2020 Irons test: We've ranked 54 sets of golf clubs and rated every one by forgiveness so you can find the best irons for you.
Most major brands have five, six or even seven irons in their 2020 line-ups, which shows the importance of having solutions for all golfers, irrespective of ability or personal preference. Choices range from slimline musclebacks to hollow heads and cavity backs, and while some are forged, others have springy faces just like a driver.
So with such a huge amount of choice out there, we felt it was far too easy for golfers to get confused about which model best suits them. Even golfers who have a good idea of which iron suits them probably don’t realise what they put on the line in terms of ball speed, carry and forgiveness by choosing a set above their station.
So as 2020’s irons hit pro shop shelves, we felt the time was right to show how whole iron ranges compare against each other.
As well as launch monitor data from our pro, we’ve given every iron a forgiveness rating to spell out simply what sort of players should be considering what sort of models, and why.
Which irons suit me?
If you're only interested in one particular brand and want to know which of their irons will suit your ability, needs and price point, click on one of these links to the brands we've tested.
FORGIVENESS RATING: CATEGORY 5 (the most forgiving)
Hybrid irons within Category 5
Our favourite irons with a forgiveness rating of 5
Cleveland Launcher HB Turbo
We’ve tested the Launcher HB Turbo a few times now, and each session has ended with our pro smiling from ear to ear. Hybrid irons are really fun to use as they’re so easy to hit.
The difference between the Turbo and Wilson’s Launch Pad is how the Cleveland is likely to be more at home in the hands of golfers who already like hybrids. They look more like a traditional hybrid, whereas the Launch Pad has the appearance of an iron with the addition of a body on the back.
The numbers speak for themselves. If you need any confirmation hybrid irons are more forgiving than traditional cavity back irons, the Launcher gave the smallest drop-off in ball speed (3.4mph) and carry (5.6%) on mishits, with the Wilson Launch Pad coming in a very close second.
If you want the most fun and enjoyment when you play, Launcher HB Turbo gets a big thumbs up from us.
Wilson Launch Pad
We’re really impressed with the thinking behind the Launch Pad. It goes without saying, to play hybrid irons you have to turn a blind eye to bulging backs and wide bodies and focus instead on the Launch Pad’s shiny chrome face and topline, which really is very much like a traditional oversize Wilson iron.
We were surprised to hear that 12% of club golfer iron shots (10 handicap and above) are hit fat. Our test pro doesn’t hit many fat shots, but if your tendency is to hit turf before ball the Launch Pad’s sole design will help.
We’re fans of teaming up this style of head with KBS’s lightest iron shaft, which helps maximise launch and shot height, and does a great job of counteracting the Launch Pad’s reasonably strong lofts.
On paper our numbers look very similar, but remember shots were hit by a test pro – regular golfers would see a much wider variation in strike location. He felt the hybrid bodies were more forgiving than the cavity-back Ping G410s, especially when hitting the mid and longer irons.
In terms of data, you gain in backspin, shot height and descent angle over one of the very best game improvement irons, which tells us hybrid irons deserve respect and should be treated as a legitimate option for golfers intent on enjoying the game in 2020.
How do Forgiveness Category 5 models compare in data?
Irons within Category 4
Our favourite irons with a forgiveness rating of 4
Ping's previous G700 iron was a super powerful and solid performer at the super game improver end of the market. We can only see the G710 building on that success. Our TG test pro thought the head looked a little smaller at address, which is thanks to the dark Stealth finish hiding how big the head really is. It means in our opinion the G710 will only become even more desirable in the eyes of club golfers.
Our data shows a small improvement for our test pro over the previous model, certainly not worth upgrading for, but that was never Ping's intention. If you're looking for a super powerful, very forgiving iron that really doesn't look like a super game improver model in 2020 - you've found it.
Callaway Mavrik Max
It could be argued that the Callaway Mavrik irons haven’t quite had the same impact as the Callaway Mavrik woods did in the respective test, but the Callaway Mavrik Max is well worthy of a place among our favourite super game-improvement irons of 2020.
It didn’t feature among our fastest or longest, but it has the joint weakest loft in the category. These slightly weaker lofts (compared to the standard Mavrik irons) mean the Max is ideal for moderate swing speeds, particularly those who tend to struggle to flight shots high enough to maximise carry.
There’s plenty of offset (which helps get shots airborne) and a very wide top line, yet the iron looks pretty compact. For moderate swing speed players, the Callaway Mavrik Max is a very solid iron.
TaylorMade SIM Max OS
Callaway have gone after strong lofts harder and faster than anyone in the last couple of years, but TaylorMade are hitting back with the SIM Max OS in 2020, saying the lofts aren’t just strong for speed and distance either.
TaylorMade reckon iron design has got to a point where strong lofts are actually necessary to stop shots from spinning up and losing distance. Our data speaks for itself. The OS was our longest super game-improvement iron (by three and four yards from the two hybrid irons), and it gave similar spin numbers to the wider and higher-lofted Wilson Launch Pad, which means shots will stop on a green.
But the SIM Max OS story isn’t just about power; it’s about ultimate forgiveness, too. Our drop-off data has the Max OS among our top three (remember it’s up against wide-body hybrids, too) at protecting ball speed, backspin and carry, which ultimately increases forgiveness. The TaylorMade SIM Max OS is a very good iron for lots of club golfers.
How do Forgiveness Category 4 models compare in data?
Irons within Category 3.5
Our favourite irons with a forgiveness rating of 3.5
You won’t often hear brands say they’ve improved forgiveness by making a club smaller, as reduced head size usually means less MOI. But Ping’s hierarchy in the US insisted the G410 be sleeker and slimmer than any of the nine previous Ping G irons. The Ping G410 has a shorter blade length and 10% less hosel offset, which positions the G iron, looks-wise at least, closer to a players’ iron than ever before. Yet, magically, because the custom tuning port has moved to the toe, forgiveness has increased by 8%.
This is a great option for lots of club golfers, and particularly those who don’t overly stress about gaining distance (look at the Ping G710 if that’s you) with their irons. Despite their position as a game-improvement iron, we’d say the Ping G410 will suit golfers from an eight handicap upwards.
TaylorMade SIM Max
This is the year when brands are talking more than ever about dialling clubs into the particular sound and feel frequencies that golfers love. If you lay the impact sound of the SIM Max over TaylorMade’s forged tour-level P760 iron, the pair are almost indistinguishable. For golfers, that means SIM Max is a cast iron that sounds like a forged model, and that is why the SIM will be a huge success in 2020. They offer something most cast irons struggle to match.
In our eyes the SIM Max doesn’t have a ridiculously wide top edge or tall face height (to improve face flex), or masses of offset, so they’re a really good-looking game-improvement model. Without the strongest lofts they might struggle to compete on pure launch monitor numbers (the SIM Max OS will), but for sensible golfers who know the importance of optimal numbers for launching, flighting and descending shots on to a green, we reckon the TaylorMade SIM Max is a very reliable and consistent iron to have in your golf bag.
How do Forgiveness Category 3.5 models compare in data?
Irons within Category 3
Our favourite irons with a forgiveness rating of 3
Honma T//World 747 P
Since signing Justin Rose last year, the perception of Honma, particularly their forged irons, has changed fast. Lots of golfers now have Honma at the centre of discussions about their next set of forged clubs. And it’s irons like the Honma T//World 747 P which are causing the rethink. We were hugely impressed with the T//World 747 P last year, and that hasn’t changed in 2020.
A lack of offset and a narrow top line means the Honma T//World 747 P have the same slender look you’ll find in most players’ irons. If your game sits on the fence between game-improvement and player models, and you put a premium on distance (these were our third longest in the category), the Honma T//World 747 P are an excellent choice. And our recommendation doesn’t just boil down to pure power, either. The Honma T//World 747 P ranked third for protecting ball speed and carry in our test, which in a 16-strong field of bigger, wider irons, is seriously impressive. A very good game-improvement iron for 2020.
Callaway Apex 19
Callaway Apex irons had a reputation for being really, really good even before the ’19 models arrived, so it’s no surprise this was among our favourite irons of last year. By fine-tuning sound, feel and looks, plus including a new Elevate shaft that flights shots higher to drop and stop approaches on to a green, they’re just as good this year.
Callaway Apex 19 is a beautiful iron, and for us at least we’d have its nose just out in front of the Mavrik (even though they give up five yards of carry) for anybody who feels a benefit from forged models. Essentially, the Mavrik has a 3.5° stronger loft (almost a club difference between the 7-iron lofts), so it’s unfair to compare them head-to-head, as they’re not really aimed at the same player. But if you don’t feel the need for forged irons, the seriously powerful Mavrik should be pinging your radar instead.
How do Forgiveness Category 3 irons compare in data?
Irons within Category 2.5
TaylorMade P790 / Mizuno MP-20 HMB / Callaway Apex Pro 19 / Cobra King Forged Tec / Ping i210 / Mizuno MP-20 MMC / Ben Hogan PTx Pro / PXG 0311 P Gen 3 / Titleist T200 / Ping i500 / Callaway Mavrik Pro
Our favourite irons with a forgiveness rating of 2.5
TaylorMade P790 (2019)
The P790 transformed TaylorMade’s iron business. The original P790 was not only the brand’s biggest-selling forged iron ever (the face was forged); it was also the iron that ignited the whole hollow body iron market back in 2017.
Last year, though, TaylorMade revealed this new thinner-faced 2019 P790 with extra internal tungsten weighting, reduced offset in the long irons and more compact short irons. And, believe us, they nudge the bar upwards in terms of what’s expected of a players’ distance iron.
These are all-round beauties. They’re our second longest players’ iron of 2020 (without the strongest loft), and, thanks to heads filled with SpeedFoam, they sound and feel great, while creating plenty of face flex and ball speed. They also control drop-offs on mishits nicely, too. For the third year in a row, the TaylorMade P790 are right at the cutting edge of the very best players’ and hollow body irons available.
Cobra King Forged Tec
It took us an age to get hold of a Cobra Forged Tec sample but, based on this performance, it was well worth the wait. The Cobra Forged Tec was the fastest and longest player irons in our test, which is impressive when you realise they’re Cobra’s first stab at a hollow players’ iron. Inevitably, many will point to the strong loft (29.5° 7-iron), but that’s a sign of the times, as brands know consumers buy from launch monitor numbers.
The really important question is whether you can stop shots on a green, especially moving into the longer irons. Only you can answer that. Based on our experience, backspin is 22% lower than our test average, but launch angle, shot height and descent angle are all very tight to our test averages. So for some it will be touch and go while for others, particularly those who replace long irons with hybrids, it will be workable. Try before you buy.
Mizuno MP-20 HMB
We’re big fans of hollow irons at TG – they bring something new and different to the iron party, filling a gap between players’ and game-improvement irons that was really difficult to bridge a few years ago. All the top brands now have at least one hollow-headed, fast-faced iron in their line-up, so if you’re looking at TaylorMade’s P790, Ping’s i500 or Titleist’s T200 you really should be trying the Mizuno MP-20 HMB, too.
How do you choose between Mizuno’s cavity back MMC and the HMB? We see it like this. Some golfers struggle to love hollow irons, as they feel shot consistency (spin and distance control) is compromised, which makes it difficult to score. We reckon the tech has moved on, but if you’re that type of player, MMC should be your choice. If, though, you want fast-faced irons to add speed and distance to your game, we’re fans of the HMB’s profile, sound and feel. Unlike some strong-lofted distance irons, the Mizuno MP20 HMB don’t suffer from low launch or low spin, either.
How do Forgiveness Category 2.5 irons compare in data?
Irons within Category 2
Our favourite irons with a forgiveness rating of 2
Honma T//World 747 Vx
With the exception of the Cobra King Forged Tec, the Honma Vx was the strongest lofted 7-iron in our players’ iron category. That means it should be fast and long. But our data has the Vx down as not only more than capable of competing with any forged iron (it was our longest fully-forged model by three yards from the Srixon Z785), it holds its own against fast-faced, hollow body models, too.
It’s not just all about power, either. Our data has the Vx beating our test average (5.7% vs 6.49%) for carry drop-off, which should make it a consideration for golfers looking for a degree of forgiveness from their forged irons. We love the head’s straight lines and typical Japanese high toe shaping. A brilliantly powerful forged iron from a brand that’s making some big waves for the consistent quality of its products.
How do Forgiveness Category 2 irons compare in data?
Irons within Category 1
How do Forgiveness Category 1 irons compare in data?
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. How much more forgiving is a hybrid iron? Cleveland say that thanks to a hollow hybrid-like body, their Launcher HB Turbo has a centre of gravity 17% lower and 46% deeper than a typical cavity-back iron!
How our tested irons compared
Our test pro has hit the Cleveland Launcher HB Turbo and Wilson Launch Pad several times now. They’ve always left him smiling since they’re so friendly to use. Even with lightweight shafts, our two models produced the smallest carry distance loss of any category (5.8%).
Because they’re designed to get shots airborne quickly, hybrid irons don’t have the strongest lofts yet the category produced our fastest ball speeds, the highest peak height, the second steepest descent angle and the longest carry distance. When you factor in their very reasonable cost, this is just remarkable.
Who should use Category 5 models (Hybrid Irons)?
We like Cleveland’s story of how golf is a frustrating game, where mishits end up in lakes, deep rough or bunkers. 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.
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, such as the Wilson D7, 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.
How our tested irons compared
Our Category 4 models had the least amount of average 7-iron loft, but that doesn’t mean shots flew ridiculously low with zero backspin. In fact, shots flew higher and dropped at a steeper angle than our higher-lofted Category 1 blades.
And with the exception of our Category 5 hybrid irons, these irons also produced the fastest ball speeds and most amount of 7-iron distance of any category. Club engineers often talk about how loft sheets are one dimensional and don’t tell the whole story of how clubs perform in reality. Part of that comes down to how technology like cup faces can add dynamic loft.
If your swing speed is modest, make sure you try strong lofted models on a launch monitor before buying and ensure you flight shots high enough, with plenty of backspin to maximise carry distance and stop shots on a green.
Who should use Category 4 models (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.
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.
TaylorMade went to great lengths to make their SIM Max sound and feel like a forged iron, Callaway use different artificially intelligent faces for every iron in the set to optimise performance, while Ping use toe weights to increase MOI in smaller, more attractive head shapes.
Typical performance traits
There’s disagreement among brands as to whether this category should be home to their strongest loft irons. Callaway’s Mavrik (27° 7-iron) and Cobra’s Speedzone (27.5° 7-iron) think yes, while TaylorMade and Ping believe otherwise.
So 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. Cobra’s Speedzone (3.2mm in the 7-iron) has more than twice the offset as its Category 1 King Forged CB/MB (1.5mm in the 7-iron). 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.
How our tested irons compared
With a difference of only three yards of average carry distance spanning the Category 3,
Category 3.5 and Category 4 irons, you simply cannot choose your next iron purchase based on performance data alone.
You can, however, use our test data to create your shortlist. To get the right answers, you’ll need to be honest about your game. Ask yourself the following key questions: 1. Will you gain most benefit from the feel and sound of a forged model? 2. Would an extra seven or eight yards of mid-iron carry distance be beneficial to your game over anything else? 3. Does your game ultimately need maximum forgiveness at all costs?
Who should use Category 3.5 models (Game Improver Irons)?
On paper, this category produced our largest loss of carry distance on mishits, but remember that the shots were hit by a test pro. The results for a regular club golfer with a Players Iron would be very different.
Part of the reason there’s more difference between our pro’s on- and off-centre hits for Category 3.5 and Category 4 irons comes down to how most models are fitted with slightly lighter shafts and, sometimes, a lighter swing weight to help maximise swing speed.
It’s no secret the engineers target 18–20 handicappers with these clubs.
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.
How our tested irons compared
One iron skewed our data in this category – the super strong-lofted Epic Forged. It’s 27° 7-iron loft is as strong as any on the market, but the Epic also comes with longer shaft lengths (which add speed) and less hosel offset, too.
The Epic Forged’s super strong lofts and minimal offset made them our longest irons of 2020 by nine yards, but also drove launch, spin and descent angle down, which for many club golfers isn’t an ideal combination.
On paper, this category might look a fraction faster (1.2mph) and longer (two yards) than Category 3.5 game-improver models but don’t be swayed on data alone. There’s more forgiveness on for those who want it.
If you place a premium on an iron’s looks and feel, and don’t wish to compromise on any of those attributes to get forgiveness, Category 3 irons may be right up your street.
Who should use Category 3 models (Game Improver Plus)?
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.
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.
How our tested irons compared
This is the category of iron preferred by our test pro Neil Wain, who played off plus-4 as an amateur. Across the board, the category delivered his smallest carry distance loss on mishits (5.9%). In fact, no fewer than three models returned less than 5% carry distance loss on mishits – Cobra King Forged Tec, Ping i210 and Titleist T200 – but no other iron in the whole test broke the 5% barrier.
On average, our Players Distance irons had 1.5° less clubface loft than our Category 2 Players Irons, which served to add nearly 2mph of ball speed. Crucially, even though backspin was reduced by more than 600 RPM, shots launched, peaked and descended onto a green at similar rates to the Category 2 models while adding an extra five yards of average carry distance to a 7-iron.
Again, that is extremely impressive technology.
Who should use Category 2.5 models (Player's 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.
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.
How our tested irons compared
Distance shouldn’t ever be the prime reason for opting for a player iron over a blade, because if speed and distance are the prime requirements of an above average golfer then they really should be looking at Players Distance irons instead. Our data has our Category 2 irons generating 4.2mph more ball speed than the blades, which equates to an extra eight yards of carry with a 7-iron.
A slightly lower CG, made possible by the cavity-back offering some perimeter weighting, means shots launch and fly a little higher, and drop onto the green at a slightly steeper angle. In terms of carry distance forgiveness, there’s an almost 2% average improvement over Category 1 blades, but that changes to more than 6% when you compare the most forgiving Category 2 model against the least forgiving Category 1 performer.
Who should use Category 2 models (Player's 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.
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.
How our tested irons compared
The average 7-iron loft of the blades we tested was 34.25°. That’s a full 5° of difference compared to our Category 3.5 game-improvement models. Due to their weakest (high) lofts, blades created some 4mph less ball speed, too.
However, the increased loft doesn’t necessarily mean shots will launch and fly high. Reduced offset and lower launch shafts saw the musclebacks launching and peaking lower than both our Category 2 and Category 2.5 models while they generated the least amount of average 7-iron carry distance – 160 yards. Incredibly, this is some 20 yards shorter than the Category 5 models.
This shows how much is on the line if you get your iron decision wrong. Our data suggests a mishit blade will cost you almost 10% of your carry distance, whereas with a Category 5 hybrid iron that number is cut almost in half.
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.