The best ideas aren’t always entirely new ones, and despite what your parents might think they aren’t entirely old reliable thoughts either. Enter Callaway’s Steelhead XR irons, which from the company's perspective, make the case that the best ideas are the right combination of old and new.
The Steelhead XR encompasses certain characteristics from one of the company’s most successful irons of a decade ago, the Steelhead X-14, with the horsepower of its wraparound cup face technology of recent vintage seen in irons like the Apex and XR family, the company’s most popular irons this year.
“The goal was to use the benefits of that original shape and use the new technology of our face cup to give us the best of both worlds,” said Alan Hocknell, Callaway’s senior vice president of research and development. “It’s taking some of the best parts of that Steelhead X-14 DNA and bringing it up to date with our face cup technology.”
One of the keys to the original Steelhead X-14 was its longer blade length. That allowed for the club’s center of gravity to be positioned in line with the center of the face, making for a stable head that improved off-center hit performance.
In Callaway’s modern face cup design, the face wraps around the sole, topline and toe section thinning out the perimeter to create a larger, more flexible face area in the center. Hocknell says that design enabled irons like the XR to reach a spring-like effect of somewhat under the USGA’s limit of .830 (.822 plus a .008 tolerance). With the combination of the X-14’s shape and center of gravity configuration, and turbo-boosted by the company’s improved understanding of cupface technology, Hocknell says the Steelhead XR now produces a springlike effect at the USGA limit, “up in an area that’s really as high as anybody dares go," given USGA restrictions.
Hocknell says Callaway’s efforts are so precise that it stations as many as 25 technicians at the manufacturing plants in China to make sure the irons stay under the USGA’s speed limits for COR and Characteristic Time. An important part of improving the cupface design is firming up the body that supports the thin face structure so the face recovers in the direction of impact.
But the Steelhead XR does more than take advantage of its faster face. The thin face design, which also benefits from a weight-saving and historically familiar bore-through hosel, also saves weight that can be repositioned in the head. Rather than using that saved weight the same way inside every iron in the set, designers were now free to vary the center of gravity position to better match the needs of each iron in the set. That means the center of gravity sits lower and farther back in the long irons but actually moves higher in the short irons to produce more spin and a lower trajectory for better control.
One key to controlling the center of gravity position is a steel-infused urethane layer within the lower portion of the back cavity. The urethane controls the vibration of the thin to enhance feel, while the steel adds weight to influence center of gravity location.
“By making the CG progressive, you produce better launch conditions and better ballspeed,” Hocknell said. “While higher launch and lower spin will help your long irons, you don’t want that on your short irons. By making the CG progressive, you give players more control of ballflight.”
The company’s “standing wave” internal weighting pad is part of the frame that supports the cup face design. It controls the center of gravity position while still allowing the lower portion of the face freedom to bend.
The Steelhead XR will be at retail Sept. 2 ($800 in steel, $1,000 in graphite). Lofts range from 3-iron to L-wedge.