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OUR JOB IS YOUR GAME

Once a trend, the Player’s Distance Iron has become an industry-wide staple. The category offers the sleek, sexy appeal a majority of golfers’ egos desire in terms of looks, combined with an attractive duo of power and a bit of forgiveness. It’s the best of both worlds. However, this utopian offering is not for everyone despite the temptation it offers. The 2020 Best Player’s Distance Iron is the ultimate iron for someone looking to enhance looks, feel and performance in a more forgiving package than a traditional player’s iron.

With each passing year, manufacturers are inching closer to the limits of technology. They flirt with the established limits of the equipment rules governed by the USGA and R&A. These innovations continue to transform golf equipment to produce more ball speed across the club face, higher launch angles, straighter shots and improved feel and sound.

This year, we threw 13 of the top Player’s Distance Irons into a “battle royale” arena. Shots were hit, data were collected and analyzed. The results are in.

Most Wanted: Wilson Staff D7 Forged

Performance Grades

Below is the Best Player’s Distance Iron 2020 broken down by performance grades for each 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.

Iron Buying Considerations

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

SET MAKE-UP

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. In the Player’s Distance category, 4-irons are practically ubiquitous but not every set offers a gap wedge. 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 more clubs than you want or need.

SHAFT SELECTION

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

Go through a professional fitting. If for some reason you can’t, the Mizuno Shaft Optimizer isn’t a bad place to start. The optimizer utilizes gyroscopes and strain gauges to measure things like club speed, tempo and how much the shaft is flexing at impact. It then recommends a list of shafts for your swing. It even makes a lie angle recommendation.

DISTANCE VERSUS FORGIVENESS

As technology advances, marketing increases and options multiply, it becomes critical to analyze distance and forgiveness in an iron. Obtaining the best performing iron with both metrics is a dream scenario but one that is challenging to achieve.

The two metrics are always pushing and pulling for the high ground…a give-and-take situation. To maximize distance, consider Cobra KING Forged Tec, Tommy Armour 845 Forged or Callaway Apex 19To enhance forgiveness, look at Honma T//World X, Titleist T200 or PING i500It is important to note that there can be a correlation between distance and backspin. Distance does not always equal performance. After all, if you have distance but not enough spin or your descent angles are too shallow, you will not get stopping power on the green. What is the objective of distance if you are not hitting greens in regulation?

COST

A set of irons is an investment.  A majority of the Player’s Distance Irons for 2020 will cost you at least $1,000. Thankfully, there are bargains to be found. For example, Sub 70 699 Pro Black irons retail at $623 for a seven-club set (this doesn’t include exotic shaft upgrades).

BEST FOR FORGIVENESS - Honma T//World X

BEST FOR FORGIVENESS - Honma T//World X

The 2020 Best Iron for Forgiveness in the Players Distance category is the Honma T//World X. If you are looking for tighter dispersion and to hit more greens in regulation, don't overlook this one. While it's not among the longest, it offers the consistency you may need in a highly touted design that offers excellent feel.

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-to-year performance. Additionally, we solicit feedback from our testers. We want to understand what they liked, what they didn’t like and why. Although we obtain their feedback, their subjective opinions do not influence, dictate or determine our testing rankings.

Trends and Tweaks

  • Without question, the objective of the category and the trends observed throughout this test is increased ball speed across the face. Each manufacturer features technology in the head designed for this purpose. The leading feature is innovative face technology. Wilson Staff D7 Forged, Honma T//World X and Cobra KING Forged Tec all feature unique takes on forged face design for increasing ball speed.
  • We continue to see a hollow-body or filled-body design approach for a majority of the competitors in this test. PING i500 and Honma T//World X  feature the hollow body. TaylorMade P790, PXG 0311 P Gen3 and Sub 70 699 Pro Black lead the filled-body contingent. These designs include some variation of a thinner face designed to increase face flex and generate more ball speed.
  • The majority of Player’s Distance Irons offer some form of multi-material construction. In addition to steel, tungsten is common. PXG (Impact Reactor Technology, powered by DuelCOR), TaylorMade (SpeedFoam) and Titleist (Max Impact) use polymers and other proprietary materials to reinforce the face, allowing for thinner designs.
  • Callaway Mavrik Pro brings the innovation level to peak heights with its “Flash Face Cup Technology” which utilizes artificial intelligence to increase ball speed unique to each individual iron.
  • While there’s as much or more technology packed into Player’s Distance Irons as there is in the Game Improvement category, one of the distinguishing features of the category is is often a more compact, player-preferred profile. Shorter blade lengths and thinner soles in irons like the Callaway Apex 19 are more pleasing to the eye and allow the golfer some degree of workability with more forgiveness than you find in a Player’s Cavity Back iron.
BEST FOR DISTANCE - Cobra KING Forged Tec

BEST FOR DISTANCE - Cobra KING Forged Tec

Cobra KING Forged Tec was a tester favorite in 2020. The longest players distance iron we tested, the Forged Tec is 2020's KING of Distance. Offering arguably the most balanced performance throughout the set, it's an iron that should definitely be on your demo list.

Notes from the Testing Pool

The following section details subjective feedback from our pool of 20 testers. Gathering feedback is an important aspect of any test. You are a consumer, just like the folks in our Most Wanted Tests. We use their feedback as a representation of what the consumer likes and dislikes in a product. This being said, the feedback is strictly subjective. It does not play a factor in the rankings.

  • Give us all the feels. Testers raved about the feel of a majority of the irons in this test. Top comments regarding feel belonged to: PXG 0311 P Gen3, Titleist T200, Callaway Apex 19, Wilson Staff D7 Forged.
  • Looks are invariably part of the conversation. TaylorMade P790, Honma TR20 P and PING i500 excelled in the design/looks department. All proved extremely popular with our testers.
  • The Tommy Armour 845 Forged pleasantly surprised testers despite its overall results. Testers were impressed by its feel and profile. The biggest knock from a majority of testers was the sound at impact, described it as an unappealing clicking noise.
  • The 2020 Most Wanted Player’s Distance Iron, the Wilson Staff D7 Forged, captured testers’ attention immediately. One tester commented that he would buy a set after testing it. He loved the feel, look, sound and performance.

2020 Most Wanted- Best Player’s Distance Iron 2020 Data

To filter and compare by club, use the drop-down list and checkboxes to select the irons you wish to compare.

It is important to note that while comparing the performance averages of 20 golfers with varying swing speeds and characteristics is interesting and sometimes useful, it doesn’t tell the complete performance story.  For this reason, we look at performance on a per-golfer basis. The overall rankings (listed near the top of this story) reflected the rate at which a club finished in the Top Performing Group for each tester.

Use the dropdown below to switch between long, mid, and short irons. Mobile users can use their finger to scroll through the chart in both vertically and horizontally.

Expert Tip - Shaft Weight

Heavier steel shafts tend to produce lower launch angles with less spin. Lighter shafts (steel or graphite) tend to produce mid to high launch with more spin. Finding a shaft that matches your swing will help produce the desired launch conditions, and shot shape. Remember to keep an open mind and pay close attention to the shaft's influence on performance during your next fitting.

 

HOW WE TEST

Our mission is to help you find the best Player's Distance Iron for your game.

We are 100% independent and unbiased, and 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.

Over the course of several sessions, each golfer is required to hit PW, 7 Iron, and 5 Iron. Iron groupings and order are randomized on a per tester basis.

LIMITING VARIABLES AND GATHERING RELIABLE DATA

To minimize variables, all testers hit Bridgestone Tour B-X Golf Balls inside our dedicated Lab X testing facility located in Yorktown, Va.

While it doesn't affect the final results, subjective feedback on looks, feel and alignment is taken from each tester on every putter in the test.

CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS

To determine the Most Wanted Player's Distance Iron, we calculate the strokes gained value for each iron relative to the average strokes for each tester. Those values are aggregated and totaled with the Most Wanted iron being the one that produced the highest average strokes gained value across the test pool.

PRODUCT SPECIFICATIONS

2020 Most Wanted Players Distance Iron Specs

 ProductPW LoftPW Length7 Iron Loft7 Iron Length5 Iron Loft5 Iron Length
Callaway Apex 19

Check Price
43.7535.530.7536.7523.537.75
Callaway Mavrik Pro

Check Price
4335.530.7536.62523.2537.75
Cobra King Forged Tec

Check Price
4435.7529.7537.12522.2538
Cobra King Forged Tec One

Check Price
44.753729.753723.2537
Honma TR20 P

Check Price
42.7535.530.753723.537.75
Honma T//World X

Check Price
43.7535.37531372438
Ping i500

Check Price
4535.531.253724.2538.25
PXG 0311 P Gen3

Check Price
44.7535.531.536.87523.7538
Sub 70 699 Pro Black

Check Price
45.53530.7536.8752437.75
TaylorMade P790

Check Price
45.535.37529.2536.62523.537.75
Titleist T200

Check Price
4335.62530.2536.87523.7537.75
Tommy Armour 845 Forged

Check Price
43.535.530.536.62522.7537.5
Wilson Staff D7 Forged

Check Price
42.2535.37529.536.7524.2537.75

The Best Player’s Distance Iron For 2020  – 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 three to five years for manufacturers to make 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 Player’s (cavity backs), Player’s 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. While there are always exceptions, 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 Player’s or Player’s Distance irons may benefit your game the most. For those on the bubble, especially for those seeking a few more yards, the Player’s Distance category could be ideal.

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SEE MY RESULTS

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 Distance 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 launch monitor 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.

MOST WANTED

Q: How are the irons in the test fitted 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- Best Player’s Distance Iron 2020 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. The iron that produces the highest Strokes Gained values relative to the field average is our Most Wanted.

Q: How is the “longest” Iron determined?

A: The process to determine the longest Player’s Distance Iron is similar to how we arrive at our overall rankings. For distance, our critical metric is Total Yards. We identify the iron that produced the most total yards with the long and middle irons relative to the field average.

Q: How is the “most forgiving” Iron determined?

A: We’ve taken a practical approach to forgiveness. The club for which Strokes Gained values for the best shots are closest to the Strokes Gained value for the worst shots (relative to the field average) is the Most Forgiving.

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.