Everyone’s Favorite Argument
Go to any golf forum, equipment shop, or 19th hole, and you will find golfers engaged in some form of this debate: what kind of irons should you play? The arguments on all sides are as well-worn as the grooves in Tiger’s old irons: “Everyone needs forgiveness!” “The greats played with blades and so should you!” “You can’t play blades until you break par!” “Guys on tour are playing forgiving clubs!”
While we know that no one can settle this argument for good, we did think it was time to bring a little bit of data to the party. Along with Club Champion, we tested blades alongside cavity back irons and super game improvement clubs to see which one is really the easiest to hit.
Myth #1 – Golfers who can play blades can play anything
Myth #2 – Game improvement irons produce more consistent distance
Myth #3 – Game improvement irons are straighter
Myth #4 – Blades produce better results on pure strikes
How We Tested
For this test, we brought together seven golfers. Each player hit thirty shots: ten with a blade iron, ten with a cavity back iron, and ten with a super game improvement iron. Each player used the same shaft through the test, and each iron was bent to the same loft and lie angle.
In addition to measuring the results with Trackman, we used impact tape to chart the location of each shot.
All testing was done at and with the help of Club Champion.
This was not a myth that we thought about coming into the test, but it was one that demanded to be addressed based on the data. The conventional wisdom is that if you can hit a blade, you can play any iron. Our testing showed this is absolutely not the case, at least in the short term.
We tracked the impact location of every shot in this test. The overall pattern was that players hit the blade well, but hit the SGI iron poorly. No one in our test group hit the SGI iron best.
To add context, everyone in our test group plays cavity back or blade irons (a consequence of using more skilled players). Despite the irons being the same length, loft, lie, and swing weight, the look and feel of the irons was different enough to cause most testers to struggle with the SGI iron.
It is entirely plausible, if not probable, that a player who is skilled with a blade could adjust to SGI irons over time.
The distance data is sufficiently clouded by poor ball striking that we cannot rate this as confirmed, but we do think it’s plausible that game improvement irons produce more consistent distance than blades.
The case against this myth is that all the irons produced effectively the same carry distance (our group average was within one yard). As individuals, our testers were evenly distributed – some were longest with SGI, others CB, others blade.
The data in support of this myth starts with smash factor. Despite poorer ball striking, our testers had the highest average smash factor with the SGI iron. Also, the SGI iron produced distance equivalent to the others despite being swung slower. Finally, only one of our seven testers had their tightest distance dispersion (yardage between longest and shortest shots) with the blade iron. This was a metric that should have played into the hands of the blade since one badly hit shot can dramatically increase the dispersion.
Our data confirms that game improvement irons do produce straighter shots, particularly given the context that the SGI iron was hit poorly compared to the blade.
As a group, our testers were six feet closer to the target with an SGI iron compared to a blade. As individuals, four of the seven had their best average with the SGI iron. That number would be even higher if we had eliminated outliers.
Our players also used the SGI iron to record more of their best shots. Five players recorded the most shots inside 10 feet with the SGI iron. As a group, 12 shots were hit inside 10 feet with an SGI iron compared to 8 with the blade.
This is the one myth that we can say is unequivocally busted. Nothing in our data supports the idea that blade irons perform better on pure strikes compared to cavity back irons or SGI irons.
Looking at the group average, smash factor was the highest with an SGI iron despite poorer ball striking. Similarly, no player in our group hit their longest shot with a blade.
Additionally, the dispersion data shows that blade irons are not more accurate, even with quality contact.
While certain players may produce better shots with blades, they are not universally better on centered strikes.
This was one of the most eye-opening tests that we’ve done because we genuinely had no idea what we would find.
One of the biggest takeaways is that there is a lot of helpful technology in SGI irons. Whether your primary concern is distance or direction, the irons you choose can make a big difference.
On a similar note, we were all impressed with how much of that technology is being packed into modern cavity back players irons. Whether you’re talking about the Srixon Z 765 irons that we used in this test or something like the PING i200 irons, golfers are able to get a players look and forgiveness like never before.
Additionally, we saw that when you’re making an equipment change, especially a dramatic one like SGI irons to blades or vice versa, you need to give yourself time to transition. Even with identical specs, there are differences in look and feel that can have a major impact on your ball striking.