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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: In defense of blade irons

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I ran across an article this past weekend from March of 2020, which identified the irons used by the top ten players in greens in regulation on the PGA Tour (at the time). What I have always found interesting and enlightening is that the best players in the world overwhelmingly choose to play mostly traditional forged blade irons, while it is estimated less than two percent of recreational players choose them.

So, do these elite players choose blades because they are the best players in the world—or could it possibly be that they are the best players partly because they choose blade irons? I believe it is both. Playing blades somewhat “guides” you to more precise ball-striking because of the improved feedback–you can feel the slightest of mis-hits so you always know how you’re doing. But, blade irons also allow you to shape shots and be more precise in your distance control–in other words, they allow you to optimize your skills because of their design.

I’ve long believed that many more players could benefit from blades than are willing to play them–especially in the higher lofts. I’ll qualify that statement by sharing that I’ve seen robotic testing prove that the higher the loft of the club, the less perimeter weighting or a cavity back design will improve ball flight performance and forgiveness. In fact, the nod to trajectory consistency and distance control may well go to the blade design in the higher lofts.

While technology has allowed all iron designs to be better today than ever before, perimeter weighting in irons allows many more visual variations than are possible with a traditional one-piece forged design. Take a look at today’s offerings from major brands in the blade category and you’ll see striking similarities to blades from past decades. But in the “game improvement” categories, you’ll see a vast variety of cosmetic looks, though many of those design intricacies are no more than that and don’t affect performance all that much. This is a competitive industry and the big brands need to be able to repeatedly deliver something that looks different from the previous model so they can claim to have created something better.

But let me get back to the notion that blade-style irons can be “defended” for many more golfers than the number that choose to game that kind of design.

As a club designer, I’ve long admitted that there is only so much I can do for you by the way a club is designed. For example, I cannot help the shot hit fat. Or the one that is thinned/bladed. I can’t correct an over-the-top move through impact, a shut-down face angle or a face delivered to the ball laid wide open. I cannot affect your swing path nor your thought processes before you even hit the shot.

No, as a club designer, I cannot help anything but the quality of impact if, and only if, the ball is contacted somewhere reasonably close to the desired impact area of the face, and the face is delivered pretty square to the intended line.

Understand that with any golf club, there is only one true “sweet spot”–the exact pinpoint where the transfer of clubhead speed to ball speed is optimized. And, with any club, impact efficiency or “smash factor” begins to be compromised as impact moves away from that tiny pinpoint location. What perimeter weighting aspires to do is to mitigate that energy loss. While there is no question that a half-inch miss with a cavity-back 7-iron will likely go longer than the same miss with a forged blade 7-iron, the actual difference is smaller than you might believe.

I will share that the difference between that miss with those two different styles of irons is increasingly larger as the loft decreases. In other words, the difference you’ll experience with a quarter-inch miss with a 40-degree 9-iron is less than you will see with a 30-degree 6- or 7-iron. But there is another anomaly of your actual misses of which you should be aware.

For most golfers I’ve measured, misses with longer irons tend to range more from heel to toe, and with shorter irons those misses tend to range from low to high in the face. Because of the more consistent blade thickness from top to bottom, true blade-style short irons quite often deliver more consistent distance and ball flight than their perimeter-weighted counterparts, both with real golfers and on robotic testing.

Having written weekly posts as The Wedge Guy for nearly 20 years, I have addressed this subject numerous times, and again offer the following challenge to conduct your own experiments. Talk to one of your golf professionals or a buddy who plays pretty traditional forged blade irons and ask to borrow their 8, 9 and PW for a few rounds. Even though the shafts might be stiffer and heavier than you are used to playing, I think you will still be surprised at how good your shotmaking consistency is with those, as opposed to the cavity back irons that you’ve been gaming.

I’ll close today’s post by also asking a question you probably haven’t pondered at all: If you think you are not “good enough” to play a traditional forged blade iron favored by the world’s best players, why would you think you can meet your expectations with the same wedges they play? Robotic testing has continually proven to me that even modern “tour design” wedges are much less forgiving of mis-hits than the most traditional forged blade 9-iron or pitching wedge.

In my 40 years in this industry, it is one of those things that make me go “hmm…”

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, SCOR, or his leadership of the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2014. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to slightly raise the CG and improve wedge performance. He has just announced the formation of Edison Golf Company and the new Edison Forged wedges, which have been robotically proven to significantly raise the bar for wedge performance. Terry serves as Chairman and Director of Innovation for Edison Golf, which can be seen at www.EdisonWedges.com. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Donn Rutkoff

    Mar 10, 2021 at 7:50 pm

    Ain’t nothing in the world like Mizuno GFF wedges. I’m a hi handicap, now 66 yrs old, but I rarely miss hitting the green with a 52 degree killer Mizuno.

    Now here’s a question. I got fitted for 8-9-W. Looking to replace Nike Vapor Fly irons up top. Very nice irons but I wanted more precision, narrower sole. I hoped the fitter would put me into Mizunos but he said I did best with Ping I 500. So I got ’em and I like them a lot. They have a forged face. Question is how much of the overall club is forged and do any of y’all think they give the same feedback as a 100% forged Mizuno? I also have an old Mizuno Fli-hi GFF 24 degree hybrid, nice feel, and went to add an 18 deg. But no GFF. I got a new Mizuno MMC 18. Feels very similar to the GFF 24 deg. Comments???

  2. Sean Foster-Nolan

    Feb 19, 2021 at 9:20 am

    I always thought the concept was a bit overrated, and the “mystique” surrounding blades a bit overblown.

  3. MJD

    Feb 19, 2021 at 9:01 am

    The feel, feedback and flight of a decent bladed iron vs a cavity iron is like comparing The Beatles to Milli Vanilli!

    Once you play bladed irons you NEVER go back for reasons of forgiveness or playbility. As Terry says, a bad swing will end up with a bad shot; doesn’t matter what you play…just embrace it.

  4. Delbert

    Feb 18, 2021 at 4:11 pm

    The PGA and LPGA tours should go to a standard club and ball spec like major league baseball. Then we would see who has the game. Interesting that we don’t see Vokey introducing a cavity back wedge. Great article.

  5. Ron Snyder

    Feb 18, 2021 at 11:53 am

    Years ago a monthly golf mag published an article on the results of they acquired after observing several strikes with a cavity back and a blade iron. Using Iron Byron set up to repeat strikes high toe, low heel and point of percussion. The blade was more accurate (20-30%) on heel toe strikes! CG strikes were equal as expected. I don’t remember the loft used but either 5 or 7 iron. Of the robot offered no feedback but had it been a cool autumn day it would have said ouch on those toe hits. Producing positive accurate feedback which is what thousands of golf facilitators look for. Now that pros are hitting thousand mile 8 irons(yipper I’m jealous) and their 8 irons are like my old Wilson staff 5 iron, there iirons are more consistent. Seems to me, merely observed, that most consistent winners are blade players. Feedback is so important for players, golfers not so much. Looks good feels good so must be good for golfers is a necessity. Here’s to blades and I like the fact that designers are bringing back the design of the Sting blades of long ago (tungsten can work wonders put in the right place)
    Thx for the great articles

  6. Bob Pegram

    Feb 18, 2021 at 4:18 am

    Terry’s explanation makes sense. I have RAZR X Forged irons (2011) which are cavity back one piece forged. The long and middle irons are very easy to hit and get up in the air, but I have to make sure I hit the short irons low on the face or they come up short. Now I understand why.

  7. Kourt

    Feb 18, 2021 at 12:17 am

    Correction, a lot of the best male players in the world choose blade irons, but not all. But most of the LPGA players choose cavity irons. I’d argue that most amateur golfers resemble the swing speed of an lpga player not a pga player. An interesting question is why do most of the lpga choose to not play blades?

  8. Lefthack

    Feb 17, 2021 at 6:53 pm

    My combo irons are blades from 8 to PW. I could likely play a full set, but my game wouldn’t be as pretty and I would have to work harder.

    I would love to rock a set of Nike VR Pro blades, those look awesome.

    • delbert

      Feb 18, 2021 at 4:08 pm

      I picked up a used set of VRII Pro blades a few years ago for $129. They were barely used and very easy to hit. The combo sets are great, too.

  9. Theoxii

    Feb 17, 2021 at 6:34 pm

    I am a recovering club junkie. I have 6 sets ranging from exotics game improvement, TM 790s, maxfli A10 combos to Reid Lockhart blades. Not a whole lot of difference in scoring average. I’ve shot at least 78 with each set; I’ve also been on the wrong side of 90 with each. I found that your course management adjusts to your capability with the set ie choking up on a fairway or hybrid rather than a full 3/4/5 blade. From 7i up- 165yds in I dont have a problem with blades.

    • Terry Koehler

      Feb 17, 2021 at 10:54 pm

      I gamed the Reid Lockhart RL Blades for 20 years, until I designed the Ben Hogan FT. Worth 15s, which I have had in the bag since the first prototype set in 2014. That said, I always thought the RL blades were close to the ultimate blade — precision + forgiveness of the toe miss, which is the most penalizing on blades.
      Have to admit I’ve been toying with a reprise of that RL Blade with some updating . . . Hmmmmmm, maybe there is an “ultimate” blade in Edison’s future . . . .

      • G

        Feb 18, 2021 at 4:49 am

        Hi Terry,
        The RL blades are a great looking iron.
        I used them for years and would be more than willing to try a newer version of them.
        Looks like you’ve got something to do in 2021?

      • Frank Walley

        Feb 20, 2021 at 4:51 pm

        I’d love to see the Edison update to the RL.

  10. SV677

    Feb 17, 2021 at 4:13 pm

    I started with blades because that was all that was available. I have a blade to practice with and find that after just a few swings I find the sweet spot more consistently. I would think ideally a split set might be the answer. The problem would be synching lofts. With today’s stronger lofts at around a 6 or 7 iron you would end up with two of the “same” clubs to keep consistent gapping.

  11. MarkM

    Feb 17, 2021 at 4:07 pm

    Terry, you have a very good way of frequently hitting the nail on the head. I’ve always thought “forgiveness” in irons was overrated and agree with your stance. I still want a 460 driver though so I can bash it as hard as possible and still find the course though.

    I’ve always preferred the look of a blade at address. Like Mr. Walsh, it’s probably because I grew up playing them. At different times in my golfing life I’ve gone to “more forgiving” irons and eventually made my way back to blades.
    I’m at that crossroads again. After playing a variety of cavity backs over the past 9 years I am back to playing a blade – the Honma Rose-Proto MBs, superb! This was after I experimented with a set of Hogan Grind blades after club season was over. In 3 months the ball striking improved enough with my irons to make my playing partners wonder if they were legal or not when I kept taking their money 🙂 As other say, to each his own but I’m pretty sure I’ll be playing blades for as long as I can get the ball in the air.
    Current hcp 7.0

  12. Robert Healey

    Feb 17, 2021 at 2:41 pm

    In an industry obsessing about COR,MOI and performance data lets not forget the most important metric of all, enjoyment.! Play what you like the look of, sound and feel of. For 99% or recreational gofers it doesn’t really matter if its a blade, game improvement or a combination.
    Go and enjoy whatever kit you have chosen.

  13. B_of_H

    Feb 17, 2021 at 12:43 pm

    Thank you. I have always thought that from 7 iron down blades are actually more accurate for me as I tend to miss a little high in the face at times and perhaps a bit on the heel. i’ve done a bunch of 7 iron fittings and blades had the most consistent distance and tightest dispersion each time.

  14. Michael Welsh

    Feb 17, 2021 at 12:35 pm

    I have found that my scores with blade irons are the same or better as cavity backs. Could be because I learned to play with blades nearly 60 years ago because that was my only option. Could be that they just plain look better to my eye because of that old historical tie. Or it could be because I get sloppy with a cavity back relying on that supposed forgiveness. So at this point I simply select a blade because it makes me happy. It makes me think about all the things I need to do to hit a pure shot, and when I don’t I only blame myself. Handicap 9.

    • Bob Jones

      Feb 19, 2021 at 12:40 pm

      I was going to write a response, but I don’t have to. You just wrote it for me. Every word, and I mean EVERY WORD, is my story, too.

    • EDWARD JOHNSON

      Feb 19, 2021 at 4:55 pm

      Exactly!

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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: Headstrong – Bryson DeChambeau flexes his mental muscle

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In “Ways to Win,” we track the PGA Tour winner’s rounds using the V1 Game mobile app and then analyze how they got the job done using the same tools available to V1 Game users.

Much was made as to whether Bryson DeChambeau would be able drive the green of the par-5 sixth hole at Bay Hill Club & Lodge at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. The 565-yard sixth horseshoes around a large lake, presenting a daunting challenge for mere mortals. As the crow flies, the green is just a mere 344 yards away, according to the Course Explorer in V1 Game. This gives new meaning to the term ‘reachable par 5’ as under the right conditions, DeChambeau is able reach the par 5 with a single shot. Those conditions did not present themselves until Saturday afternoon when DeChambeau unleashed a beastly drive that easily carried the water and ended up almost 380 yards just to the right of the bunker short of the green.

DeChambeau threw both arms up in celebration knowing full well that he is changing the way the game is played. However, it was not his physical strength that won the tournament this week, but his mental strength.

Bay Hill proved to be its own beast on Sunday with the scoring average at almost 75.5 and not a single player breaking 70. On a day more suited to patience and plodding, DeChambeau proved his mind to be just as strong as his body against an unlikely opponent in 47-year-old Lee Westwood. The two were never more than a stroke apart, though it seemed like DeChambeau was comfortably on top for a good part of the day. At several points, DeChambeau seemed to be poised to give strokes back to the field, but showed he can bomb more than his driver, dropping putts of 37 feet and 50 feet on holes 4 and 11. The putt on the 11th hole was critical to maintain the lead and keep momentum. In all, DeChambeau made 136 feet of putts on Sunday. Just what he needed on a day of grinding out pars. In fact, he parred the last 12 holes to close out the victory. DeChambeau is certainly known more for his driving than his putting, but when it mattered DeChambeau gained 1.9 strokes putting on a typical PGA Tour field according to his Sunday V1 Game round summary. DeChambeau putted well when it mattered most, finishing the week 21st in Putting.

DeChambeau did finish the week 1st in strokes gained off the tee and continues to use his work in the gym to his advantage. Despite Bay Hill having many holes requiring less than driver off the tee, DeChambeau still averaged over 300 yards off the tee each of the 4 days. He fully flexed his muscle on the last two days, cutting the corner on the 6th hole with Max Drives of 378 and 376 yards according to the Driving Distance plot from V1 Game. On Sunday, his drive on the 6th hole found the bunker just short of the green and was 168 yards closer to the hole than Lee Westwood’s tee shot. 168 yards! Still, golf is a game of precision and after two shots, both players were within a few yards of each other off the green and both made birdie.

Which leads to the last point… What DeChambeau is doing with the driver is amazing. In the weeks he is ‘on’, DeChambeau has an ability to separate from the field and guarantee he gains significant Strokes Driving on the field. However, he has his off weeks where that distance and speed will cost him a chance to compete as he sprays the golf ball off the course. The key though, is Approach Game. Bryson’s ball striking with irons and wedges is certainly his current weak spot. He has found a way to get the putts in the hole when it matters, but he consistently loses strokes between approach and short game. Looking at his performance this week, Approach (9th) and Short Game (30th) were good enough, but not great. As he adjusts to his newfound distance, I expect his Strokes Gained Approach to continue to improve.

Bay Hill is not a golf course that was going to be overpowered. It took mental strength and clutch putting to tame the course and shoot the best round of the day on Sunday, holding off Lee Westwood by a single stroke. DeChambeau has put in the work in the gym, with numbers off the launch monitor, and statistics on knowing his tendencies and when to take risks.

If you want to know your numbers and tendencies like Bryson, V1 Game can measure every facet of your game and get you to dominate the course. Whether it’s tracking driving distance gains or clutch putting, V1 Game can guide your practice and track your progress.

 

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Reviewing Mizuno M-Craft Putters, Callaway and Srixon golf balls, and MySIM2 is here!

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First holes of the year have been played and things went well. Mizuno’s M-Craft putter line is solid and very responsive. Callaway’s new Chrome Soft X LS is low spinning and surprisingly forgiving off the tee. Srixon’s new Z Star is a great, soft feeling ball that offers a lot of greenside spin and control. The MySIM2 custom driver I ordered came in and looks AWESOME! I went fully murdered out, but you can go as crazy as you want with colors!

 

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Your driver – Is it your first scoring club?

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titleist-ts1-driver-6-2020-best-driver

I made another visit to “Oz” yesterday, as I took time out from my business trip to Dallas to look inside a PGA Tour Superstore. As I wandered around, looking at what must have been a million dollars or more in inventory, I determined not much has changed in this business since I first started writing this blog over four years and 500 articles ago. So this morning’s blog is a revisit of a topic I wrote about way back then, which still holds true today. It was about thinking of your driver as your first scoring club.

I take great issue with the industry’s extreme, and almost complete focus on distance – not just with the driver, but with the irons as well. Without picking on anyone, some new irons have “P-clubs” 43 degrees of loft (which was an 8-iron when I was younger). Does that really help your game? Is a 6-iron easier to hit if you put an “8” on the bottom? No.

But where this quest for distance is abused the most is on drivers. We see the average driver in the store at 46-47” in length now, when the old standard was 43”, then 44” up to about 6-8 years ago. And average golfers are buying them like hotcakes. But do you realize that very few tour players are using a driver over 45” in length? Why? Because they know they cannot be reasonably accurate with longer drivers! So, if the tour players know they can’t control a driver that is 46-47” long, what the heck makes amateurs thing they can?

A few years ago, GolfSmith did an extensive live golfer test at their huge facility in Austin, Texas, where they had hundreds of golfers hit drivers of all sizes, shapes and lengths. They found that almost every golfer achieved his best average driving distance with drivers that were 43-1/2” long! Now, that was when 45” was the new “standard”, but the point remains clear to me:

Your driver is probably too long for you to hit efficiently!

The fact is, no matter what the technology, a ball hit squarely and solidly will be longer than one hit around the perimeter of the face. And you’ll hit more solid shots if your driver was shorter. You can prove this to yourself. In your next round of golf, grip down on your driver a full inch—or even two—every time you hit it. I’ll bet you’ll find that you hit more solid long drives than you have in some time. And your accuracy will be much improved.

Regardless of your skill level, there isn’t a golf course anywhere that doesn’t play easier from the fairway than it does from the rough, bunkers, OB, water, etc.

In my own case, I did this with three different drivers, and found that with each one, my best performance came when I was gripping the driver to effectively make it 44-1/4” long. I’ve been a scratch or low-handicap player my whole life and historically am a very good driver of the ball. As I began to take advantage of the new technology I found my driving accuracy failing, and I didn’t like it. So, I just began to grip down on these long drivers and my accuracy came right back, without a loss of distance!

Oh, and there’s another significant side benefit to this alteration to your driver. When you shorten it, you can use lead tape to bring the swingweight back up to where it should be. By positioning those few grams of lead tape strategically on the clubhead, you can bias your driver for a draw (weight in the toe) or fade (weight in the heel). You can also place the lead tape in the back of the head for a higher ball flight if you need it, or right on top of the crown behind the face for a lower ball flight.

It’s fun to tinker, and I trust you will find this driver tuning to be interesting and beneficial. And about that title of this article? If you don’t think the driver is your first scoring club, review your last round and count the penalty shots from the tee, and those holes where you took yourself out of play with your tee shot.

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