An Age-Old Theory
When I decided that I wanted to take up golf, my dad bought an old set of forged Titleist blades for me (with persimmon woods, to boot). This was around 2003. Forgiving clubs existed, but he was convinced that playing blades would make me a better golfer.
This idea is not unique to my dad. Tiger has made similar comments about the clubs that he’s provided for his son, Charlie. It’s a theory you can find being espoused in every golf forum, club house, and driving range in the world…but is it true?
Yes, Blades Will Make You a Better Ball Striker
First, blades provide better feedback than game improvement (GI) or super game improvement (SGI) irons. There are two elements of this. One is the feedback you get through your hands. On the whole, blades will more clearly communicate where the ball met the face compared to forgiving irons. There are many GI irons which have good feedback, but some will try to convince you that you’ve flushed every shot.
The more important form of feedback is the result of the shot. The entire purpose of GI and SGI irons is to take poor strikes and create playable results. With a blade, you typically get the result that you deserve. On a thin strike, for instance, a blade will fire off a knee-high shot where a GI iron with a low center of gravity will lift the ball onto a more normal trajectory.
Through both the sensation in your hands and the result of the shot, blades give golfers a clearer, more honest picture of their ball striking. This is critical if you want to get better. If you are being told that every swing you make is Tour quality, there’s no impetus to change anything. When your hands are stinging and your shots are low, short, and crooked, there’s more motivation to get to work.
Another way that blades can improve your ball striking relates to turf interaction. Blades traditionally have thin soles with limited bounce. GI and SGI irons have wider soles with more bounce to avoid digging. With a blade, you won’t be able to get away with slightly fat shots the way you can with larger irons.
There is also a psychological element to playing blades that can’t be ignored. When I look down at a paper-thin top line, I know I need to focus to get a good result. Looking down at an iron the size of a Honda can cause me to relax knowing that any strike will produce a decent result. In addition to demanding more focus, blades can imbue a player with pride and confidence. This won’t be the case for every golfer, but many players will stand a little taller because they’re playing “real players clubs.”
Finally, blades make it easier to manipulate ball flight. This can unlock more creativity and learning about shotmaking. To be clear, every iron is capable of shot shaping, but, as a general rule, it’s easier to control trajectory and shot shape with a blade than a large SGI iron.
No, Blades Won’t Make You a Better Ball Striker
Feedback is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t mean anything without the work, or perhaps more correctly, the will and desire to work. If I am unhappy with my weight, knowing exactly how many pounds I am does nothing to change it. If I am unhappy that I am weak, knowing that I can only bench press 50 pounds does nothing to move me toward 300. What makes me better is the work I put into getting better.
Additionally, the feedback that blades deliver requires interpretation. If you give a blade to a new – or even a seasoned – golfer, they may not be able to tell you where the ball met the face. They may not understand that a low shot is the result of hitting the bottom groove. Perhaps they will learn in time, but that knowledge is not magically imbued to them when they put their hands on the blades.
Furthermore, the blade does not tell the golfer what they should be doing with their body or their swing. While I’m no fan of internal cues, I do recognize that they can be important to some golfers, particularly beginners. If a player is consistently hitting the heel of the club, what does that mean? What if they are consistently missing but not in any consistent way?
Similarly, while blades allow players more freedom to shape their ball flight, playing blades does not give them the knowledge they need to control it. A golfer needs a sound understanding of the ball flight laws [you can learn them HERE] if they’re going to become a shot maker. Putting a player behind the wheel of an F1 car does not make them a racer. Handing someone a Stratocaster does not make them Stevie Ray Vaughan.
While blades can have a positive psychological effect, the effects can be negative, too. Some players find blades intimidating. While blades demand more focus, focusing is a skill that is not granted simply because one is playing blades. Additionally, the consistent negative feedback of bad shots may lead some players to practice less or quit altogether.
So the Short Answer Is…
Yes, blades will make you a better ball striker – with a few big ifs. If you are willing to put a lot of effort into practice. If you understand the feedback that they’re giving you. If you understand the ball flight laws and how they allow you to manipulate trajectory and shot shape.
Give It a Try
If you’re interested in using blades as an avenue to better ball striking but don’t want to see your handicap skyrocket, I have a plan. Head to your local golf shop or secondhand sporting goods store and find some old blades. You can buy a set, a half set, or just a single iron. Regardless, the cost should be quite low. If you don’t have a local shop, use eBay. I found dozens of good candidates under $100 with my first search.
Step two is getting the shaft aligned with your own. This will cost a little bit of money, but it will be worth it. Your old blade probably has an old, heavy, stiff steel shaft. Get a club builder to install the same shaft you use in your irons and the same grip.
You can also cut out a step by ordering a single modern blade built to your spec. Depending on your shaft and choice of OEM, this could cost from $100 to $200.
Now take that iron to the range and get to work. You can experience all the unfiltered feedback that you can stand while still enjoying your modern clubs on the course.