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180

Hours
Researched

16

Products
Considered

10,315

Shots
Hit

40.1m

Readers

OUR JOB IS YOUR GAME

Are you playing the right irons for your game?

Unfortunately, for many, the answer is “no.” The right irons for every golfer combine precision, distance, and forgiveness – all while maintaining a reasonably pleasing appearance at address.

So, how do you choose? If you don’t hit the center of the clubface nearly every time, chances are you need some help from your clubs. That’s where game improvement irons come in. Game Improvement clubs are designed to offer more forgiveness across the clubface, and even give you a little bit of the extra distance you’ve always wanted (or used to have).

This year we put 17 of the top game-improvement models to the test. With over 10,000 shots hit, this is the most comprehensive and independent iron test in the world.

If you’re in the market for irons in 2019, this test is for you.

Most Wanted: Mizuno JPX 919 Hot Metal

Iron Buying Considerations

Performance should be your primary concern when buying new irons, but there are some additional considerations you may want to think about before you make your purchasing decision.

SET MAKE-UP

You’ll likely hit iron shots on the majority of holes you play, so it’s essential to pay attention to set make-up. As with most things in the golf equipment industry, there is no universal standard for set composition. That’s not a bad thing as it allows for almost endless combinations and the ability to mix and match between models when appropriate. Keep in mind that some sets don’t offer 4-irons while others may not include a gap wedge. It’s important is that you make sure your iron set can fill every spot in the bag you need it to fill and that you’re not forced to buy additional clubs you don’t want or need.

SHAFT SELECTION

The number of shaft options offered for irons is growing. It can be challenging to navigate the different models, weights, and flexes to find the shaft that’s right for you. The answer to the best performing shaft question stretches well beyond graphite vs. steel.

We always recommend taking the time to go through a professional fitting, but if you don’t have the resources, ask your local golf shop if they have a Mizuno Shaft Optimizer. This advanced technology utilizes gyroscopes and strain gauges to measure things like club speed, tempo, and how much the shaft is flexing at impact. It will then recommend a list of shafts at the right flex, length, for your swing. It even makes a lie angle recommendation.

DISTANCE VS. FORGIVENESS VS. WORKABILITY

In a perfect world, we would get all three in one iron that everyone could play. Unfortunately, distance, forgiveness, and workability are like gauges – when you add to one, you take from another. Evaluate your game and decide what you need to maximize performance. If you’re looking for max distance, the Tommy Armour Atomic irons are a definite favorite from our test, though it’s important to remember that stronger lofts are an easy way to generate extra yards. If you’re looking for forgiveness – the Mizuno JPX 919 Hot Metal is a good pick.

While game improvement irons as a whole are not designed to be the most workable (based on the placement of mass), there are still some irons from the 2019 Most Wanted Game Improvement Iron Test that offer shorter blade lengths, thinner soles, and less perimeter weighting. If you’re in the market for a workable, yet still forgiving head, consider the Srixon Z585, a 2018 Most Wanted Winner.

COST

A set of irons is likely going to be the most expensive investment for your golf bag. Even within the game improvement category, prices can exceed $1000. While the top performing irons in our test are in that range, the Cobra F9 SpeedBack and TaylorMade M5 irons can be considered a relative bargain. Notwithstanding any exotic shaft upgrades, you’re looking at $800 and $850 respectively for a 7-club set.

PRODUCT SPOTLIGHT - LONG & STRAIGHT

A strong performer at all three distances tested, the Cobra F9 SpeedBack produced outstanding accuracy in the short irons and competitive distance in the mid and long irons. Cobra's latest Game Improvement offering features SpeedBack Technology, which utilizes a thinner, raised portion of the sole to minimize turf contact while adding forgiveness with additional perimeter weighting. The design pushes the center-of-gravity back and down, promoting a high ball flight and maximum forgiveness.

If you're a golfer that is looking for added distance and forgiveness, make sure to include the Cobra F9 SpeedBack on your list when getting fitted.

FIELD NOTES

During each test, we look for trends that provide us with insight into where the market as a whole is moving, as well as what noteworthy changes manufacturers have made to improve year-over-year performance. We also solicit feedback from our testers. We want to understand what they liked, what they didn’t like, and why. We want to reemphasize that, while we do collect and share noteworthy portions of this subjective feedback, it does not factor in our rankings.

Trends and Tweaks

  • As equipment manufacturers like TaylorMade and PXG are pushing the technology envelope inside the head, many companies are continuing to refine sole designs to improve turf interaction. Enhanced sole designs are nothing new to the golf industry, but they are an often overlooked piece. Srixon has offered Tour V.T. Sole for years on their Z Series irons. Cobra has added a raised sole on the new KING F9 and F9 ONE irons to reduce the amount of turf-contact. Both Srixon and Cobra have designed the bottom of the irons to improve turf interaction for golfers of all swing styles. These angled soles might give you some extra help where you need it on that tricky downhill lie.
  • A continuing trend in the Game Improvement Iron category is the use of multi-material heads. Game Improvement Irons are packed with technology to help golfers maintain ball speed and add forgiveness on those off-center shots. To achieve these design characteristics, heads are often cast, while the welded faces are often forged. The use of hollow body and filled cavity designs like PXG’s 0811 GEN2 XF with its Thermoplastic Elastomer is also on the rise.
  • A commonality in this category is the strengthening of lofts with the single goal to increase distance. Manufacturers like Tommy Armour and Tour Edge (Exotics) have created clubs with lofts as much as 3° and 4° stronger than the competitive set. While added distance can be enticing, be aware of the implications it can have on trajectory and accuracy – remember that precision is much more important than distance in your irons.

PRODUCT SPOTLIGHT - XTREME FORGIVENESS

The XF in PXG's 0311 XF irons stands for (e)Xtreme Forgiveness - and everything in our results suggests the iron offers exactly that. With a longer blade length and wider sole, the 0311XF is designed to help you on those off-center strikes. Ranking in the top 5 for consistency of ball speed, carry yards, and total yards for the mid and long irons, the evidence suggests the 0311XF holds up Xtremely well when not hit on the center of the clubface.

If the 0311 XF falls in your price range, there's little reason not to take them into the fitting bay when presented with the opportunity.

Notes from the Testing Pool

The following section details subjective feedback from our pool of 20 testers. While it is meant to highlight some of the feedback obtained during the test, it’s important to note that none of it is directly related to the actual performance of the club, and as such, does not factor in the overall rankings.

  • Among the top rated irons for feel in this year’s game improvement test were the Srixon Z585 (2018 Winner); and a newcomer – the Tommy Armour Atomic. The Srixons feature a fully forged head, while the TA Atomic Irons utilize a unique brazing process to join the face of the club to the body. Utilizing a titanium cup face, the Atomic Irons delivered superb feel and was well-received among the test group.
  • Testers in the slower swing speed category tended to favor clubs that helped the ball get up in the air. Clubs like the Cleveland Launcher CBX, PING G410, and our Most Wanted Winner – the Mizuno JPX 919 Hot Metal – were among the top-rated for slower swing speed golfers.
  • The Mizuno JPX 919 Hot Metal was a favorite among testers for looks, feel and alignment. Testers cited the Hot Metal for a soft yet powerful feel at impact. While the JPX 919 Hot Metal irons didn’t produce the highest ball speed, they performed exceptionally well at all three test distances with respect to accuracy and forgiveness.
  • The Titleist AP1 was the highest rated club in all three subjective categories; looks, feel, and alignment. Like the Hot Metal, the AP1 is a cast design, so it’s noteworthy that there was seldom negative feedback on the feel of the club.
  • On the opposite end, the subjectively (looks/feel) worst ranked club was the Exotics EXS. Testers said the irons felt clunky and the footprint was too big.

2019 Most Wanted Game Improvement Iron Data

EXPERT TIP - SHAFT MATERIAL

The shaft has a measurable effect on iron performance. Though the average shaft weight has come down in recent years (especially in game improvement designs), steel shafts typically the heavier than graphite offerings. For many, that means more effort to swing and greater fatigue over the course of a round. For many golfers, a heavier (and often stiffer relative to flex) offering can result in lower launch and spin with more consistency delivering the club. While that's great for some, it isn't what every golfer needs.

Graphite shafts are often lighter, though its important to note that design enhancements have improved the stability of graphite offerings making them more viable than ever for higher swing speed players. The lighter weight, which often brings with it more speed, generally produces higher launch and more spin, which can benefit slower swing speed players. The inherent vibration reduction properties of graphite also create a softer feel at impact.

As always, it's essential to get properly fitted to ensure the most consistent and accurate results.

How We Test

Our Mission is to help you find the best game improvement irons for your game.

We are 100% independent and unbiased, and we always put the #ConsumerFirst.

About Our Testers

Our pool of testers consists of 20 golfers with handicaps ranging from plus to the mid-teens. As a group, they span a broad range of swing characteristics (head speed, attack angle, etc.).

Over the course of several sessions, each golfer is required to hit 10-12 "good" shots with each club. Club order is randomized on a per tester basis.

Limiting Variables and Gathering Data Reliably

To minimize variables, all testers hit Bridgestone B330 RX Golf balls.

Both club and head data are captured using Foresight GCQuad launch monitors.

Crunching the Numbers

Before determining our rankings, we identify and remove outliers using a proprietary detection methodology.

To arrive at our final results, we calculate the averages of key metrics (ball speed, distance, dispersion, etc.), while also considering the standard deviation and the statistical reliability of those values.

PRODUCT SPECIFICATIONS

Most Wanted Game Improvement Iron Specs

 ClubPW LoftPW Length7 Iron Loft7 Iron Length5 Iron Loft5 Iron Length
PXG 0311XF

Check Price
43.25°35.5"29.75°37"22.5°38"
Titleist AP1

Check Price
43.25°35.625"29.5°37"21.75°38"
Tommy Armour Atomic

Check Price
40°35.35"26.5°37"21.5°38.25"
Bridgestone Tour B HF2

Check Price
43.5°35.635"30.25°37.125"22.75°38.25"
Wilson Staff C300

Check Price
43.75°35.625"31.5°37.125"22.75°38.25"
Exotics EXS

Check Price
41.5°36"26.5°37.125"20.75°38.25"
Cobra KING F9

Check Price
43.75°36"29.25°37.125"22.75°38.5"
Cobra KING F9 ONE

Check Price
44°37.125"30°37.125"21.75°37.125"
PING G410

Check Price
45°35.5"29.75°37"23°38.25"
Mizuno JPX 919 Hot Metal

Check Price
44.5°35.5"30.25°37"22.25°38.25"
Cleveland Launcher CBX

Check Price
44.25°35.75"29.75°37"21.75°38.5"
TaylorMade M5

Check Price
44.75°35.75"30.25°37.125"22.75°38.375"
TaylorMade M6

Check Price
43.25°35.75"29.25°37.125"22.25°38.5"
Callaway Rogue

Check Price
43.75°35.5"29.5°36.875"21.75°38.25"
Sub70 639

Check Price
43.75°35.85"29.5°37.125"22.75°38.25"
Srixon Z585

Check Price
43.75°35.5"30.5°37"23.5°38.125"

* denotes measured value vs. manufacturer’s stated spec.

FAQ

Buying New Irons

Q: How often should I buy new irons?

A: While on rare occasions there are quantifiable year-over-year breakthroughs, typically it takes 3-5 years for manufacturers to make any significant performance gains. With the USGA further tightening restrictions on manufacturers, it’s possible, even likely, that it will take longer still moving forward. Our recommendation is to buy new irons only when they appreciably outperform what is already in your bag. Of course, if you want new irons because you want new irons, that’s fine too.

Q: How do I determine the right category of irons for me?

A: The four main categories of irons: players, players distance, game improvement, and super game improvement can easily be differentiated by your skill level (handicap), as well as what you need in your game. First, be realistic about your skill level, if your handicap is above 10 and ball-striking is not a legitimate strength, consider game improvement or super game improvement. For more skilled players who hit the ball more consistently, a set of players irons or players distance irons may benefit your game the most.

Q: Does the shaft matter?

A: Absolutely. While changes to spin and launch and spin differences are rarely massive, shaft changes frequently lead to improved accuracy, tighter dispersion, and greater overall consistency.

Q: What should I look for when testing irons?

A: While golfers have been conditioned to consider distance to the exclusion of nearly everything else, we recommended looking at the little numbers and looking for small circles. When comparing metrics like distance and ball speed, be sure to look at your standard deviations (the small numbers usually found under the big ones on the data screen). Smaller numbers mean better consistency, which will usually mean more than an extra yard or two on the golf course. Similarly, look for tighter dispersion ellipses (small circles). We can’t understate the importance of consistency with irons.

Bucking the Loft-Jacking Trend?

Every year, golf companies promise more yards, and sometimes they deliver. But at what cost? One of the easiest (and frequently employed) methods to increase distance is to decrease loft; essentially turning yesterday's 6-iron into today's 7-iron. While we all understand that accuracy and consistency are the most essential elements of competent iron play, almost inexplicably, distance is still what moves the needle in the iron category.

Players irons typically buck the trend. While it's perhaps not entirely accurate to say manufacturers use traditional lofts, irons within the category are among the weakest lofted (relative to the number stamped on the sole) on the market. While distance is always important to some degree, golfers of elite skill benefit from higher spinning shots that offer the stopping power necessary to attack pins on the small shelves. That being said, consistency always matter.  You won't likely hit players irons as far as a game-improvement iron; but if you have the skill to flight your irons to whatever degree the shot calls for, the category is likely right for you.

Most Wanted

Q: How are the irons in the test fit to each golfer?

A: We use a fitting process that we call fit from stock. Irons are fitted to each tester using the stock, no up-charge options from each manufacturer. We test one short iron, one mid-iron, and one long iron from each set. While there are no irons in our testing that feature adjustability, we fit to flex for each tester in the pool. Occasionally manufacturers will send multiple sets with different stock shafts that we can utilize to improve launch conditions.

Q: How is the Most Wanted Game Improvement Iron Determined

A: To determine the Most Wanted Game Improvement Iron, we collect performance metrics with Foresight GCQuad Launch Monitors. To determine our overall rankings, we utilize a proprietary methodology that considers the statistical reliability of a Strokes Gained metric across the entire pool of testers.

Q: How is the “Longest” Iron determined?

A: To determine the Longest Game Improvement Iron, we consider the average total yards across the test pool along with the statistical reliability of that data.

Q: How is the “Most Forgiving” Iron determined?

A: To determine the Most Forgiving Game Improvement Iron, we focus on a narrower set of metrics that includes: Shot Area (dispersion), Radial Distance,  Accuracy, and the average standard deviation for ball speed and carry yards.

Q: How much does subjective feedback like looks, sound, and feel factor into your rankings?

A: ZERO. Our rankings are based purely on launch monitor data and quantifiable performance metrics.