Golf, it’s been said here many times, is a game.
And games are supposed to be fun.
But there’s not a blessed thing fun about a day spent chunking the ball fat. No matter how much you practice and no matter how many lessons you take, chunking can turn a lovely day on the course into a four-course meal in a one-star diner in Hell. It happens to the best of us.
And to those of us who aren’t the best.
If you’re s a chronic chunker, OEMs feel your pain. So far this fall, we’ve seen the Cobra T-Rail hybrid iron set and Cleveland’s updated Launcher HB Turbo, and over the summer Tour Edge released its HL4 Iron-Wood set. Wilson Staff, however, may be setting a new standard for forgiveness today with its new Launch Pad irons.
“We built in some performance into the sole to prevent the worst of all shots for a lot of inconsistent players, which is hitting the ball fat,” says Jon Pergande, Wilson’s Manager of Golf Club Innovation. “Most of the time, this type of player feels they’d rather hit the ball solidly and miss the green left or right than get nothing by laying the sod over the top of it.”
The chunks are no fun at all.
The new Launch Pad irons are a departure from recent Wilson offerings. First off, you’ll note there’s no D designation, even though Launch Pad most definitely fits into the Super-Duper Game Improvement category. Second, not since the mid-’80s and the Turf Rider has Wilson released a hollow-body iron.
“At the time, those were very novel, but they were trying to solve the same problem we’re trying to solve now,” says Pergande. “How do we get someone to hit the ball farther, with less effort and with a whole lot more confidence when they aren’t very solid in their game?”
The first thing you see with Launch Pad is the sole. Each club has more sole than Aretha, Marvin, and all Four Tops put together. That extra-wide sole, combined with the hollow construction, gets the center of gravity to damn near subterranean levels, especially in the long irons. The combination of low CG and a wide, flat sole helps golfers get the ball in the air while giving the chunks a run for their money.
“A wider sole is not going to dig in,” says Pergande. “There’s more surface area on the sole to contact the ground. There’s also the bounce angle, the angle of the sole, and then there’s the camber – the radius from front to back, and how that interacts with the ground.”
One thing about wide sole irons is the flatter the sole, the more attack angle matters. If you have a steep attack, you need either more bounce or a more pronounced camber. “What we’re trying to do here is get the right level of camber to bounce,” says Pergande. “The wider the sole, the less overall bounce you want because you still need to get the clubface to the ball.”
“If you get too flat, which is what we found with some of our competitors when we did our testing, you can still dig the front end into the ground because the actual sole is not getting to the surface. You want to make sure you have some piece of that sole that’s in contact with the ground to get the club, for lack of a better word, to skip across the turf.”
There’s a noticeable difference in sole width as you move from Launch Pad’s short to long irons. The 4-iron is by far the widest, while the 9-iron and pitching wedge soles are a bit more in line with typical Super Game Improvement irons.
“Any time you’re hitting a full shot with a 9-iron or a pitching wedge, players have a good expectation of success,” says Pergande. “It’s really the mid- and long irons where people really struggle, trying to overswing.”
The closest comp to Launch Pad is the Cleveland Launcher HB Turbo. The Turbo’s long irons have a definite hybrid look to them, and while no one would ever call LaunchPad slender, it does look somewhat more iron-like, with extra emphasis on somewhat. There’s unmistakable junk in the trunk on the long irons, but Wilson had done a good job of camouflaging the backside in the short irons to make them look, well, like irons. Sort of.
If you insist on a thin topline, these won’t make you happy.
But then again, they’re not meant for you.
73% Less Chunky?
In its press release, Wilson claims its testing shows that, for the everyday player, Launch Pad can reduce fat shots by 73%.
We couldn’t let that one pass unquestioned.
“We had several self-identified high-frequency duffers in for testing,” says Pergande. “We started by identifying shots with their own clubs, then with our competitors’ clubs, and then with Launch Pad. We wanted to find the likelihood of hitting a clean shot, a fat shot, and thin shot, or some other kind of shot. What we found was when you compare these to their gamers, it’s a pure numbers game of shots that are hit fat.”
Pergande says each player hit about 200 shots with their own clubs, another 200 with competitors’ clubs and another 200 with Launch Pad. “With Launch Pad, the probability of hitting a fat shot goes way down. You just don’t hit them with Launch Pad. And the likelihood of a clean shot goes way up.”
That claim, of course, comes from Wilson. As of this writing, there’s only been one instance of an OEM supplying MyGolfSpy with internal testing where its own product didn’t outperform the competition, and even that one came with an asterisk.
As claims go, this one sounds bold, but it depends on what you’re comparing to Launch Pad. A late-season session at the heated driving range (it’s snow season here in New Hampshire) shows Launch Pad to be ridiculously easy to get airborne. While mats aren’t ideal for this kind of test, hitting it fat was next to impossible.
And did we mention high? Yeah, the Launch Pads launch high.
Who Are They For?
If you like to play golf but hate hitting it fat, and want clubs that’ll help you, you’ll find a friend in Launch Pad. If you’re chomping at the bit to write GET LESSONS! in the Comments section, just remember two things: we were all high handicappers once, and some people play this game for kicks.
And even though Wilson insists they tried to make Launch Pad look as iron-like as possible, it’s not going to fool anybody. That said, for the category, it’s not a bad looking stick.
“We put these in the hands of better players, and the comments tend to bias toward the long irons,” says Pergande. “If you’re a high single-digit handicapper, picture a long shot – 170 to 200 yards – it’s really just about hitting the ball straight, confidently and cleanly to get the best result. It’s not about sticking it close from that distance; it’s more about don’t hit a bad shot.”
While hollow body, low CG irons aren’t new, we are seeing OEMs paying attention to what had been an underserved market, one that’s larger than many realize. And while MyGolfSpy consistently states you should play the most game improvement iron you can stand to look at, it’s safe to say more people should be playing irons like these than are actually playing irons like these.
“With an iron like D7, it’s a forgiving iron, but it’s all about distance through ball speed,” says Pergande. “It’s the longest iron in our arsenal, but that assumes the contact is on the face of the club. Launch Pad helps get the ball to the center of the club. It’s solving a problem. There are enough golf fanatics out there looking for a better way to play the game, looking to get more enjoyment out of the game. That’s what will bring people to a product like this.”
Price, Specs, and Availability
If you’re expecting Launch Pad to feature seriously jacked lofts, you might be somewhat disappointed, or maybe a little relieved. It’s the new normal to see Game Improvement and SGI 7-iron lofts in the 26- to 27-degree range, but the Launch Pad 7-iron comes in at a relatively un-jacked 30-degrees. Yeah, it’s more than your blade or player’s cavity back, but it’s certainly not outrageous. In fact, the lofts on the 7-iron through pitching wedge (44-degrees) are identical to the lofts on the Cleveland Launcher HB Turbo. Cleveland’s lofts on the long irons, however, are a degree or so stronger than those on the Wilsons.
LaunchPad comes in a 4-PW set in both men’s and women’s models (set-matching Gap and Sand wedges are sold separately). The stock shafts are obvious fits for the target golfer: for the men, it’s the KBS Tour 80 in steel and the UST-Mamiya Recoil 460 in graphite, with the Wilson Staff Crossline the stock grip. The stock swing weight for the entire set is D0.
The women’s stock set is graphite only, featuring the lightweight, high-launching UST-Mamiya Helium shaft and the Wilson Staff Women’s Performance grip. The women’s set is swing weighted at C6.5.
Both the men’s and women’s models are available for lefties and righties.
Launch Pad will retail at $699.99 in steel, $799.99 in graphite. They’ll be available for pre-order on Wilson’s website starting December 17th, and will be in stores January 13th.