Pros: Clean and classy at address, with no visible bulk behind the top lines. These launch higher and faster than most irons their size, and they’re one of the best at delivering forgiveness on mis-hits.
Cons: Sound and feel are subjective, but the RocketBladez Tour irons are certainly a departure from what we’re used to from TaylorMade. Some golfers will like the louder sound, others will not.
Bottom Line: Making a long, forgiving set of irons that appeal to tour players is no small task, but TaylorMade made it happen with the RocketBladez Tours. They’re not for everybody, particularly high-ball hitters, but the increased ball speed and launch angle is incredible for an iron their size.
The RocketBladez Tour irons were designed to do the impossible — convince professional golfers that they should give up their muscleback irons for a set that was:
- Had a deep undercut cavity-back design.
- Went substantially farther and/or higher than their current set of irons.
If those changes weren’t big enough for TaylorMade’s tour players, the company then had to explain to them how a slot in the sole of the 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 iron would make the clubs fly more consistent distances on mis-hits.
Many of TaylorMade’s staff players did convert to the new irons: Sergio Garcia, Sean O’Hair, Justin Rose, Justin Leonard, Reteif Goosen, Y.E. Yang, Matt Bettencourt and others are all currently using RocketBladez Tour irons. So why isn’t TaylorMade shouting from the rooftops about all the tour players it has converted to an iron that on paper is the antithesis of a tour iron? Well, despite their success in the hands of a few players, the RocketBladez Tour irons have been very hit and miss.
Here’s one example — after Dustin Johnson won the 2013 Hyundai Tournament of Champions with the RocketBladez Tour irons, he immediately switched back to TaylorMade Tour Preferred MB irons. And several other TaylorMade staffers such as 2013 PGA Tour winners Brian Gay, D.A. Points and Martin Laird have either switched away from the RocketBladez Tour irons or haven’t bagged them at all.
A Mixed bag: Justin Rose uses RocketBladez Tour long irons (3-6), but prefers the look and feel of TaylorMade’s Tour Preferred MB irons for his short irons (7-PW). Click here to see what else is in Rose’s bag.
But Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade’s product creation manager for irons, wedges and putters, said he’s not surprised by the reluctancy of certain players to use the new irons.
“Think back to the original metal woods,” Bazzel said. “Any time you have something like this, where there’s a significant performance break through, it takes a certain amount of time for players to get used to it.”
One of the most criticized parts of the RocketBladez Tour irons actually has nothing to do with them. Many spec-conscious golfers balked at the lofts of TaylorMade’s non-Tour RocketBladez irons, which are sold with a stock 6 iron loft of 26.5 degrees. That number is between 1 to 4 degrees stronger than a lot of 6 irons on the market, which can equate to about one full club of distance on its own.
Because of the perceived similarities between the RocketBladez and the RocketBladez Tour irons, the Tours have gotten a reputation for having strong lofts even though they’re somewhat traditionally lofted — the 6 iron is 29.5 degrees.
What makes the RocketBladez loft dilemma even stranger is this — members of our custom fitter panel have reported that for every set of RocketBladez Tour irons they’ve sold, they’ve literally sold dozens of standard RocketBladez irons, which just happen to be one of the best selling irons in golf. That proves what we’ve known all along — golfers might complain about strong lofts on irons, but if they can hit shots farther and straighter with them, they’ll be quick to find their credit cards.
Farther and straighter is exactly what the RocketBladez and RocketBladez Tour irons do. So why is it that the standard RocketBladez irons have been flying off the shelves, while a much smaller percentage of professional golfers and serious amateurs are gaming the RocketBladez Tours? The answer is simple — it’s an issue of height.
High-to-mid-handicap golfers, the target audience for the standard RocketBladez irons, almost always need to hit their irons higher because it gives them more carry. And the standard RocketBladez are one of the highest-flying, longest-flying game-improvement irons on the market.
Low-handicap golfers, however, the ones that TaylorMade targeted with the RocketBladez Tours, often don’t need or want any more distance or height from their irons. Sometimes, they actually want their irons to fly lower. So TaylorMade’s decision to create an iron that allows for a steeper angle of descent into greens isn’t that attractive to them.
But that doesn’t mean that RocketBladez are bad irons. In fact, they’re really good, and for golfers who would like more height on their iron shots, they might be the best irons they’ve ever hit.
Other than height, one of the biggest concerns serious golfers have about RocketBladez Tour irons is their disposition to a “flyer,” which happens when a golfer catches a shot slightly above the sweet spot on the club face. The higher contact point gives golfers almost all of the speed of a center hit, but it drastically reduces spin, which causes iron shots to fly much farther than intended.
TaylorMade engineers said they fixed the hot spot problem by making the sweet spot of the RocketBladez Tour irons much larger. According to Sean Toulon, executive vice president for TaylorMade, the sweet spot of a RocketBladez Tour iron is about the size of a quarter, while the sweet spot of TaylorMade’s most recent muscle back iron is closer to the size of a pea.
So why would a tour player choose to play a shorter-flying iron with the sweet spot the size of a pea when he or she could have a longer-flying iron with a sweet spot the size of a quarter? According to Toulon, tour players like blade irons despite their small sweet spots because they’re “slow everywhere.” So even though one-piece forged irons don’t fly as far as multi-material irons, they tend to fly around the same distance on center hits as on slight mis-hits. For better players who make contact near the sweet spot nearly every time, the improved distance control means more birdie chances.
As a former blade player, I was skeptical that an iron with a high coefficient of restitution (COR) — TaylorMade claims the RocketBladez and RocketBladez Tour irons both have a COR of 0.819, which is near the legal limit 0.83 — could be as consistent as the one-piece forgings I’d gamed my whole life. But the speed slot technology that goes into the RocketBladez Tour irons makes sense — by adding a slot to the sole of the iron, the entire structure of the iron becomes more flexible. That not only increases ball speed on good shots; it also increases speed on mis-hits.
According to TaylorMade engineers, the added speed on mis-hits would be most apparent on shots hit low on the face, as that’s where the majority of flexibility was added. And that’s a good thing for better players, as most of their mis-hits are the result of shots struck too low on their club face.
When I first received my RocketBladez Tour irons several months ago, I tested them against my gamer irons on our in-house FlightScope X2 launch monitor. With every one, I saw a higher launch angle and faster ball speed. I didn’t really care that I was hitting the short irons farther, but I was ecstatic to see the increased distance from the long irons. Like most golfers, the new technologies in my 15-degree fairway wood and 18-degree hybrid created a larger gap between those clubs and my longest iron.
I still wasn’t convinced that I should be playing a cast iron with a slot in it, however, so when I took a trip to Modern Golf, a custom fitting facility in Toronto that is on our “Best of” panel, I warned them that I’d be pestering them for feedback on a set of RocketBladez Tour irons.
During the iron fitting, Modern Golf fitter Ian Fraser described me as a “pincher” of the ball, someone who tends to hit down steeply and launches the ball lower than most golfers in my swing speed range. That’s why he said the RocketBladez Tour irons were so good for me — I needed the extra height. During testing on their Trackman, I continued to see the same results I saw on FlightScope — shots with the RocketBladez Tours were flying higher and faster than shots with my one-piece forgings. But the irons did need a little bit of tweaking to be fully optimized for me, as they will for most golfers.
Tuning carry distances
Above: The RocketBladez Tour 7 iron is the last iron in the set to have a slot in the sole. According to TaylorMade engineers, the value of the speed pocket diminishes with shorter irons because of the added loft.
According to TaylorMade engineers, fitting RocketBladez Tour irons is similar to fitting a driver. The center of gravity position in the head controls the launch, while the loft controls the spin rate. I wish I could say that getting the RocketBladez Tour irons right for me was as simple as strengthening or weakening all the lofts 1 degree, but it wasn’t. To maximize the carry distance of the irons, Fraser bent the 3 iron 0.5 degrees weak, kept the 4 iron at 22 degrees, bent the 5 iron 0.25 degrees strong, bent the 6 iron 0.5 degrees strong, bent the 7 iron 0.25 degrees weak, left the 8 and 9 iron at 38 and 42 degrees, and bent the pitching wedge 2 degrees strong.
Those changes gave me a steady increase of about 9 yards through the set. The practical application is that I have a set of irons that covers a wider range of yardages, and on the long end I’ve been able to hit long irons instead of fairway woods and hybrids into par 5’s and short par 3’s.
Forgiveness and playability
More impressive than the distances the RocketBladez Tour irons fly on good strikes is the distance they fly on mis-hits. I won’t say that flyers don’t exist, particularly with the long irons, because I’ve hit shots that went a little farther than I thought was possible for the given situation. But those shots are few and far between. Overall, I’ve found the hotter faces of the irons to be unbelievably forgiving on slight mishits, and better than any players iron I’ve ever tested on poor strikes.
I’ve hit several shots with the RocketBladez Tour irons that I thought had no chance of getting to the green, but they found their way there anyway. The opportunity to be putting instead of chipping was the biggest selling point for me.
Looks and Feel
Above: Because the short irons (8-AW) do not have a speed slot, they can be cast from a softer-feeling metal — 431 stainless steel. That gives them a quieter sound at impact, which many golfers will prefer to the long irons, which are cast from 17-4 stainless steel.
Few golfers will fault the RocketBladez Tour irons for their looks. All they will see when they look down at the irons are player’s sized top line and blade length, a round toe and a small amount of offset. There’s absolutely no spillover of the back cavity at address, even in the long irons, which creates a classic look that’s very similar to TaylorMade’s Tour Preferred MC irons — exactly what TaylorMade engineers said they were shooting for when they initially drew up the RocketBladez Tours.
Just about every golfer, however, will have something to say about the way the irons feel — good or bad. There’s a distinct difference between the sound of the long irons — the 3 through 7 irons that are cast from 17-4 stainless steel, and the short irons — the 8 iron through AW that are cast from 431 stainless steel.
I wouldn’t say that the RocketBladez Tours feel harsh, but they are substantially louder than other players irons. It’s much like using a Scotty Cameron Newport putter for a long time, and then switching to a Newport Beach model with a sound slot. Some golfers think the slot makes the putter sound awful, while other love the sound and feel. The short irons are also “clickier” than most irons in the RocketBladez Tour class, but not intolerably so.
The good news about their construction? RocketBladez Tour irons are extremely hard to bend, so once golfers get their lofts and lie angles dialed in, they won’t have to worry about them moving that much.
Above: The deep undercut of a RocketBladez Tour 4 iron. The undercut, combined with several weight-saving measures such as a smaller hosel, thinner faces and a more compact design allowed TaylorMade engineers to position the CG of the irons lower and deeper in the head for a higher launch.
Like it or not, irons like the RocketBladez Tour are the future of iron design. One day, golfers will look back on the one-piece forged irons that they played for decades in the same way they now look at wooden drivers — they’ll wonder how they ever played with them.
There’s several things TaylorMade can do and probably will do to make the RocketBladez Tour irons better in future generations:
- They could feel softer.
- They could be more compact in size.
- A lower-trajectory model could be released.
But those suggestions shouldn’t imply that there’s much wrong with the current version, and that they won’t help golfers like me hit higher, farther and more consistent iron shots.
The RocketBladez Tour irons haven’t been the revolutionary product that TaylorMade wanted them to be when they were released, but they’re yet another shot to the heart for one-piece forged irons.
If you’re a low-ball hitter, blades should already be dead to you. Give these a shot.
The RocketBladez Tour irons are currently selling for about $699, and come stock with KBS Tour steel shafts in R, S and X flexes.