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OUR JOB IS YOUR GAME
No matter your discipline, having the right tools for your craft is essential; and when it comes to golf, every club in your bag must have a purpose. The irons you play will make up roughly half of the clubs in your bag – which makes it that much more important to ensure you’ve got the right ones. With the golf equipment space continually growing and changing, choosing clubs can become as difficult as trying to decide where to go to dinner with your partner.
The clubs tested, while not quite the butter-knife blades your grandfather played, maintain the workability better players demand and offer that bit of forgiveness we all need. The target handicap for this iron category ranges from scratch(or better) to the high single-digits. The designs of these irons feature more compact head profiles, small cavities, and minimal offset.
DISCLAIMER: While we all want to game the same irons as the pros, the clubs in this category aren’t for everyone. These players irons are designed for golfers who hit the center of the clubface more often than not. Miss and the punishment will be more severe than with game-improvement or super game-improvement irons.
If you’re a seasoned golfer in the market for irons in 2019 – this test is for you.
Below is a breakdown of performance grades by iron length. The percentages displayed for each iron represent the frequency at which each was among the best performing irons for each tester across the test pool. For more information about how we arrive at these results, see our How We Test page.
*Performances differences between clubs in the Players CB category are minimal compared to the other categories we’ve tested this season.
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.
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. While all of the irons tested in our 2019 Players Test include a 4-iron, in many cases a gap wedge isn’t offered. The category is intended for better players and the feeling among many manufacturers is that better players aren’t likely to carry a set wedge. It’s also worth mentioning that not every manufacturer offers a 3-iron. In addition to being difficult for even better players to hit, the reality is that as lofts have gotten stronger, the need for a 3-iron has been diminished. As with every category, 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 don’t pay for additional clubs you don’t want or need.
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.
Stock shaft offerings within the Players CB category are generally heavier than in other categories. 120g to 130g is typical though some brands do skew a bit lighter. The additional weight means that stock graphite options (which tend to be significantly lighter) are also limited compared to the other categories we test.
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
While Player’s Irons overall don’t offer the same level of forgiveness you’ll see in game improvement or super game improvement, some do offer more forgiveness than others. 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. Players irons characteristically feature smaller blade lengths and more compact head profiles. This design doesn’t generally lend itself to forgiveness; that said, the most forgiving iron will always be the one you hit closest to the sweet spot most often. Evaluate your game and decide what you need to maximize performance.
A set of irons is likely going to be the most expensive investment for your golf bag. Players irons are typically on the upper echelon of the price range, often exceeding $1000. Given the cost, it makes sense to take the time to work with a club fitting professional to determine which irons are best for your game.
PRODUCT SPOTLIGHT - SPEED FOAM FORGIVENESS
As quirky as the name sounds, there appears to be something to TaylorMade's SpeedFoam technology. Featured in both the TaylorMade P760 and P790 iron sets, the proprietary polymer filling allows for a thinner clubface, which lends itself well to more speed and increased forgiveness on off-center hits.
Scoring in the upper echelon of forgiveness, the TaylorMade P760 irons produced strong ball speed and outstanding carry consistency numbers that suggest this iron can help better players on those inevitable mis-hit golf shots. We can all use a little forgiveness.
During each test, we look for trends that provide us 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
- Inconsistent ball-strikers need not apply – Player’s Irons are those that are designed for maximum workability and control. That invariably comes at a price, and that price is forgiveness. Workability and forgiveness are like a teeter-totter; when you raise one side, the other dips. The typical Players Iron sacrifices some of the forgiveness that less skilled ball-strikers need, replacing it the workability that skilled ball strikers want.
- Most all of the irons tested in our 2019 Most Wanted Players Irons Test feature a fully forged head. The forging process itself doesn’t create an inherently less forgiving club, however, players CBs typically have a greater percentage of mass concentrated towards the center of the clubhead. While that often leads to a softer feel, it doesn’t lend itself well to significant perimeter weighting (which is part of where forgiveness comes from).
- With improvements in technology come improvements in head construction. Mizuno irons have been grain flow forged for years, which Mizuno says gives you the most responsive feel at impact. Manufacturers like PXG and TaylorMade have taken the plunge into multi-material construction, inserting polymers and proprietary materials directly behind the face of the clubs. These design implementations help engineers reduce the thickness of the face, with the goal of improving feel and ball speed consistency across the face without sacrificing too much in the way of soft feel.
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.
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.
- The Srixon Z785 was the highest-rated club in all three subjective categories; looks, feel, and alignment. Faster swinging and lower handicap golfers in the test group cited this iron’s players preferred compact profile and thin top line.
- Among the top-rated irons for feel in this year’s Players CB test were the Mizuno JPX 919 Tour; and a surprising newcomer, the Sub70 639 CB. The 919s feature a 1025E Grain Flow Forged HD carbon steel head and a CNC milled face to offer the feel you’d expect from a Mizuno iron. The Sub70 639 CB is a direct-to-consumer iron that provides excellent feel in a traditional Player’s CB head shape at an extremely reasonable price.
- While the Most Wanted Players Irons Test was comprised mostly of lower handicap, high swing speed players – the lower handicapped golfers with handicaps on the upper echelon of our limit favored irons like the Callaway X-Forged and Cobra KING Forged CB which they felt helped launch the ball a bit higher.
- We also received unanimously positive feedback on how well the Titleist AP2 paired with the Dynamic Gold AMT Red shaft (high launch), most notably in the long irons. For those with lower launch angles, we saw a noticeable difference in trajectory when utilizing the full AMT shaft line to optimize launch windows.
PRODUCT SPOTLIGHT - CALLAWAY APEX PRO
Among the top-rated irons in this year's test, the Callaway Apex Pro irons produced considerable distance in the mid and long irons, and paired it with exceptional consistency in the short irons. One of the longest irons in our test, the Callaway Apex Pro irons are inspired by a tour driven design that features a straighter leading edge, thinner top-line and smooth hosel transition.
If you're looking for a little extra distance in a player's irons profile, make sure to keep the Callaway Apex Pro in your consideration set during your next fitting.
2019 Most Wanted Players Irons Data
To filter and compare by club, use the drop-down list and checkboxes to select only the irons you wish to compare.
EXPERT TIP - MORE THAN SHAFT FLEX
If you purchase irons through a retail shop or online, chances are you'll run into the part where you select the shaft When you go through a proper fitting - you'll be fitted for one. Regardless of your method of purchase, it's important to understand that there's more that goes into a shaft than flex.
No two swings are alike - and your shaft choice should ultimately be based on how hard you swing, your transition speed, and how you deliver the club into the ball. Keeping it simple, steel shafts are designed with different step patterns (the notches you see on the shaft) and thicknesses to help golfers of all swing types hit solid, straight shots.
A proper fitting with a professional will help determine the right shaft for your swing.
How We Test
Our Mission is to help you find the best players 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 high single digits. 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
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.
For more detailed information on our test process, visit our How We Test Page.
2019 Most Wanted Players Irons Specs
|Club||PW Loft||PW Length||7 Iron Loft||7 Iron Length||5 Iron Loft||5 Iron Length|
|Callaway Apex Pro|
|Callaway X Forged|
|Cobra KING Forged CB|
|Exotics CBX Forged|
|Mizuno JPX 919 Tour|
|New Level 623-M|
|New Level 902 Forged|
|PXG 0311T GEN 2|
|Sub70 639 CB|
|Wilson FG Tour V6|
* denotes measured value vs. manufacturer’s stated spec.
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 categories of irons we test are: players (cavitybacks), players distance, game improvement, and super game improvement. While there is some overlap between categories, your search should begin with an honest assessment of your skill level (handicap), as well as what you need in your game. 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. For those on the bubble, especially for those seeking a few more yards, the Players Distance category could be ideal.
Q: Does the shaft matter?
A: Absolutely. While changes to spin and launch 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, even within the Player’s Irons category, 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 overstate the importance of consistency with irons.
Forged vs. Cast Irons
A common misconception is that forged irons are for better players. In reality, forgiveness is a function of geometry, not the manufacturing process. There are several forgiving forged irons on the market, just as there are many cast irons - like the PING i210 - that are designed for lower handicap golfers.
While it's no longer universally true, the materials used for forging are often softer than those used in the casting process. The benefit of casting is that it can allow for more elaborate construction, which gives manufacturers greater flexibility to move discretionary weight away from the face and towards the sole and rear of the clubhead. Irons like the Titleist T-MB feature high-density tungsten weight on the perimeters of the sole which can increase dynamic loft and produce ball higher with a bit more forgiveness.
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 do you determine in which category to test a given set of irons?
A: To ensure that we’re testing irons as alike as designers allow for, in addition to the design of the head itself (profile, sole width, etc.), we sort by length and loft. Our goal is to keep differences as minimal as possible within any test cohort. When an iron reasonably fits in more than one category, we defer to the manufacturer’s category choice.
Q: How is the Most Wanted Players Iron Determined
A: To determine our rankings, we collect key performance metrics with Foresight GCQuad Launch Monitors. After eliminating outliers, we use a utilize a proprietary methodology to calculate Strokes Gained values for each combination of tester and golf club. Next, we calculate confidence intervals and determine the statistical reliability of our Strokes Gained values. The iron that is reliably better for the highest percentage of testers is the Most Wanted. For more detailed information on our test process, visit our How We Test Page.
Q: How is the “Most Forgiving” Iron determined?
A: To determine the Most Forgiving Players Iron, we focus on a narrower set of metrics that includes: Shot Area (dispersion, measured in yards2), and the standard deviations of several key parameters: ball speed, carry yards, pin proximity, and strokes gained.
Q: You discuss subjective feedback for things like looks, sound, and feel. How much do those ratings factor into your rankings?
A: ZERO. Our rankings are based purely on launch monitor data and quantifiable performance metrics.