Pros: A little more forgiving than the S56 irons, with a slightly softer feel. They also fly a bit farther than the previous model. A lot of technology in a small package.
Cons: Purists will be disappointed that these aren’t forged, and their $999 price tag (with Ping’s CFS steel shafts) is steep for a cast iron.
Bottom Line: Ping found a way to squeeze a little extra forgiveness and distance out of the new S55 irons. They look almost identical to the S56 irons (which we think is a good thing) that have over 30 professional victories since fall of 2011. We wish they had more of a forged feel but after testing we can’t ask for much more than that. These are on a short list for editors’ choice irons of the year for 2014.
Ping engineers had to be a little nervous about reengineering the S56 iron, which is considered to be one of the best-looking, best-feeling players irons the company had ever created. It was also a favorite with professional golfers, who used the irons to win more than 30 professional tournaments across the globe since its debut in the fall of 2011.
That’s why few golfers will find fault with Ping for only making slight changes to the company’s newest S-Series iron, the S55. But those slight changes will be noticeable to discerning golfers, and makes the irons even better performers than their predecessors.
Photo above: The new S55 7 iron (front) and the uber-winning S-56 7 iron.
The biggest change to the new irons is the Custom Tuning Port, or CTP as Ping calls it, which is positioned behind the impact area in the iron head. The CTP is now larger and made of a new thermoplastic elastomer material that better absorbs vibration at impact. That serves to soften the feel of the 17-4 stainless steel cast irons, and its larger size allows more weight to be moved from the center of the iron to the perimeter. As a result, the irons have a slightly higher moment of inertia (MOI), a measure of an iron’s forgiveness, and have a more precisely tuned CG locations for each club.
The 0.5 percent increase in MOI in the new S55 irons doesn’t sound like a lot, but according to Ping engineers, it adds 1-to-2 yards of distance to shots that are struck 0.5 inches from the sweet spot. And because Ping didn’t increase the size of the iron heads — they’re actually fractionally smaller than the S56 irons — they’re just as workable, a key selling point for accomplished golfers.
The S55 irons currently sell for $999 (3-PW) with Ping’s CFS shaft, which is available in four different flexes: soft regular, regular, stiff and x-stiff.
Before the S55 irons hit our doorstep for testing, we knew something special had to be going on with them. Hunter Mahan and several top Ping staffers immediately switched including did Bubba Watson, who had been playing Ping’s S59 irons for almost a decade. Those guys just don’t change irons irons for the heck of it.
What we found was that the four or so grams of weight Ping saved because of the larger CTP allowed them to move the CG of the long irons lower and deeper in the head, creating a trajectory that launched the ball fractionally faster, as well as higher and with less spin. That means that golfers will be able to hit their long irons slightly farther (probably about 3-to-5 yards) than the S56 irons, an important change for the special few who make their living with their ability to reach par-5’s in two and set up birdie putts on long par-3’s.
Photo above: Ping is known to have some of the most precise milling machines in the golf industry, and the milling marks on the S55’s faces are proof of the company’s attention to detail. Simply awesome!
Ping also modernized the lofts of its short irons, strengthening the pitching wedge 1 degree, the 9 iron 1.5 degrees, the 7 and 8 irons 1.25 degrees and the 6 iron 0.5 degrees. And thanks to the lower CG of the 4 iron, that club was actually weakened 0.25 degrees, helping golfers launch that club higher. The changes to the short irons resulted in an immediate distance gains of 3-to-4 yards, which we’re not going to complain about.
Photo (left): A high-density tungsten toe weight adds MOI to the irons. The expanded custom tuning port (right) was moved lower in the cavity to help lower CG. It is made from a thermoplastic elastomer material (TPE) to soften the sound and feel at impact.
We also found the leading-edge grind of the S55 irons to be just a bit more blunt than the S56 irons, which seemed to better help us control the depth of our divots. And we appreciated that the sole widths remained unchanged from the S56’s, giving accomplished golfers the ability to extricate shots from the rough with a knife-like ability.
Some golfers might appreciate the more progressive sole widths found on irons like the 714 AP2 irons, which are wider in the long irons for a higher launch and more narrow in the short irons for more versatility. But those companies offer more compact irons with narrower soles as well, and Ping does not. And Ping’s larger G25, i20 and 2013 Anser Forged give golfers plenty of options for irons with progressive sole widths.
Photo above: Notice how much more compact the S55 irons are than Ping’s larger-sized players irons, the i20.
Photo above: Can see how much thinner and more “blade-like” the sole of an S55 7 iron (left) is compared to and i20 7 iron.
Photo above: Notice the shorter blade length of an S55 7 iron (left) and the reduced amount of offset when compared to an i20 7 iron.
Looks and Feel
The S55’s score huge points for bag appeal, with a minimalistic milled cavity-back design with just the right amount of bling from their badging. And they look even better at address, where they’re almost identical the S56 irons. But that’s ok to us, because in our humble GolfWRX opinion the S56 and S55 irons look exactly as a modern players iron should.
One thing that we did notice was that the transition between the hosel and the top line in the S55 irons is a little beefier than in the S56’s, adding smoothness to the area and giving the appearance of less offset. That will please golfers who like a little bit of offset, but don’t necessarily want to look at it.
Photo above: Can see the smoother transition from hosel to top line on the S55 pitching wedge (left) compared to a S56 pitching wedge.
The most important thing about the new irons for many players will be the sound, which is noticeably less clicky than in the previous model. Many golfers will love the softer feel, but it’s just not comparable to the resounding “thud” that is produced from other company’s forged offerings. Then again, some players prefer a slightly clicker feel at impact, which helps provide them with feedback as to exactly where they contacted the ball.
Photo above: The face of a S55 3 iron (left) and a 7 iron. Many better players demand these more compact heads for added workability and versatility.
Ping had us excited when the company released the 2013 Anser Forged irons, its second attempt at mid-sized forged iron. It was a hint that Ping might finally go forward with the forged S-Series iron that golfers have begged the company to produce. But at the end of the day, Ping’s designers decided that the main drawback of forged irons, needing to make the structure thicker, just wasn’t worth the extra performance they could pack into a cast club. Consider as well that a forged S-Series iron would have dramatically increased the cost of the irons (the Anser Forged cost between $1300 and $1500 for a set depending on shaft), moving them out of many golfers’ price range.
Take sound and feel away from this review, and we’d be tempted to say that the S55’s might be the best performing players iron on the market today. But in the players iron category, which is geared toward golfers who rarely miss the sweet spot, sound and feel might be the most important part of making a buying decision.
There’s not enough differences between the S55’s and the S56 irons for us to recommend an upgrade, but for golfers who absolutely need a new set, we’re confident to steer them in the S55’s direction. Pound for pound, they’re one of the most forgiving tour-quality players irons a golfer can currently buy. And while they don’t feel as good to us as their forged competition, they still feel great.
Asking golfers to name their favorite players irons is a bit like asking them to name their favorite supercar. Some like the high-tech approach, while others like a more raw driving experience. With the S55 iron, Ping went the tech route, deciding that the performance benefits of a cast iron exceeded the sound and feel benefits of forged. And for a company who has built its name on performance, it’s hard for us to disagree with them.