Sophisticated new technology in both blade and cavity-back irons offer golfers greater options than ever before
The opinion that only Tour pros or low handicap amateurs should play forged blade-style irons remains an avowed cliché that golfers often repeat with mechanical regularity. Everyone else, the reasoning continues, should hit cavity-back — or game improvement —irons, because of the forgiveness they provide on off-centered hits.
However, many of today’s blades now offer sophisticated design interventions that make them considerably easier to hit than ever before, just as iron engineers and club designers have raised a crop of contemporary cavity-back irons geared to work the ball far better than their iron predecessors.
Yet, there remains uncertainty which type of irons might play the best, with a part of the problem stemming from a vague or incomplete understanding of just what a golf club’s sweet spot really means.
Chris Voshall, Mizuno Golf product manager, sheds some light on the subject.
“The sweet spot on a golf club’s clubface is quite literally a spot or point — and not an area with measurable dimensions at all — and it is exactly the same size on small forged blades as it is on large cast cavity-back irons,” he said. “It is located at or near the center of the clubface where, at impact, the clubhead does not deflect, torque or twist. The degree of an iron’s stability or forgiveness comes down to how the mass of the clubhead is distributed around the golf club’s sweet spot on its clubface.”
Gene Parente owns and operates the San Diego California-based Golf Laboratories, an independent company that tests golf clubs for equipment makers and individual golfers, many of them Tour pros. He explains that “with both blades and cavity-back irons, a golf shot’s performance falls off beginning with balls hit just two-tenths of an inch in any direction off the clubs’ sweet spots.
“Mis-hits off of the heel on both blades and cavity-back irons,” Parente said, “result in relatively little loss of distance, but a mis-hit off of the toe of a blade-style iron can result in 20 yards of lost distance. The same toe mis-hit with a cavity-back 5-iron might only lose between 5 or 8 yards.”
Almost all players find long irons more difficult to hit than short irons and, especially a Tour pro, cannot afford a 20-yard distance loss on a toe mis-hit with a blade-style long iron. Therefore, many Tour pros have turned to cavity backs of varying design styles in their long irons, while keeping their pin-seeking blade-style short irons in the bag.
Karsten Solheim, the late Ping founder, invented perimeter-weighted irons back in the early 1970s, and changed the course of golf club design. A look into the bags of some of Ping’s present group of PGA Tour staffers, including Tony Finau, Louis Oosthezium and Cameron Champ, reveals that they’re all playing the company’s new and beautifully crafted Blueprints, the company’s first classic, forged muscle back blade-style iron. Yet the ever-innovative Ping has added a bit of forgiveness to the Blueprints via a small weighted tungsten plug inserted into the toe of each iron, which adds a bit of perimeter-weighting stability on off-center hits, especially with the long irons.
Following a trend on the PGA Tour, a golfer like Champ plays Blueprint blades from 5-iron through pitching wedge, then transitions his 3- and 4-iron into the company’s slightly more forgiving iBlade irons, which have stainless steel heads and muscle-cavity design.
J.J. Van Wezenbeeck, Titleist’s director of player promotion who oversees the company’s PGA Tour van, points out that thanks to launch monitors and the impact spin rates, ball speed and directional data provided to PGA Tour pros today can determine very quickly at what point they may want to transition from blade short irons into more cavity-back-designed long irons.
He said that Titleist staffer Jordan Spieth “plays the forged cavity blade T100s in his 5- through 9-irons, but switches to Titleist’s far more forgiving U500 [labeled by the company as a Utility Iron]” as his 4-iron replacement.
TaylorMade’s new P770 and Mizuno’s MP20 HMB irons blend the best of the new blade and cavity back iron designs in innovations ways. Indeed, the backs on all of these irons’ clubheads present a smooth and unbroken cavity-less surface, which provides a little extra blade-like muscle power behind the clubs’ sweet spots. However, under the clubs’ hoods, a host of multi-materials and strategic weighting placements contribute both more forgiveness and added ball speed, while maintaining much of a classic blade’s coveted workability.
Cobra’s 2021 King Tour Irons fits a player’s workable muscle/cavity-back designed head with a thermoplastic polyurethane face insert for what the company calls “muscle back softness at impact.” Callaway’s new Apex MB irons present a classic muscle back-blade design that includes a changeable weight plug positioned behind the club’s sweet spot, which the company can change to customize the irons’ swing weights for individual players’ preferences and needs.
Miura, a company long revered for its pristine forged irons, has teamed with Jack Nicklaus and will soon release a limited edition of artisan hand-forged blade irons collaboratively designed by Nicklaus and Miura’s master clubmaker, the legendary Katsuhiro Miura, and built to Nicklaus’ personal specifications. Similarly Tiger Woods fans can play TaylorMade’s P7TW forged muscle-back blades, the very set Woods currently plays on Tour.
LPGA Tour standout Mo Martin, one of golf’s straightest ball strikers and the winner of the 2014 British Women’s Open, believes that “after a golfer passes the beginning stage of playing the game and learns the basics of the golf swing many golfers can benefit from playing forged blade style irons because of the better feedback they give.”
Some more daring golf instructors have even called forged blade-style irons “game improvement clubs.”
Martin adds that “because blades don’t mask mis- hits, they can give golfers the opportunity to learn from both their good and bad shots. So, yes, I agree that they may be called that.”
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