Are Distance Irons Longer Than Blades? – Golf Myths Unplugged

Revisiting a Classic

Longtime readers may remember that five years ago we tested whether or not distance irons were really longer than traditional irons (check it out HERE).  This has been one of our most often-referenced Golf Myths Unplugged, so we decided to try it again to see if iron technology has changed in the last half decade.

The Myths

Myth #1 – Distance irons are inherently longer than traditional irons

Myth #2 – Distance irons are more forgiving than traditional irons

Myth #3 – Distance irons are more accurate than traditional irons

How We Tested

For this test, we brought together five golfers with handicaps ranging from scratch to nine.  Each player chose an iron shaft that fit their swing and used it to hit four different iron heads.  We used two distance irons – the TaylorMade P790 and Callaway Epic Forged – and two blades – the Callaway Apex MB and TaylorMade P730.  All the irons had their loft adjusted to 27 degrees.  Each player hit seven shots with each head, and all shots were recorded on Trackman.

All testing was done at, and with the help of, Club Champion.

The Results

In a surprising reversal of what we found five years ago, our testing showed that distance irons are longer than blades, even with equal lofts.

For the group average, the blade 6-iron carried 180.9 yards; the distance 6-iron carried 186.3 yards.

Individually, each tester had their longest average carry with one of the distance irons.  Also, when we combined the distance irons and blade irons, the distance irons were longer.

Finally, when we looked at the longest shot each individual hit, the distance irons won again.  In comparing the best shot of each tester, the longest distance iron shot was, on average, 8 yards longer than the best blade shot.

The biggest driver of this distance gap was ball speed.  Each tester posted their highest average ball speed with a distance iron, gaining at least 1 MPH and as much as 4.5 MPH over the best blade.

While it would seem that a large, high tech iron would be more forgiving than an old school blade, we do not have data to show this definitively.

The first metric we looked at was the distance gap between a player’s best and worst shot.  On average, the distance irons were only slighter better, and there was tremendous variance within the group.  One tester had only 10 yards between his best and worst blade shots and nearly 20 yards between his best and worst distance iron shots.  Other players showed the opposite pattern.

We also looked at the consistency of spin rates and launch angles.  Again, the averages tilted very slightly toward distance irons, but individual tester’s results were all over the map.

Looking at smash factor further muddied the water.  On average, the group had the same smash factor with the distance irons as with the blades.

Accuracy is something we didn’t discuss in the previous version of this test, and I was eager to see the results.  Contrary to popular belief, blades proved to be more accurate than distance irons.

When we grouped together the two distance irons and the two blades, the blades were more accurate for four of our five testers.  Among those four, two saw substantial accuracy gains: over 2 yards closer to center per shot.  The one tester who was more accurate with distance irons was only better by 0.3 yards per shot.

Looking at the irons individually, we saw a similar pattern.  Four of our testers were most accurate with one of the blades.  Additionally, four of our five testers were least accurate with one of the distance irons.

Additional Findings

One clear, though unsurprising, finding was that the distance irons produced much less spin.  The two blade irons averaged 5,246 RPM.  The two distance irons averaged 4,755 RPM, a difference of nearly 500 RPM or roughly 10%.  This was true not only for the group, but for each individual as well.

The story of launch angle was much more muddled.  There was no clear connection between launch angle and iron type.  Some players launched the blades higher, others launched them lower.

When we looked at peak height, there was a small trend toward the distance irons creating higher shots.  Three of the five testers had higher peaks with the distance irons.  For four of the testers, the difference between irons was small – 1 or 2 feet.  The one outlier created higher shots with the blades by a substantial amount – 8 feet higher on average.

One observation that we made while watching the testers is that sole width is an underappreciated factor in iron selection.  Each of our testers had a clear preference for a particular sole width.  When given a club that was dramatically different than their gamer, they struggled with turf interaction despite all being above average players.

The Takeaway

While rapid product cycles have made it easy to become jaded about whether or not golf clubs are actually getting better, this test shows that, when it comes to distance, irons are improving.  The modern distance iron creates a ton of ball speed while lowering spin.

However, this does not mean that every golfer needs a modern distance iron.  Each golfer should – with the help of a quality club fitter – determine what they need to get the most out of their golf swing to accomplish their goals on the course.

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Matt Saternus

Co-Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker in the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.

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21 Comments

  1. Dear Matt, very interesting reading. Thank you!
    I just hope that readers less used doing critical reading would not come to a wrong conclusion that blade irons perform similarly to distance irons, just distance irons are a bit longer. Lets stress and not forget that you were comparing 6 irons in hands of single digits (!!!). There I believe the accuracy and forgiveness might seem similar, especially given small samples. Should you compare 4 irons, or bogey golfers, and in particular 4 irons in hands of bogey golfers, I dare to say the difference in accuracy and forgiveness would be much less favourable for blades. Thus my main take away is that 6 irons in hands of single digits perform similarly, just distance irons are half club longer.
    But more interestingly. Do you have any explanation why the testers had higher swing speed with distance irons? Was it confidence thing? Or weight of head thing? It surely could not be aerodinamics, and shafts were the same… I do not understand it. I would guess distance irons get longer distance through higher smash factor from more springy face, not from higher swing speed…. ???

    • He didn’t say that the distance irons produced higher swing speed. He did say they produced higher ball speed, a different matter entirely. That could be due to the springy faces of the distance irons. Blades don’t have that. They are one piece of metal.

  2. Ok, did the golf manufacturers pay for this article!?!?!? Just kidding!!! I actually have always hit blades longer the distance irons for the exception of the Callaway X2 Hots. The X2Hots have a blade look, feel and swing, but incredible distance advantage over the previous Titleist clubs I have been playing for the last 15 years. I did play with Ping I25 for a couple of years, good clubs nice distance, but not workable clubs, I had to make EXTREME swing changes jus to make them work and shape. Not so with the X2Hots. Like most technologies, the golf industry has exotic materials and designs that will only be released late in the future, like cars…..its about selling little improvements at a time to keep you wanting!!!!!!!!

  3. I don’t understand the obsession with hitting irons longer. If you aren’t hitting your driver and wedges the same amount longer as your new wonder clubs, all you are doing is ruining your gapping.

    • Kip Johnson

      I completely agree about the need to chase distance with irons, especially in the case of better players. Gapping is the only thing that should truly matter when it comes to iron distances.

  4. Interesting note about width of sole making s difference.; was there the same conclusion in regards to the length of the head?

    Also, presumesble testing was done off mats not grass? Mats tend to make the Ball spin more and produce greater launch. ?

    • Matt Saternus

      Gary,

      None of our testers commented on the blade length, but that could have been a factor.

      Testing was done off mats.

      -Matt

  5. Interesting. I thought the G410s andM6s or similar were going to be put against blades but no, player’s distance irons as some websites call them. Bugger all difference if you ask me. All that tech amounts to little useful.
    I assume the player’s distance irons are not all that much more forgiving either so I’d rather have a solid piece of metal than the hollow head nonsense that is so popular these days (though that works just fine for woods of course).

    • As a single digit golfer, I appreciate you sometimes using better golfers to make club comparisons. The higher handicap results don’t help me compare clubs. Having some tests done each way covers everybody. Thanks.

  6. As a bogey golfer, who is getting a bit older (56 years old, 17.8 handicap) I immediately get annoyed when I see or read reviews or tests being being done by or with single digit players… The findings mean nothing to me.

  7. Great article Matt,
    For some reason the equipment myth comparison articles are always my favorite.

    Was the accuracy measured from a center line or a specific target?

    How did this test relate to other blade myth testing you have conducted? And in you opinion, how would a modern players cavity back iron compare to either a blade of distance iron?

    • Matt Saternus

      Kip,

      Accuracy was measured relative to the centerline only since we wanted the players to make full swings (maximum distance without swinging out of their shoes) with unfamiliar irons. It wouldn’t be very fair to hand someone a new iron and ask them to hit specific distances.

      I think modern players cavity back irons have made huge strides in terms of forgiveness. As far as distance technology like we’re talking about in this article, I don’t think they have much over blades.

      Best,

      Matt

  8. I appreciate the article as informative for players of all levels. Clearly most players, single digit or higher will benefit
    using game improvement distant irons. The ball will make the difference.

  9. You don’t mention anything about the weights of the heads, only the lofts, which were adjusted to 27*. I wouldn’t be surprised if the distance irons were lighter, on average, which would encourage a higher swing speed. (?)

  10. Yes, I would expect swing weights to have been close, but I’m asking about the actual weight of the club heads. As lofts for irons have been decreasing for a given club#, so too have head weights changed in many instances, with longer shafts, as well. You mentioned that all club lofts had been adjusted to the same 27*, to account for those differences, which was a good idea. Swing weight is important for consistency, but club and head weights, and shaft length, too, are more important for distance. It would be interesting to see those numbers, as there’s really no “technology” in irons that I’m aware of to explain it otherwise. Great read, though! ;)

    • Matt Saternus

      Mark,

      The shaft used was the same for each golfer, the only thing changed was the head, so if swing weight was the same, the head weight was the same.

      -Matt

  11. Hi Matt,

    Has there any research been done what would be the best choice for a golfer to further lower his handicap;
    use blades (which are said to give more feedback and therefore help learning to improve the quality of strike) or distance irons (which could help to reduce the length of approach shots /help to reach greens more easily)?
    Some golfers say that you learn most from blades and should not use irons that cover up flaws in your swing, others say not using new tech would be selling yourself short?

    • Matt Saternus

      Mark,

      That’s one of those eternal debates which we can’t answer without some really good longitudinal studies. I don’t think the choice of equipment matters that much to a golfer’s improvement. If someone is determined to get better, and they work at it intelligently, they will get better. The vast majority of golfers don’t commit the time to really improve, so they should just play what makes them happy.

      Best,

      Matt

  12. Comment/Question. When determining the accuracy between players distance irons and blades, is it fair to compare the same irons ie 6 iron to 6 iron? Given distance irons are about 8 yards longer (assuming this is consistent with all irons) would it not be fair to compare the irons that hit the same distance (ie club down for the players distance iron) and see if accuracy is comparable? Not sure it is apples to apples since 8 yards would require most players to change their club selection.

    • Matt Saternus

      Steve,

      Good question. Since we made all the lofts equal, we judged the accuracy in an apples-to-apples manner. We could have looked at degrees offline, but with a group-wide distance difference of only 5 yards (about 3%), it wouldn’t have changed our conclusion dramatically.

      Best,

      Matt

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