By Zak Kozuchowski
GolfWRX Managing Editor
In golf, Ping is known as a company that produces high-quality cast irons for golfers of all ability levels – everyone from high handicappers to 2012 Masters champ Bubba Watson. Despite the fact that five of the PGA Tour’s Top-10 ranked golfers in Greens in Regulation in 2012 used cast irons, some golfers are convinced that cast irons are inferior to irons that are forged.
While it is unfair to say that cast irons are always inferior to forged irons, cast irons generally have two distinct drawbacks. First, they often feel harsh at impact when compared to forged clubs, which tend to produce a softer feel. Cast irons are also tougher to bend, which can make it hard for golfers to dial in their lofts and lie angles.
Ping recognized the desire of many golfers to play forged irons, which is why the company released its first forged iron in decades in 2011, the Anser Forged. The irons were smaller than most Ping cavity back irons, which made them visually appealing to golfers who preferred the look of a compact iron at address. They also offered the softer feel that forged iron fans wanted
As expected, the Anser Forged were most popular in Japan and Asia, areas where forgings have a much broader appeal. But they were also well received by a small crowd of U.S. golfers who were anxious to finally try a modern forged iron from Ping. Ping received feedback, however that the average golfer had difficulty hitting the Anser Forged long irons high enough for them to be effective. This made the clubs suitable for a very small group of golfers – players who wanted a compact forged iron but didn’t need help hitting the ball higher.
In an effort to broaden the appeal of the Anser Forged, Ping re-engineered the irons for 2013. And they set the bar high, setting out to make “the ultimate forged iron.” Like the previous model, the new Anser Forged irons come with a steep price tag (expect to pay between $1300 and $1500 for a stock set). But if you can stomach the cost, you’ll have a set of irons that blend good looks and performance as well as any forged iron available.
Better looks and forgiveness?
The new Anser Forged are longer and more forgiving than the previous Anser Forged irons, especially in the long irons. Engineers made the soles of the long irons wider, which according to Ping senior design engineer Marty Jertson is the easiest way to make an iron fly higher.
But the added sole width came at a cost. Many good players hesitate to play an iron that has a visible sole at address. On the 2011 Ping Anser irons, golfers could only see the top line of the irons at address. But in the 2013 model, the sole is visible behind the top line on the 3 and 4 irons.
*2011 Anser Forged 3 Iron (Left) and the 2013 Anser Forged 3 Iron (right)
Engineers also added more offset to the long irons, another visual aspect that some good players can find unappealing. Offset is the space between the forward portion of the hosel and the front of the clubface. For many good golfers, offset can be a bad word. This is because the more offset a club has, the higher a shot will fly, which can cause problems for good golfers who like to hit low shots.
“The more offset you put on the club, the more the clubhead wants to catch up with the shaft,” Jertson said. “[During the downswing] the head is lagging behind the shaft, but right at impact the head kicks forward and starts to lead the shaft. The offset increases initial launch angle.”
The long irons just don’t have more offset, they also have larger heads to make them more forgiving. Good players might balk at the looks of the revamped 3 and 4 irons, but once they hit them their aesthetics will become less important. Players tempted to replace their long irons with hybrids likely won’t need to with 2013 Anser Forged. The 3 and 4 irons have the distance and forgiveness of many hybrids, but offer the trajectory control and soft feel of a forged iron.
The larger size of the 3 and 4 irons are a special case, however. Jertson and his team felt the extra bulk was worth the added performance. But the rest of the 2013 Anser Forged irons get progressively smaller and have less offset throughout the set. That’s because there are plenty of ways for engineers to add forgiveness without adding bulk.
Big forgiveness, small clubhead
Contrary to what many good golfers believe, thick toplines serve a purpose greater than adding visual confidence at address for less-skilled players. Just as heel-toe weighting adds forgiveness to shots hit on the heel and toe, weight above and below the sweetspot adds forgiveness to shots hit in those areas as well. That’s why Ping thickened the toplines of the Anser Forged irons. But unless you took a caliper and measured the toplines, you wouldn’t know they were any thicker. That’s because Ping engineers shaped the topline in such a way that they could hide mass underneath it. This makes the revamped irons more visually appealing to good players and adds better performance on mishits as well.
Jertson said that all Ping irons are designed to provide maximum forgiveness for their size. Like Ping’s most blade-like iron, the S56, engineers added tungsten weights and the strategically placed bars in the cavity of the irons that add forgiveness and tune the center of gravity. But because the 2013 Anser Forged Irons are larger than the S56 irons, they were able to add forgiveness on a larger scale.
*2011 Anser Forged 7 Iron (left) vs. 2013 Anser Forged 7 Iron (right)
Each of the 2013 Anser Forged irons have an enormous tungsten sole weight that moves the center of gravity lower and deeper for faster ball speeds. The bars in the cavity are also specialized for each iron -- on the long irons, they are thinner and extend horizontally for a lower center of gravity. On the short irons, engineers made the bars thicker and more vertical. This makes them more forgiving on shots hit above and below the sweet spot and helps golfers flight the ball as well. All together, the sneaky thick toplines, tungsten soles and strategically placed bars add a huge amount of forgiveness, making the Anser Forged irons play much more forgiving than their sizes indicate.
Miguel Angel Jimenez became the first to win with the 2013 Anser Forged irons at the UBS Hong Kong Open in November 2012 and Hunter Mahan put the irons in his bag at the World Challenge two weeks later. Both players were previously playing the smaller, less-forgiving S56 irons. That's a testament to how good these irons look, even to the discerning eye of a top tour pro.
Looks: The 3 and 4 irons are a bit on the chunky side, but the 5 iron though pitching wedge look like forged cavity back irons should. While the irons get smaller as they work down the set, they are all larger than blades. But they're not too much bigger than the S56 and forged cavity back irons aimed at better players.
Playability and Performance: This is where the Anser Forged Irons shine. They're not too much bigger than the top tier of players irons, but they are much more forgiving. The tungsten weighting and angled bars offer substantial forgiveness and fine-tuned trajectory throughout the set without added bulk.
Flight and distance: Long irons launch easy and won't balloon for better players with the right shaft. The mid-and-short irons offer workability, and are able to be flighted when necessary. Distance won't be a problem with these. No problems working the ball, either.
Feel: The irons are forged from 8620 carbon steel, but don't feel as soft as other forgings because of their multi-material construction and their deeply milled cavities. It's a "squish" feel at impact -- an improvement over the clicky sound of most Ping irons, but definitely not the buttery feel that some forged irons produce.
Cost: The key to getting more forgiveness out of a small, forged clubhead like the new Anser Forged is the deep cavities in the back of the club. They give engineers the ability to redistribute weight in the most optimal places. It took multiple forging and milling steps to get the Anser Forged’s 8620 steel as thin as necessary in certain areas, which is why they're so expensive.
Bottom Line: If you want one of the highest-quality, highest-performing forged irons on the planet, these irons are for you. If cost is an issue, consider Ping's i20, which cost around $1000.They don't feel as good or look as good as the Anser Forged irons, but they're slightly more playable thanks to a little more offset and a larger blade size