Over the past season or so, TaylorMade has given us every reason to believe it had turned the corner with its iron designs. The P790 may be derivative of PXG depending on how you look at it, but no one can argue against it being a handsome beast. What's actually a fairly large iron was made to look sleek at address. The rear, while not exactly blade-like with its different shades of chrome, has serious shelf appeal. P790 is an iron golfers aspire to play. It speaks to golfers, and by some accounts, TaylorMade is having to work hard to keep up with demand.
The response to the more compact P730 has been equally as positive. While nothing in its category is ever a top-seller, it’s inarguably a modern blade done right. In fact, the entire P-series is everything TaylorMade’s game-improvement leaning M1 and M2 weren't.
Unfortunately, the M3 and M4 irons don't follow the P790's lead. Instead, the new offerings suggest a regression to former design and former language - though, to TaylorMade’s credit, the Nike-inspired volt/slime accents have been tossed in favor of more muted tones.
With P790, TaylorMade proved big can be beautiful, with M3 and M4 it reaffirms the idea that it doesn’t have to be. Within the larger picture, the issue is that TaylorMade’s iron lineup lacks a cohesive identity. The M3 and M4 look out of place alongside the rest of its offerings. It’s perhaps a small detail, but it matters. You look at any Mizuno iron, and you know it’s a Mizuno. The same goes for PING, PXG, Srixon, and to a lesser extent, Callaway.
When it comes to iron designs, it's fair to say we are reaching the point of diminishing returns. Cavity backs. Hollow (filled or otherwise) irons. Blades. Face Inserts. Face slots. Tungsten weights. Stop me when I mention something you haven’t heard before. None of this is anyone's fault, were just at the point where the manufacturers can't do much more with iron design, at least not at price points the market will accept. Can TaylorMade or anyone else make a better iron? Hell yes, these R&D guys are smart. Will you pay $3500 for a set of them? I’ll assume the answer is no.
Much like recent metal wood designs, marketing departments are having to make much larger stories about significantly smaller details, and that’s because the market requires nearly everyone to design to a price point.
Exhibit A: TaylorMade’s new RIBCOR. RIBCOR is the latest bit of TaylorMade-speak to describe stiffening structures in its M3 and M4 irons. Specifically, RIBCOR works in conjunction with the face slots, stiffening up the areas of the face outside the score lines, allowing the hitting area to flex more. Less energy is lost at impact, and shots fly farther regardless of where on the face you’ve struck them.
With our new RIBCOR technology, the M4 iron unlocks a new level of consistency and accuracy in a product designed to be the longest in our irons lineup. Combined with our thinnest face (1.5mm), our ultra-thin leading edge, and our thin-walled Speed Pocket, M4 achieves the fastest ball speeds we've ever produced in an iron. -TOMO BYSTEDT, SENIOR DIRECTOR, PRODUCT CREATION for TaylorMade Golf
An added benefit of the design is that it puts more weight in the heel and the toe, boosting the MOI relative to previous TaylorMade irons, though we suspect the untold story of RIBCOR is that provides a bit of structural integrity to prevent the face from splitting around the edges of the Speed Slots; a problem we experienced during Most Wanted Testing last year.
It’s inherently subjective, but we’re hearing that the new models offer significantly better feel than the ‘17 M1 and M2. Readers have grumbled about the less than buttery feel of those clubs and while that’s often part and parcel of the game-improvement space, an appreciable improvement in an area that many golfers rate as critically important may be the M3 and M4s biggest selling point.
Everything else in the story of these new models is, as you’d expect, a refinement from previous TaylorMade irons. Let’s go through the list.
- Face slots and Speed Pockets? Check.
- Inverted Cone Technology to protect ball speed (moved off center this year)? Check.
- A multi-material cavity badge to improve feel and sound? Check.
- Fluted hosels? Check.
- Tungsten weights (in the M3)? Check.
- Undercut cavities? Check.
- A reason to replace your current irons? TBD.
As anyone who can count by twos has likely pieced together, the M4 is the replacement for the M2. The big selling point is that it offers 24% higher MOI than its predecessor. As you’d expect from what is realistically a super game-improvement iron, it's a bit chunky, but looks OK at address. It features a full fluted hosel design to save weight. It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing design choice, but sometimes compromises need to be made. It certainly shouldn’t be a deal-breaker given its target audience.
In long-standing TaylorMade tradition, the new irons are accompanied with tales of Dustin Johnson hitting the M4 4-iron 300 yards. Impressive, I suppose, though there’s no real-world relevance for the average golfer. Besides, an iron is designed for control. Not only do we not need 300 yards from an iron, the average golfer can’t come within 130 yards of that number.
The M4 irons come with KBS MAX 85 steel shafts or Fujikura ATMOS graphite shafts. Retail price is $899 steel, $999 graphite for an 8-piece set.
Counting by twos again… the M3 replaces the M1. The story here is refined shaping that presents as less offset and a thinner topline at address. Tungsten weights have been used keep the CG low (higher launch, more forgiveness). The new model offers a straighter leading edge and a refined sole shape for improved turf interaction.
Stock shafts are the True Temper XP100 Steel and the Mitsubishi Chemical Tensei Graphite. Lamkin UTX grips are standard. Retail Price is $999 steel and $1,199 Graphite for an 8-piece set.
As is unfortunately typical for the industry, the M3 and M4 offer more of the same made just a bit better. Standout offerings like the P790 are few and far between. Neither M3 nor M4 is nearly as compelling. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the clear emphasis TaylorMade has placed on the M3 and M4 drivers, and to be fair TaylorMade isn’t the only brand which continuously plagiarizes itself. PING is only now starting to escape its literal mold, and Titleist’s AP2 hasn’t changed significantly since its inception. Most everyone is on the same evolutionary calendar, but for whatever reason TaylorMade can’t fight its compulsion to sell every little tweak as a revolutionary breakthrough.
For better or worse, this is where we are in the industry. The one-year cycle common across many product lines brings with it little in the way of year over year innovation. Not everyone has the luxury of 3-year lifecycles.
So more of the same here perhaps, but, let’s remember that nobody (not even TaylorMade) expects you to replace your one or even two-year-old irons every time something new hits the shelf. Don’t buy before you need to, and let a qualified fitter be your guide to what’s right for you. When you do that, there’s no need to sweat details like Tungsten, RIBCOR, or whatever story any given manufacturer is pushing.