Which are the best mid-handicap golf irons 2022 and who are they for?
A mid-handicap iron (or game-improvement iron as it is often called) is designed for those with a 10 handicap and above and aims to provide a little bit of help – and let’s face it, who doesn’t need that! With a slightly larger profile, a lighter shaft, stronger lofts and a slightly thinner face, game-improvement irons are a more forgiving and designed to improve ball speeds and carry distance – even when shots aren’t hit in the centre of the face.
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Mid-handicap irons typically make up 80% of a brand’s sales and with the average UK handicap around 14, the market for them is huge. So it’s important for manufacturers to do game-improvement irons really well, with a design that blends good looks, excellent off-centre hit forgiveness and strong carry distance.
Looking for an older moder? Watch our 2021 mid-handicap irons test
Typically they have a larger head with more offset (distance from the hosel to the leading edge), which positions the centre of gravity further back. The extra offset and wider sole positions more weight beneath and further back from the ball’s equator to help shots get airborne. A cavity or hollow head positions more mass around the perimeter to improve forgiveness.
With that criteria in mind, we’ve tested 14 of the latest mid-handicap irons. You can click a club’s name to read our in-depth review.
And if you’re in the market for any other new equipment this year, make sure you read our guides to the best drivers, longest drivers, most forgiving drivers, fairway woods, hybrids, irons, wedges and putters.
As always, we’d recommend you use our recommendations to narrow your shortlist and then get fitted by a professional, as that’s the only way to optimise new models for you.
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RRP £249 per iron | VIEW OFFER
Availability: 3-PW, GW | Stock shafts: True Temper Elevate 95 or Tour (s) Mitsubishi MMT 70g or 80g (g) | 7-iron loft: 28° | Forgiveness rating: 3.5
Today’s Golfer test verdict: PXG have established themselves as a brilliant maker of irons in little more than half a dozen years, and performances like the XP’s that warrant the reputation.
Put aside for a moment how it is one of the best-looking irons within the category (as it doesn’t have massively offset hosels). The XP produced our second fastest ball speed (even though it wasn’t the strongest loft) and gave our pro his smallest drop off in ball speed between on and off-centre hits (2.7mph/2.1%).
That’s impressive stuff, but the XP doesn’t stop there. It also gave our smallest drop-off in carry distance (7 yards / 3.1%) and hit shots into the second smallest dispersion area within the category, all whilst racking up a T2 finish for overall carry distance (against a 1.5° stronger 7-iron).
To say the XP is a top drawer performer is a huge understatement of its capabilities.
RRP £849 (s) £949 (g) | VIEW OFFER
Availability: 4-PW, AW, SW, LW | Stock shafts: KBS Max MT (s) Fujikura Ventus Red (g) | 7-iron loft: 28° | Forgiveness rating: 3.5/4
Today’s Golfer test verdict: Over the last couple of years TaylorMade have talked about the benefits of using cap back technology within their irons.
In Stealth, it allowed TaylorMade’s engineers to create a sleek and desirable head that’s forgiving, too. And they’ve done such a good job in blending looks with forgiveness that our test pro said he could happily put a set into play himself.
This is a very good mid handicap iron for 2022 and beyond. The heads look really attractive in the bag and behind the ball, and we love how the lighter KBS Max shaft is brilliant at flighting shots from the strong lofted heads. Stealth produced our pro’s seconbd fastest ball speeds (against the 1.5° stronger Cobra King LTDx) and T2 (with the PXG 0311 XP Gen 4 and Callaway Rogue ST Max) for longest carry distance within the category.
RRP £799 | VIEW OFFER
Availability: 4-PW, GW, SW | Stock shaft: KBS Tour 90 (s) KBS PGI (g) | 7-iron loft: 26.5° | Forgiveness rating: 3.5
Today’s Golfer test verdict: We’d love to come out all guns blazing like a top vlogger and declare this is the mid handicap iron to beat in 2022. But instead, think very seriously before taking our test pro’s data as being representative of what will happen with the LTDx in your hands.
With a 7-iron loft of 26.5°, you = need speed to launch this model successfully from the turf, especially if you have plans of stopping shots on a green. If you have the speed then please go ahead, fill your boots – the LTDx iron is our fastest and longest mid-handicap iron of 2022. In fact, the only iron to outgun it, across all five iron categories, was Wilson’s D9.
A set that must be hit before buying, just to make sure you can flight shots properly from the very strong lofts.
RRP £849 (s) £1049 (g) | VIEW OFFER
Availability: 4-PW, AW, GW, SW | Stock shaft: True Temper Elevate MPH (s) Mitsubishi Tensei AV Blue or Project X Cypher (g) | 7-iron loft: 27.5° | Forgiveness rating: 3.5
Today’s Golfer test verdict: Golfers talk a lot about looks when it comes to irons, even at this end of the scale where models are pitched at mid-handicap players. But if you’re the type of golfer who can see past looks and are happy using equipment that truly benefits your game, the Rogue ST is a bit of a monster.
Yes, the ST’s head is pretty chunky, there’s a wider top edge than much of the competition and the face has a natural tendency to want to roll closed at address. But those are the exact traits that boost forgiveness on off centre hits and help tons of golfers eliminate weak shots that end up short and right of the green.
The ST was T2 longest mid-handicap iron of 2022 (with the PXG 0311 XP Gen4 and TaylorMade Stealth) for all our other test metrics the model was comfortably above average.
RRP £129 (s) £139 (g) per iron | VIEW OFFER
Availability: 4-LW | Stock shaft: Ping AWT 2.0 (s) Ping Alta CB (g) with 7 after-market no charge upgrades | 7-iron loft: 30° | Forgiveness rating: 3.5
Today’s Golfer test verdict: We’ve said it before and no doubt we’ll say it again – Ping’s G425 wasn’t our fastest or longest mid handicap iron. But how could it be? It’s a couple of degrees weaker in loft than much of the competition.Just like last year, though, the G425 is brimming with forgiveness.
Our data has it down as the iron that hit shots into the smallest dispersion area (175yds2), and because it was third best at protecting carry (a drop off of 10 yards / 5.6%) we can confidently say this is a brilliantly forgiving iron to live with on the course.
To put those numbers into some perspective we’re talking about slight mishit approaches still finding their way over a bunker or lake and onto the dancefloor, where the same shot with some competitor products would end up in disaster.
The G425 may not be shiny and new for this year, but it is though still the benchmark model for the category, especially when at more average swing speeds distance differences will be much less noticeable.
RRP £899 (s) £999 (g) | VIEW OFFER
Availability: 4-LW | Stock shaft: Nippon N.S Pro 950GH Neo (s) Diamana OEM (g) | 7-iron loft: 28.5° | Forgiveness rating: 3
Today’s Golfer test verdict: It’s taken years for Srixon to be accepted as a premium iron maker, but over the last 18 months it feels like the brand’s turned a corner.
We’ve known Srixon forged irons have been really good for a long time, and the hollow ZX4 builds on their success, opening Srixon up to a slightly wider audience other than just the “better player” they’ve targeted before.
The ZX4’s forged face is a similar material to fairway wood and hybrid faces, so expect fast ball speeds. And thanks to the wide hollow body there’s plenty of forgiveness for off-centre hits, too.
In terms of data that performance came through as our second best ball speed drop-off (just 3.2mph / 2.5%) and a carry distance just a single yard behind our T2 longest. A cracking modern iron that lots of club golfers will adore.
The best of the rest: Mid-handicap irons
RRP From £560 | VIEW OFFER
7-iron loft: 32° | Forgiveness rating: 3.5
Today’s Golfer test verdict: A lovely head shape and beautiful classic styling. Though it wasn’t our fastest or longest it was amongst our top three models at protecting ball speed and carry distance drop off. It also hit shots into the third smallest dispersion area of the category.
Sub 70 699 irons
RRP From £390 | VIEW OFFER
7-iron loft: 31° | Forgiveness rating: 3.5
Today’s Golfer test verdict: Sub 70 is a name many won’t recognise, but they’re a brand who’ve pinged our radar as a producer of excellent value for money equipment, particularly irons.
The 699 has a modern cast hollow body which blends a good helping of forgiveness with decent looks and a stunningly attractive price.
RRP £499 (s) £599 (g) | VIEW OFFER
7-iron loft: 29° | Forgiveness rating: 3.5
Today’s Golfer test verdict: Everything about the Launcher is oversized hence the XL name. Expect a larger-than-life head size but not in a clumsy off-putting way; this is a refined looking golf club, which looks really playable at address.
We love how there doesn’t appear to be oodles of hosel offset and how the lofts are set at a reasonable level so club golfers will comfortably launch shots to maximise carry distance.
RRP £135 per iron | VIEW OFFER
7-iron loft: 29° | Forgiveness rating: 3
Today’s Golfer test verdict: A really good option for golfers who struggle to live with big offset hosels within the mid-handicap iron category.
The Hot Metal Pro could easily pass for a more players’ style iron, due to the lack of offset, but unlike Mizuno’s player models the heads are cast not forged. We love the head shapes, they’re a really good fit for reasonable ball strikers, and thanks to a good sized and efficient cavity back design they also protect carry distance on off centre hits, too.
Which other mid-handicap irons did we test?
We tested 14 mid-handicap irons in total as part of our full irons test, which saw us test 66 sets in total to find the best of 2022. The data showing how every model performed overall and in terms of forgiveness can be found below.
Mid-Handicap Irons Test 2022: Forgiveness/Dispersion Launch Monitor Data
– We created an indoor test lab at Keele Golf Centre to ensure a controlled environment
– The leading brands supplied their 2022 irons in our Test Pro Neil Wain’s spec.
– We rejected major misses but recorded how shots launched, span, peaked and dropped out of the air, before crunching the numbers to come up with our conclusions.
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Before we came to any conclusions, we analysed the data for each club tested; on distance, spin rates, forgiveness. The latter we refer to as drop offs; the differences in ball speed, spin and carry between our test pro’s on- and off-centre hits.
This insight gives a reliable indication of how forgiving each model will be on the course, as we’ve argued for years that dispersion can be very misleading as it’s based on how you swing on a particular day. We analysed all that data before choosing winners.
Category 5: Hybrid Irons
Hybrid irons have been the much maligned black sheep of irons for years, but they now represent a huge opportunity to keep golfers – who typically lose 0.5 mph of clubhead speed each year once they hit 60 – in the game for longer.
There has been a growing trend in this area in recent years. Not only are brands showing more interest in producing hybrid irons, golfers are more willing to use them. The extra playability that hybrids have brought to the long game have transformed many golfers’ games in the past decade.
If your game or swing speed have gone south, hybrid irons are a brilliant option.
Typical performance traits
In the hands of average club golfers, hybrid irons are more forgiving than any other model. They have big wide soles to launch shots high with increased forgiveness, while designers claim they also help prevent digging into the turf, thereby reducing fat shots.
It’s exactly the type of styling that led golfers to fall in love with long iron replacement hybrids/rescues. The centre of gravity in hybrid irons is far lower and deeper than a typical cavity-back iron.
Who should use hybrid irons?
Golf should be fun and hybrid Irons can turn a frustrating round into an enjoyable one. The extra playability means more shots carry sand and water hazards. Hybrid Irons aren’t just for players with slower swings. They’re for anybody who wants to reduce frustration and have more fun.
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Category 4: Super Game Improver Irons
This category is as forgiving as it gets if you insist that an iron needs to look like an iron and you’re resistant to exploring hybrid iron alternatives.
Historically, golfers have traded looks for forgiveness in this category, but modern models have come a long way in recent years. It’s now possible to get your hands on an iron like the Ping G710, which is not only great looking, but also super forgiving and powerful.
Better yet, it won’t highlight you as a hacker before you’ve even hit a shot!
Typical performance traits
Historically, super game-improver models have big chunky heads, thick toplines and even wider soles. The best of the latest models challenge that thinking, though, thanks to dense tungsten weighting that places critical mass in very specific areas of the head.
Category 4 models have either a deep cavity-back or a hollow head and they’re very often the lightest in a brand’s iron range. Shafts are often lighter with softer tip sections to increase launch and spin, which helps maximise distance at lower speeds.
Some models unashamedly reduce weight to naturally add speed. This is great as long as your swing isn’t too weight sensitive and you lose the ability to ‘time’ shots. It’s worth remembering that the larger the head size, the easier it is to get an iron face to flex and add speed.
Who should use super game improver irons?
Golfers who aren’t afraid to admit that their game needs as much help as they can get their hands on is a reasonable rule of thumb here. Whereas game-improver models often suit 20-handicap golfers and below, super game-improver models fill the gap above this really nicely.
However, make sure that you’re well aware which models are lightweight and/or strong lofted and make a decision on which best suits your game after trialling both. Get that right and the irons within this category can seriously raise your enjoyment of the game.
Forgiveness Category 3.5: Game Improver Irons
This area of the market produces the most sales simply because there’s more mid-high handicappers. Brands invest huge sums developing new technology in this area.
Typical performance traits
There’s disagreement among brands as to whether this category should be home to their strongest loft irons and there’s a discussion to be had around whether strong loft irons are suited to the highest handicappers with the slowest swings. These players often struggle to launch strong loft irons high enough to optimise carry and backspin.
The extra offset pushes the CG back to aid launch. It’s not uncommon for these irons to be 10mm+ longer with sole widths some 45% wider than a Category 1 blade. Toplines are often twice the width of a blade, too.
Who should use game improver irons?
Fitted with slightly lighter shafts and, sometimes, a lighter swing weight, these irons help maximise swing speed. It’s no secret the engineers target 18–20 handicappers with these clubs.
Forgiveness Category 3: Game Improver Plus
When it comes to matching an iron to your ability, it’s really important not to confuse this category with full out game-improver models. Simply put, they’re not.
As a benchmark, the Ping G iron has always been a stalwart of the traditional game-improver category but the current G410 falls into our Category 3.5. Category 3 models are a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Very often, Category 3 and Category 3.5 irons end up in the hands of improving golfers, but they subtly target different players, hence why Callaway make both an Apex 19 (forged and in Category 3) and a Mavrik (cast and in Category 3.5).
Typical performance traits
The fact that five of our eight Category 3 irons are forged tells the story of who they’re aimed at. And just to highlight the point, none of the Category 3.5 models are forged.
Models in this category will have either a decent-sized/depth cavity-back or a hollow head. The cast PXG 0211s are a great example of a set that combines compact, less offset short-irons with larger, more forgiving mid- and long-irons to appeal to golfers seeking both looks and performance within a single set.
Offset will often be a fraction less than with full on game-improver models, while toplines will be a fraction wider than in Player Irons. Lofts will likely be a little stronger than those of a Players Distance iron. On average, our eight Category 3 models had 1.4° less 7-iron loft (30.1°) than Category 2.5 models, which means they can target ball speed and distance.
Who should use game improver plus irons?
If you’re a mid-handicap golfer, you absolutely should look at some of the models within this category. To be the best match, though, it’s highly likely your handicap will be 15 or below – depending on your ball-striking confidence.
Category 3.5 models bring together traits often best-suited to 18-20 handicappers and below. Category 3 models usually offer a decent-looking clubhead, which is often forged, along with added speed and distance for golfers who don’t quite have the ball striking prowess to use one of the two Player Iron categories.
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Forgiveness Category 2.5: Players’ Distance Irons
In 2015, PXG founder Bob Parsons tasked his top engineers with the unenviable challenge of creating an iron that looked like a blade but played like a cavity-back. What they came back with – the original 0311 – changed the iron market.
TaylorMade joined the hollow-body players distance iron market in 2017 with the P790. It became the brand’s biggest-selling forged iron ever. Titleist then launched the popular 718 AP3 and Ping joined the party in 2018 with their i500.
The rapid growth of this category can not only be attributed to aspirational aesthetics, but faster ball speeds and more distance than traditional player’s irons.
Typical performance traits
In many instances, the clubhead size in this category will be a little larger to inspire more confidence at address. And don’t expect too much hosel offset, either. The toplines are reasonably thin and shaft weights tend to be a little lighter than those found in blades.
The face might be forged – as found in the TaylorMade P790, Ping i500 and Cobra King Forged Tec – while several models favour hollow body technology. The average 7-iron loft in this category was 2° stronger than in the Category 1 models, which inevitably means extra ball speed and distance.
You may find some fast-face technology in these clubs, too, while some kind of internal tungsten weighting is also common. This gives the manufacturers’ engineers the ability to manipulate the centre-of-gravity location in the clubhead to help shots launch higher from a stronger loft as well as deliver more forgiveness over Category 1 and Category 2 models. That’s some seriously good food for thought.
Who should use players’ distance irons?
Don’t be fooled by our data into thinking that Players Distance Irons are the wonder drug for all golfers… they’re not. What the data does show, though, is what’s on the line when a golfer chooses either a Category 1 or Category 2 model when, in fact, they should be playing a Category 2.5 iron.
While the typical shaft weight and profile was perfect for our test pro, many mid-handicap and above golfers would benefit from the slightly lighter weight and added consistency of a Category 3, Category 4 or even a Category 5 model. Irons in this category bridge the gap from traditional game-improver to player models brilliantly, which means they usually work best for golfers with handicaps of 12 and below.
Forgiveness Category 2: Players’ Irons
If you need any evidence to support which type of golfer this category is aimed at, you only need to look at tour players like Jordan Spieth, Shane Lowry and Jason Day. All are major champions and currently play irons that fall within this category.
These types of irons are very good options for impressive ball-strikers who don’t necessarily want to compromise on looks, but still want some forgiveness built into what is essentially a blade shape clubhead.
Typical performance traits
Player irons generally are pretty similar to blades for hosel offset, topline thickness and sole width. The majority are forged (with the exception of Ping’s models) as the decent players who use them often believe forging delivers a premium feel/sound. Plus, it’s worth remembering that more than 90% of tour events are won by players using forged models.
For us, a Category 2 model must have some type of cavity-back, either shallow as with the Mizuno JPX919 Tour or deeper as found in the Honma T//World 747 Vx. There absolutely will be no thin fast-face tech (not in the mid- to short-irons anyway), as many purists believe that face flex leads to inconsistencies.
Lofts generally are fairly traditional, since golfers at this level want very consistent gapping and predictable yardages, even on slight mishits.
Who should use players’ irons?
It goes without saying that you need to be a decent ball-striker to get the best out of Player irons. That means you’ll need to be very close to a category one golfer. There’s a very good reason why Players Distance irons (forgiveness Category 2.5) have become so popular over the last few years.
It’s because they bridge the gap that was really difficult to cover when golf didn’t have fast-face tech, strong lofts or hollow body constructions. If you can tolerate some modern tech, you can not only get extra ball speed and distance but more forgiveness, too.
Forgiveness Category 1: Muscleback Irons
Musclebacks, also known as blades, are not only the most traditional irons, they’re also the most unforgiving, hence our forgiveness rating of 1. Any golfer thinking of buying a set of blades should have no real desire to add any extra speed, distance or forgiveness to their game.
In fact, the 10% of tour pros who use blades typically do so because the forgiveness levels are so low. It means they can shape shots at will while barely needing to alter their swing.
Typical performance traits
Blades are typically forged rather than cast. The forging process that stamps the irons into shape under high pressure compresses and aligns the grain of the metal more closely, which is said to improve feel and feedback. Musclebacks also have the least amount of hosel offset, which means the centre of gravity (CG) of the clubhead is further forward.
A forward CG delivers a lower, more penetrating ball flight, even though blades tend to have the highest lofts of any iron category. Head sizes are generally very compact, while soles and top lines are typically very slender, which means they should appeal only to the very best ball-strikers.
Most blades come as standard with heavy 120g+ shafts since the more accomplished golfers who use them typically create more swing speed.
Who should use muscleback irons?
There’s a strong school of thought among some hardcore golfers that blades are the only true way to play the game. Some also swear that blades are the best way to learn the game because you’re severely punished for mishits and therefore have to focus more intently on developing a robust swing technique.
Regardless, to get the best out of Category 1 irons you’ll need a handicap of low single figures or better. It’s our opinion that you shouldn’t really consider using them until you get close to scratch.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Simon Daddow is the Equipment Editor at todaysgolfer.co.uk
Simon has worked in the golf industry for 30 years. Starting out as trainee professional at Downes Crediton GC where he learned the art of golf club making, before going onto work for Clubhaus Plc and Tony Charles Ltd as a golf club maker, and running Product Development at Benross Golf.
Joining EMAP Active (now Bauer Media) in 2006 as Equipment Editor Simon has worked for Today’s Golfer and Golf World magazines and the Today’s Golfer website.
Simon is 46 years old, he’s played golf for 40 years and plays to a handicap of 10. A lack of club speed means he’s short off the tee, but very handy from 125 yards and in.
He uses a Ping G400 SFT driver, PXG 0341 X Gen4 3-Wood, PXG 0341 X Gen4 7-wood, PXG 0317 X Gen2 hybrid, Callaway Rogue X irons (6 – PW), Cleveland CBX2 wedges (52°, 58°), Bettinardi Inovai 6.0 putter and a TaylorMade Tour Response golf ball.
You can contact Simon here.