The i-Blade is the latest players club innovation from Ping and it ticks all the right boxes.
When you become known for your extraordinary easy to play clubs for mid to high handicappers the trouble can be getting the lower, category 1 players to take your product seriously enough to buy it.
Pound for pound the current Ping G-iron has been the easiest club to hit if you suffered with a poor swing path but designing a player club is a completely different brief as there are so many different factors that need to be considered. Not least of which is that the top end of the aspirational market is very crowded with other heavy hitting brand names.
For the purpose of this test I broke the iron down into the different parts that most low handicap players, the target audience, look for in this kind of product.
If I was to go on shelf-appeal then this club wins a big box tick right out of the blocks. It has a clean, crisp look and its thin top-line and soft rolling edges blend the head together really well. A minimal offset throughout the set and a shallow nape at address make this club very easy on the players’ eye and easy to square up. The soft satin finish is very current and gives the club a soft sheen visual when you’re looking at the head. There is an unfussy use of the space within the cavity with just the i-Blade name and then a plain sand blasted clean looking cavity where the elastomer pocket sits. Overall, I think there is a very clear and precise statement being made with the head shape and it’s very positive.
There was always a question mark as to whether stainless steel could deliver the kind of soft steel most irons in the player category deliver. Ping is the king of stainless steel production and still pour all their heads from their own foundry in the US. They’ve refined the use of 431 stainless steel and thanks to a new lighter version of their famous steel mix the head can be re-engineered to have an insert within the cavity. The new hollowed out pocket holds the secret sauce to this iron. The elastomer insert not only creates a great dampening feature but it also positions a nice mid to low CG (centre of gravity) which feels lower in the head and thanks to a smart distribution of the weight the head feels great all over the face, even low in the grooves.
The i-Blade feels soft and muted yet sharp and responsive which are two very difficult sensations to nail down. The clicky feel of the new thinner face and the combination of the steel and soft elastomer insert make the club feel just right.
In many ways designing a players club seems easy enough. Produce a club with a narrow sole with a progressive camber throughout the lofts. Smaller looking cavity, soft steel, thin top line, reduced offset and muscle-back weighting. The problem with this design is that the club while looking smart and sharp will usually be extremely difficult to hit off centre.
The great thing about Ping is they know how to make a club ultra-forgiving. To be fair and honest they have struggled occasionally in the past when producing a really good looking players iron that was also easy to swing poorly.
This new iron is incredibly stable for ball speed and distance even when struck low in the face. The natural ball flight out of the middle is a little higher than normal thanks to a normal loft setup. This softer flight means you can fly the ball all the way to the hole. I was quite surprised with the consistency of the yardage even from the off centre hits. It also flew nice and long on ¾ knock down shots.
The trick to getting this club to hum is the shaft and I noticed how the ball flight changed when the tip became active and getting the right shaft to allow the head to align with how you want to hit the ball was very important. I tested a full set in the Modus 105 in stiff flex first and while I loved the weight, the flight was a little high due to the way Modus released the head, I knocked the lofts a little stronger and then; perfect flight.
The Project X in 6.0 while a little heavier seems to handle the head really well and will appeal to most good players and ball strikers out there. The stiffer tip profile of this shaft feels much more solid than Modus and reduces the flight, keeps the head in check and moves the ball forward with more penetration. You can also get the True Temper XP95 and the AWT steel at no extra upcharge along with the Project X and Modus 105. Top the set off with the Golf Pride Multi Compound grip (also at no extra charge) and you have all you need for a lovely set of killer sticks.
The bottom line here is that I haven’t been overly impressed with the past few player clubs from Ping. They always seemed to be just missing that certain something but this new i-Blade iron, for me, ticks all the right boxes. Well done Mr. Solheim!!
Derek Murray is Ireland’s leading golf equipment technician and is Irish Golfer Magazine’s equipment & technical advisor. He owns and runs ForeGolf at Killeen Castle, Dunsany, Co. Meath where he oversees his custom club fitting and club making business. His unique system of fitting clubs for golfers of all abilities and top golf professionals has won him a number of awards including the prestigious World Clubmaker of the Year in 2010. For more information see www.foregolf.ie