by the time you get to the ball you are on a totally different plane from posture plane.
“My single-length irons are around a 4.5 iron so my wedges are the same length as that. People say they will go miles but if you make the pitching wedge the same head weight as the 4-iron it just goes higher, marginally further but not much, but it also gives you control over spin. If you are hitting the ball on an optimum trajectory, which is the arc on which you are perfectly balanced, you are not creating side spin. So by the time the ball comes down it just stops and drops.”