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OUR JOB IS YOUR GAME
Player’s irons. The “crème de la crème.” The aesthetically pleasing iron that gets your golfing juices flowing. We all know what they are, we all aspire to game them and many of us are seduced by their siren song.
Sadly, there is a caveat. Player’s irons are not for everyone.
But if you are a lower-handicap golfer and a strong ball striker, the 2020 Most Wanted Player’s Iron test is for you.
Most Wanted – Honma TR20 V
Below is a breakdown of performance grades by iron length. The percentages displayed for each iron represent how often it was among the best-performing irons for each golfer across the test pool. For more information about how we arrive at these results, see our How We Test page.
*Performance differences between clubs in the player’s CB (cavity-back) category are minimal compared to the other categories we’ve tested this season.
Performance should be your primary concern when buying new irons but there are additional considerations to think about before you make your purchase.
Set composition is critical when purchasing a new iron set. Traditionally, player’s irons (player’s CBs) come stock with a 3- or 4-iron depending on the manufacturer. Set make-up is evolving, however. Three-irons aren’t as prevalent as they used to be and, in some cases, they’re fading from the catalog entirely. While most still advertise eight-piece stock sets, the choice is yours. It’s not uncommon for golfers to purchase only five or six irons from a set and backfill the rest of the bag with a mix of hybrids, utility irons and specialty wedges. When deciding which irons and how many of them to buy, focus on purpose and performance. There’s no reason why all your clubs need to look the same.
Whether it’s steel or graphite, the number of shaft options for irons is growing. As a result, it can be challenging to navigate the different models, weights and flexes to find the shaft that’s right for you. Ultimately, finding the best shaft for your game stretches well beyond graphite versus steel.
Throughout the 2020 Most Wanted Player’s Iron category, the stock shaft selection tends to be on the heavier end. For example, most of the stock shaft offerings range from 115 to 130 grams. Although this is the common theme, some manufacturers stock lighter shafts. Plus, there are a handful of manufacturers who offer graphite options.
We always recommend taking the time to go through a professional fitting but if you don’t have the resources, ask your local golf shop if they have a Mizuno Shaft Optimizer. It will recommend a list of shafts based on your swing. At a minimum, it will help you narrow the list. It even makes a lie angle recommendation.
DISTANCE VERSUS FORGIVENESS
When you think of player’s irons, distance and forgiveness are not words that catapult into your mind. More often than not, it’s not part of the story. In this year’s test, a bit of extra distance was found with TaylorMade P770 and PXG 0311 T Gen3. On the other hand, forgiveness (albeit on a narrow, comparative basis) makes an appearance via New Level 623-M Forged and Mizuno MP20 MMC. For those seeking a balance of both distance and forgiveness from a category known for neither, the New Level 902 Forged is a solid option.
The 2020 Most Wanted Player’s Iron test contains irons in the upper echelon of the price range, often exceeding $1,000. Some are more than double that. However, there are hidden gems in terms of cost and performance. Both the New Level 623-M Forged and New Level 902 Forged cost $770 for a seven-piece set. At $875, the PING i210 makes for an intriguing option. Built into the cost is the aesthetics value (the attention to detail) necessarily absent from the game-improvement and super game-improvement categories. Lastly, given the average price point of the category, we suggest spending time with a professional fitter to ensure your money is well-spent.
Best Forgiveness – New Level 623-M Forged
Edging out the field in the forgiveness category, we have the New Level 623-M Forged. A direct to consumer product that has been inching its way to recognition. A traditional look, combined with a well received feel, this product is one to consider. For the price, you cannot beat it.
During each test, we look for insight into where the market as a whole is moving. Furthermore, we analyze noteworthy changes manufacturers have made to improve year-over-year performance. Throughout testing, we solicit feedback from our testing pool. Although the testers’ subjective feedback is enlightening, it has zero impact on the overall rankings.
Trends and Tweaks
- The harsh reality of player’s irons is that they are simply not for everyone. Inconsistent ball strikers need not apply. Do these irons feel incredible when struck well? Absolutely! But unless your skill level is appropriate, sacrificing performance for feel and workability is foolish. Check your ego before you buy.
- When you think of player’s irons, you typically think of a forged iron. Single-piece forgings like the Mizuno JPX 921 Tour, Fourteen TC920, Miura TC-201, Honma TR20 V, and New Level 623-M Forged) dominate the test. That’s not to say multi-material, multi-piece offerings don’t exist. Ben Hogan PTx Pro, TaylorMadeP770 and the Mizuno MP20 HMB feature construction that’s a bit more advanced than we typically expect from the category.
- Let’s jack up the weight, shall we? Tungsten weighting, that is. Many player’s irons, such as Mizuno MP20 MMC, Wilson Staff FG Tour V6, and Titleist T100, include some amount of tungsten weighting. The added weight, particularly in the long irons, helps promote higher launch.
- Once again, our data suggest that the best-performing long irons are seldom from the same set as the best-performing mid irons. The same is true for short irons. It seems nobody excels through every slot in the bag, so it makes sense to focus on the area where you need to most help.
- Since there is little separation in performance throughout this year’s test, getting professionally fitted is even more important. A professional fitting will differentiate between the irons that will be good for your game and the irons that will be superb for your game.
Use The Shaft to Improve Accuracy
While golfers typically think of the shaft as a means to optimize launch and spin, the reality is the shaft will often have a greater impact on accuracy and dispersion. Factors like weight, stiffness, and torque all play a role in how the club-head bends and twists as it’s delivered to the ball. Consider these factors while getting fitted for a new set of irons.
Notes From the Testing Pool
The following section details subjective feedback from our pool of 20 testers. While it is meant to highlight some of the feedback obtained during the test, it’s important to note that none of it is directly related to the actual performance of the club and, as such, does not factor in the overall rankings.
- Each tester was impressed with the array of golf clubs available. For most, it was their first experience hitting brands such as Miura TC-201, Fourteen TC920, New Level 623-M Forged, New Level 902 Forged and Scott Golf SG-02 Forged. For some, it was their first exposure to PXG 0311 T Gen3 or Honma TR20 V. Collectively, the feedback involving all of these products was extremely positive, especially in regards to feel or looks.
- TaylorMadeP770 and Mizuno JPX 921 Tour received consistent praise from a majority of testers. The two were highly touted fall releases and the testers were giddy over their design, feel and performance.
- Once again, Srixon Z785 grabbed the testers’ attention. It was arguably a consensus top pick for most testers. Titleist T100 received similar praise with some testers saying it was the best-looking iron in the test.
- Testers remarked on the classic shape/look of the Tour Edge Exotics EXS Pro Forged. For some, there was nostalgia when hitting the product.
- A majority of testers spoke positively about the PXG 0311 T GEN3 in terms of feel and looks. Some raved about both features. However, there were multiple testers who commented on the perimeter weighting aspect. They believed it led to inconsistent performance. Thus, they strongly advised going through PXG’s fitting process in order to dial in the club.
Best Distance – TaylorMade P770
In a category where distance isn’t premium, the TaylorMade P770 stole the spotlight. Considerably longer than the 2nd place finisher, it was evident from the start of testing which product was going to take home the title. If you are looking for distance, wrapped in an aesthetically pleasing iron, this is the one.
To filter and compare by club, use the drop-down list and checkboxes to select only the irons you wish to compare.
EXPERT TIP – SHAFT MATERIAL
Although steel shafts dominate the testing pool, graphite shafts are becoming more suitable for higher swing speed players. The perception is steel shafts are for stronger, faster swinging players. Whereas, graphite shafts are not. Be open minded towards the shaft material in your next set of irons. The appropriate shaft material can lead to tighter dispersion and tighter launch conditions, and graphite shafts might just be the ticket to those attributes.
* denotes measured value versus manufacturer’s stated spec.
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, be our guest.
Q: How do I determine the right category of irons for me?
A: The four basic 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. 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 irons 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.
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: Golfers have been conditioned to consider distance to the exclusion of nearly everything else but even within the player’s irons 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 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.
Forged vs. Cast Irons
A common misconception is that forged irons are for better players. In reality, forgiveness is a function of geometry, not the manufacturing process. There are several forgiving forged irons on the market, i.e. Mizuno MP20 MMC, just as there are many cast irons – like the PING i210 – that are designed for lower handicap golfers.
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 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 Player’s 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 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.