IRVING, Texas — Rich Beem, the winner of the 2002 PGA Championship , has trouble finding irons.
"I've always liked offset in my irons," he said Wednesday on the range at the TPC Four Seasons, site of this week’s Byron Nelson Championship. "Over the last couple of months I've been using Ping G15s, which are great and have a lot of offset and I really like the way they look. But at the end of the day I just wanted something that was a little smaller and had more of a blade look."
This week he's playing a set of Scratch Golf AR-1 irons (5-PW). Scratch, which first launched in 2003 with a line of handcrafted wedges, has also made clubs for Ryan Moore, David Duval and Cristie Kerr.
Beem said that Scratch made him a set of irons during the West Coast Swing, but the heads were too big, so the company made him another set.
"I was home after Charlotte and I knew my iron game had been atrocious all year," Beem said. "I said to myself, 'You need to try another set of irons.' I went to the Scratch irons and I really liked them. I think they are fantastic, good looking and have a really solid feel."
The AR-1 irons are made from forged 1018 carbon steel, the same soft material used in many of the company's wedges. They have perimeter weighting but feature a thin topline at address.
As of Wednesday morning, Scratch probably wasn't aware that Beem planned to use its clubs at the HP Byron Nelson Championship.
"The funny thing is that I came out here looking for the Scratch guy this morning," Beem said, "and he's not here this week!"
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — There's no way 175 players on the PGA Tour have a better iron game than Sean O'Hair. But according to the computers that track greens in regulation, so far this season there are.
For O'Hair, a 27-year-old with more than $14 million in earnings over the past five seasons as one of the best ballstrikers around, that's unacceptable.
"New Orleans was my fifth missed cut in a row," he said leaving the practice area. "So I just said to myself that there needs to be a change."
Tweaking his swing is part of that change, but another major part is a new set of irons. This week at The Players, O'Hair will be using TaylorMade's Forged MB blades.
"Over the last couple of years, because of the groove issue, I've had a difficult time trying to find irons that will flight the ball the way that I like," O'Hair said. He said that he's not too concerned with how the new grooves effect his shots out of the rough because like other pros, he's learned to handle flier lies. It's the shots from the short grass that have given O'Hair headaches.
"Out of the fairway, at least for me, I'm noticing that I am not getting the same flight every time," he said. "I'm looking for a penetrating flight; I don't like my irons to go super-high and I don't want them to come out so low that I cannot stop among the greens."
O'Hair has always played TaylorMade irons that feature a small cavity back or perimeter weighting system. He previously played TaylorMade's Tour Preferred irons, which have weight notches in the heel and toe. Earlier this year he tried new Forged CB irons, but they sent shots too high, especially with the short irons. The Forged MB irons offer plenty of feel and predictability, and a low, piercing flight.
"I'm looking for a certain miss," O'Hair said. "I always want my miss to be on the right. I may over-cut it or push it a bit, but when my misses start landing 10 or 15 yards short then I've got an issue. But if they're only three or four yards off on a missed shot, then I know these are the irons for me. That's what I've seen with the MBs, which I have not seen for two years."
TPC Sawgrass is a tough place to bring a new set of irons and a work-in-progress swing, but O'Hair seems encouraged by what he was able to achieve while taking last week off. Don't be surprised if he proves the green-tracking computer wrong.
Callaway has been making some of the best-selling irons for years, featuring clubs that help a lot of golfers hit the ball higher and farther more easily. Several offerings in the X Series and Big Bertha family of irons had big heads, massive sweet spots and low centers of gravity to make that possible.
The new RAZR Muscleback irons give you none of that. The first hint that these clubs are only for serious players is that the photo samples distributed by Callaway (right) show a 2-iron.
"If you aren't good enough to get your clubs for free, this might not be the best club for you," says Luke Williams, Callaway's director of product design. "I mean, really good amateur players and college players could play this club. There's a market for it, but it's small."
What the RAZR Muscleback, which is forged from carbon steel, does give players with an efficient and repeatable swing is the ultimate in feel and control.
Today's RAZR Muscleback irons started as prototype clubs built with tour players in mind. With small heads, short blades, anorexically-thin toplines and narrow soles, they first appeared in the bags of players like Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson with "X Prototype" stamped on their backs. After a while, Callaway made a few sets available to the public, calling the clubs the Tour Authentic X Protoype irons.
As Callaway considered its 2011 iron offerings, Williams says the company started thinking that it might be a good idea to bring the X Prototype irons out to the masses.
"When we thought about including an iron like this in our current line, we went out and got some feedback from players," Williams says. "We told them, 'Okay, if we're going to make a new version of this iron, what should we do differently?' And what we commonly heard back was, 'Well, change the name on the back. Don't change anything.' The players told us the size is perfect, the sole is just what we want, all of that. After hearing that often enough, that's what we decided to do."
The RAZR X Muscleback is, in fact, the X Prototype with some subtle cosmetic alterations made to the back of the club.
"While this iron may not include some of the latest technologies or come with a lot of bells and whistles, there are some things about it that are very important to get right," Williams says. "It's not just, 'Make a small forged blade and the players are going to love it.' You've got to get the offset right, you've got to get the blade length right, the toe shape, the topline width and angle. You've got to get the transition from the offset into the leading edge right. Those are the things that Tour players and better players are really concerned with."
The RAZR Muscleback are available now for $999 and come standard with Project X Flighted shafts, however, Callaway will change them to any steel shaft it carries for no additional charge. You can get more product specifications about the clubs on Callaway's Web site.
Adams Golf is releasing a new hybrid-iron set, the Redline series, max-game improvement clubs designed specifically for golfers who want to hit the ball farther.
The eight-club Redline sets will be available with either one, two or three hybrid clubs that can replace the 3-, 4- or 5-irons. The heads of the hybrids are slightly oversized and come with longer shafts. Combined with a thin steel face and a sole designed to reduce turf interaction, they should help golfers swing faster and create more ball speed.
The irons in the Redline set have wide soles that allowed Adams engineers to move more weight down and away from the face, making them more forgiving. A polyurethane insert is designed to soften impact and improve feel.
Look for new Adams Redline iron sets to start arriving in pro shops April 20 for $899 with UST Mamiya ATTAS-T2 graphite shafts and $799 with Redline Performance 85 steel shafts. Those prices will be the same whether you decide to go with one, two or three hybrids.
MARANA, Ariz. — I've been snooping around the golf bags of the game's best players for about three years. As a group, the pros are demanding, exacting and almost always open to anything that can help them play better. With the money that's on the line, why wouldn’t they want any edge they can get?
Before I started to really pay attention to their irons, I assumed that all pros played a uniform set, but that's not the case. Players like Phil Mickelson, Anthony Kim and Stewart Cink mix and match different types of irons to create their sets.
There are two main reasons why lots of pros choose to go with more forgiving cavity back long-irons. First, they're simply easier to hit.
"Sometimes you stand there and you get an awkward lie and you just go, 'I know I'm a great player, but I just can't pull off this shot because the ball is sitting in a divot or a ball mark or whatever," Paul Casey said before the start of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
The Englishman, who is ranked No. 6 in the world, uses Nike VR Pro Combo long irons and VR Pro Blade mid- and short irons. Until recently, he carried an old Nike Pro Combo OS 2-iron. You can see his irons in the photo on the right.
"If that situation costs you one shot at a tournament, that's one shot too many," he said. "That could be the difference."
Just as they do for weekend players, cavity back long irons offer the pros larger sweet spots and more forgiveness than blades. Awkward shots like Casey described are simply easier to handle with the help of a little technology.
More reasons the pros consider dropping a cavity back iron or two into their bag: those firm, fast greens they face on tour.
"I used blades for a long time," Ian Poulter told me in the practice area at the Ritz Carlton Course at Dove Mountain. "But then I just wanted to hit my long irons a little higher, so going from a blade to something with a cavity just made a lot of sense."
Poulter, who is currently ranked No. 12 in the world, uses Cobra Pro CB irons (4-7) and Pro MB irons (8-PW). You can see his irons in the photo at right.
Hitting higher long irons helps stop the ball faster on the firm greens of par 5s and long par 3s. Generally speaking, hybrids and fairway woods don't stop the ball as quickly as irons do.
There has never been a better time to mix and match clubs for amateur players who want to create their own composite set of irons. Lots of manufacturers sell clubs individually, and in many cases, different clubs look very similar to one another in the address position.
Poulter told me the transition within his set has not been a problem, and at address his irons all look the same.
That said, the transition from an oversize iron to a cavity back, or from a cavity back to a blade, can create problems if you try to create a composite set by yourself. Without the help of a good club fitter and a launch monitor, significant distance gaps between your irons can inadvertently be created. To avoid this problem, a good club fitter might adjust your lofts or suggest slightly different shafts to blend two or more types of clubs into an effective set.
"I think it would help amateurs way more than it helps us pros," Casey said.
Assuming you don't practice as often as a tour pro, Casey's advice could well be worth heeding.
For more than a decade, Callaway's signature line of irons, the X Series, has made the company one of the dominant forces in the category. From the X-12 to the X-24 Hot, they blended forgiveness and power in game-improvement models, while better-player models incorporated more shot-shaping feel.
You can now say goodbye to the X Series and hello to three models of new RAZR irons. Yes, there's an X on the back of the club, but these irons are built on a different foundation from their predecessors.
The RAZR X (above) is a game-improvement iron that has a huge hitting area. Replacing the X-22 and X-24 Hot in Callaway's line, each of the eight irons in the standard RAZR X set is made using a new variable face thickness technology, which makes the hitting area thinner as you move away from the center. This feature broadens the sweet spot and maintains ball speed on off-center hits.
The weight shaved from the face, as well as other non-critical areas, has been placed in a new waffle-patterned, 30-gram weight in the back of the club.
Luke Williams, Callaway's director of product design, says, "We added the extension to the back, so it's not a part of the sole. It's relieved from the sole so it won't interfere with the way the club goes through the turf." It's also not visible to the golfer at address.
The center of gravity (CG) in the new RAZR X is 12% lower and 15% deeper than the X-22, so shots hit lower in the face should fly higher. And because the CG is so low, Callaway designers were able to strengthen the lofts of the RAZR X irons to give you more distance.
The same RAZR weight system can also be found in the new RAZR Tour irons (right), designed for better players and mid-handicappers.
"What we've done [with the RAZR X Tour] is maintain the narrower sole width, which better players tend to prefer." Williams says. "But by repositioning the weight in the cavity lower and deeper in the iron we've been able to drive the center of gravity lower and deeper." However, in the Tour model, the re-positioned RAZR weight is smaller.
There's less offset in the RAZR X Tour irons when compared with the RAZR X, but once again, because the CG has been driven so low and deep, Callaway strengthened the lofts of the RAZR X Tours.
Potential club champs, tour pros and low-handicap players won't find much offset at all in the RAZR X Forged irons. But they should get lots of feel because these clubs are forged from 1020 carbon steel.
The waffle pattern on the back of these clubs is purely cosmetic—the RAZR weighting system found in the RAZR X and RAZR X Tour is not a part of the RAZR X Forged irons.
With a narrow sole and thin topline, the RAZR X Forged irons have a classic look at address.
"This is the only iron in our line that's forged," Williams says. "So it's got the feel of a forged iron [which many Tour pros prefer], and it's got our new Competition grooves, which in this club we can forge into the faces. We can control the grooves much more effectively in a forging than in a casting."
All three RAZR irons should start arriving in pro shops in mid-February. The RAZR X will start at $699 for eight steel-shafted clubs, but combo sets featuring two hybrids in place of the 3- and 4-irons will also be available ($799 steel/$899 graphite). The RAZR X Tour will sell for about $799 for eight irons, $899 for a two-hybrid combo set. Look for the RAZR X Forged to come in around $899 dollars.
As we head into the homestretch of the holiday season, golf equipment makers are continuing to produce and release videos on YouTube. The rule here in The Shop is, "No commercials allowed," but a little chest-thumping is allowed.
In the video below, TaylorMade staff players show their first reactions after hitting the just-released Tour Preferred Forged irons. This video was shot in August at Firestone Country Club, but made available to the public about a week ago.
Next, a video produced by Ping that shows you how a new putter is assembled, gripped, tagged and shipped before it lands on the wall at a pro shop near you.
The video below, produced by Mizuno, explains some of the design philosophies and technologies used in the creation of the new JPX-800 irons.
Six major championships and a reputation for being one of the most detail-oriented golfers in history give Sir Nick Faldo's words weight when it comes to golf equipment. The guy was so fastidious that during his playing career, Faldo admits he trimmed his fingernails on Mondays so he'd have the perfect feel in his hands on Sundays.
So imagine how TaylorMade representatives must have felt at the 2008 Open Championship when they showed Faldo, their newest endorser, the company's first attempt to at a new forged iron and he promptly called it "crap."
After taking Faldo's feedback and heading back to the drawing board (several times), TaylorMade finally presented Faldo with an iron that pleased his eyes. The way the hosel blended into the face, the look of the topline, the shape of the toe, the sole ... to the nitpicky Faldo, TaylorMade had nailed it.
The fruit of the company's hard work is now being released in the form of three new forged irons, the Tour Preferred Forged CB, MC, and MB irons.
All three clubs feature a new groove pattern that TaylorMade says goes right up to the USGA's limitations on volume and sharpness. Each club also has a weight in the back that allows TaylorMade to adjust the location of the sweet spot. Contrary to what some equipment blogs and message boards pondered, while the weight is affixed using a screw, it's not adjustable. The faces of the new forged irons are not replaceable like the faces of TaylorMade xFT wedges.
None of the new forged irons are designed with the high-handicap players in mind. TaylorMade has clubs like the Burner 2.0 for them. Instead, think of these clubs as tools for The Good, The Better and The Best.
For The Good The new Tour Preferred Forged CB irons (CB stands for Cavity Back) are created by plasma-welding a 8620 carbon steel cast body and a slightly firmer, forged, carbon steel face. This construction allowed TaylorMade to incorporate an undercut in the back of the club, which in turn let designers move more weight lower and deeper to increase forgiveness.
The face also features TaylorMade's Inverted Cone Technology, which varies the thickness of the face itself so shots that are slightly mis-hit create nearly the same ball speed as shots hit in the sweet spot.
A carbon composite badge on the back of the face helps to dampen the impact sound and further enhance feel.
The TP CB irons have a thin topline, but the widest sole of the three new forged irons, as well as the most offset and slightly stronger lofts. Still, at their friendliest, the clubs would be classified as game-improvement irons.
Watch the video below to see Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade's Creation Manager for Irons and Woods, talk about the Tour Preferred Forged CB:
For The Better The Tour Preferred Forged MC irons (MC stands of Muscle Cavity) are made from 1025 carbon steel and have a slightly smaller head and less offset than the TP CB irons. And like the TP CB irons, the weight screw has been placed in a carbon composite badge to dampen the impact sound and enhance feel.
But instead of a game-improving undercut, these irons simply offer perimeter weighting to assist golfers on mis-hits.
There is less offset here, which should help better players shape shots more easily, as well as a slightly-thinner sole.
Watch the video below to see Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade's Creation Manager for Irons and Woods, talk about the Tour Preferred Forged MC:
For The Best Only serious players need apply when you get to this level. The Tour Preferred Forged MB (MB stands of Muscle Back) is all about feel and control.
There is no carbon composite badge here to alter the feel created at impact, although to make the TP MB irons appeal to more players, a touch of offset has been added to the hosel.
The heads of the TP MBs are slightly smaller from heel to toe than the TP MC, but the par area, where the face meets the hosel, has been made much smaller. The reason for this is that most accomplished players want to see the face coming right out of the hosel.
Watch the video below to see Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade's Creation Manager for Irons and Woods, talk about the Tour Preferred Forged MB:
Through custom ordering, you will be able to build your own eight-iron set from the different offerings. For example, you could choose to play TP CBs in your 3-6 irons and TP MCs in your 7-PW.
Each of the new Tour Preferred Forged irons will come standard with True Temper Dynamic Gold shafts in three shaft flexes (R, S, X) for $899 starting in March of 2011. The TP CB will also be available with graphite shafts for $1,099. Custom shaft options will also be available. Players choosing to go with the MC or MB irons can also separately purchase a 2-iron. You know, just in case your swing is better than Sir Nick Faldo's
Paul Casey does it. So does Stewart Cink. In fact, if you look inside the bags of many of golf's best players you'll see they blend a few game-improving cavity back long irons with blade-style short irons to create their set.
Nike wants to help you get the benefits of a multi-club set, and to make the process a little easier, the company is releasing the Victory Red Pro Combo irons.
All eight irons in the VR Pro Combo set are forged using the same 1025 carbon steel and feature the same dye-stamped USGA conforming grooves, but they are designed with different goals in mind.
The 3- and 4-irons feature a pocket behind the face that shifts more weight lower and deeper in the head. This drops the center of gravity and makes the clubs higher-launching and more forgiving.
In sharp contrast, the 8- and 9-irons, as well as the pitching wedge, are traditional muscleback blades. Their center of gravity is higher to help players work the ball more effectively for greater accuracy and control.
Sandwiched between, the 5- thru 7-irons feature perimeter weighting—without the channel of the long irons—to bridge the whole set together.
The Nike VR Pro Combo irons will be available starting Nov. 26 with True Temper Dynamic Gold steel shafts for about $1,080.
See-Try-Buy: Learn more about Nikeclubs and schedule your fitting with GolfTEC.
CARLSBAD, Calif. — For more than a year, TaylorMade's Burner irons have been among the best selling irons in the game. The combination of distance and ease of use made them especially popular with mid- and higher-handicap players.
Tinkering with that success was not without risk, but Brett Wahl, TaylorMade's senior director of product development for irons, says that the new Burner 2.0 irons are simply better than their predecessors — for several reasons.
"In a way, we took the concept of developing eight individual clubs a little more seriously this time," Wahl says. "Each of these clubheads have more beneficial features built into them than the previous Burner irons."
For example, the faces of the Burner 2.0 long-irons are thinner than the faces of the original Burner long-irons, which should help golfers create more ball speed and distance. The weight saved by making the faces thinner has been redistributed to the lower section of the clubs, near the heel and toe areas, which Wahl says should make them more forgiving too.
At the same time, the faces of the short irons are thicker than the original Burner's, and the heads are smaller and feature thinner top lines. Doing this puts a greater emphasis on accuracy and control at address, but also puts more weight directly behind the ball to enhance feel.
The multi-material badge on the back of the Burner 2.0 is also an upgrade over the original Burner's. "It has a softer material integrated with the aluminum which gives it better dampening, in terms of managing vibration," Wahl says. "And in the long-irons, there is a stiff nylon layer of material that you can't see that really helps to improve the sound."
Wahl says that the sound-enhancing layer was not used in the mid- and short-irons, and the badge used is thinner because their heads have thicker faces. They naturally create a more-pleasing sound.
In addition to the badge, on the back of all the Burner 2.0 irons you'll see a circular piece of metal that is part of TaylorMade's Inverted Cone Technology (ICT). But once again, it's been upgraded.
"The ICT has been re-shaped and re-positioned slightly in the long-irons in order to ensure the clubs deliver faster ball speeds, but also have consistency on mis-hits," Wahl says.
The soles of the short irons, like the 9-iron, are also thinner than the long irons because golfers swing a 9-iron more vertically into the ball. In contrast, most players sweep the ball using a flatter swing when hitting a 4-iron, so a wide sole is beneficial.
Each of the eight iron shafts flexes in a slightly different area, or kick point. The long irons have a lower kick point to help players get shots higher; the short irons have a higher kick point to encourage a slightly lower trajectory; and the mid-irons' kick point is in between.
Brett Wahl explains the technologies that went into the Burner 2.0 irons in the video below:
The Burner 2.0 irons should start arriving in pro shops on Oct. 8 and will sell for about $700 with steel shafts and $900 with graphite shafts.
See-Try-Buy: Learn more about TaylorMadeclubs, and schedule your fitting with GolfTEC.
TaylorMade-Adidas Golf CEO Mark King unveiled the new TaylorMade 2.0 Burner irons during a live Webcast on Thursday. Watch the video to learn about the new irons, and check back for more information on the event from Golf.com's David Dusek.
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Despite being ranked No. 4 in the world, Steve Stricker still doesn't get much attention at major championships. But with a solid iron game and a great putting touch, a lot of people think he has the game to conquer Pebble Beach and contend at the 110th U.S. Open.
If he is going to win this week, Stricker will do it using a new set of Titleist 710 CB irons. He had been playing Titleist's Forged 755, and planned to make the change earlier this season, but a win at Riviera in February convinced him to keep the old clubs in the bag a little longer.
However, while at home resting in Wisconsin and recovering from a shoulder injury, Stricker finally made the change. In the video below, he explains the difference in feel between the two sets.
See-Try-Buy: Learn more about Titleist equipment, and schedule your fitting with GolfTEC.
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — During the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February, several Ping staff players had a chance to see and try clubs the company plans to release later this year.
Hunter Mahan liked the company's yet-to-be-released S56 irons so much he said that he'd put them in his bag that week. Unfortunately, the S56 irons hadn't been approved for play by the USGA at that time, and Ping was not ready to release the clubs to the world, so Mahan (who won that week at TPC Scottsdale) and other Ping pros had to wait ... until now.
Ping brought several sets of S56 irons to Pebble Beach this week; the clubs are an updated-version of Mahan's beloved Ping S57 irons and feature several of the same design features.
The S56 irons have a compact head, minimal offset and only a touch of perimeter weighting. A weight cartridge nestled behind the face absorbs vibrations and allows Ping to adjust the swing weight of each club to match a golfer's preferences.
And like the S57, the S56 irons also feature a tungsten weight in the toe area to extend the sweet spot that direction. To help maintain balance, Ping lengthened the hosel of the S56 (thereby adding weight to the heel area), which also broadens the sweet spot in that direction too. The result is a slightly more forgiving blade that will still allow better golfers to carve and shape their shots.
According to Matt Rollins, a PGA Tour rep for Ping golf, the sole of the S56 has been designed to work more effectively through the turf -- a feature that tour players who hit the irons in February all noticed and liked.
Don't look for the S56 to add yards to your game. Like other iron sets designed with accomplished players in mind, they were built with an emphasis on consistency and accuracy instead of power.
Look for the clubs to arrive in pro shops in mid-September for a cost of $127 per club.
See-Try-Buy: Learn more about Pingclubs, and schedule your fitting with GolfTEC.