Ground Game
November 25, 2020

An important factor in buying new irons that most golfers overlook

Dom Furore

Just about every new iron these days features some kind of high-tech face construction that gets shots flying faster than a race car. Distance technology is certainly desirable, but there’s another facet of club design that could improve your iron play: the sole.

We know. Sole design sounds about as exciting as kale or proper tire pressure. But here’s a secret: Matching the right sole to your swing can help your shots fly farther, especially the ones you don’t flush.

Sole design is more complex than it might seem. Irons with wide soles have more mass low in the clubhead. This translates into a lower and often deeper center of gravity to help launch the ball higher and farther. An exceptionally wide sole can also help the club slide through the turf on those dreaded fat shots.

Of course, it’s also true that irons with wider soles are harder to manipulate coming into the ball. For players who like to control trajectory or work the ball with fades and draws, this is less than ideal.

The right sole width and bounce angle can help you flush it.

Regardless, everyone needs a sole that helps the club move through impact with the least resistance. Those precise curves and angles on the shape of a sole are not a trivial piece of engineering, says Jeff Brunski, vice president of research and development at Cleveland/Srixon.

“Even if you’re a good player and not taking a divot before you reach the ball, you’re still engaging with the turf a lot,” he says. “The sole design affects feel because of how the club goes in and out of the turf. But if the sole design is correctly matched to your swing, you’re going to see more consistency in your results when you factor in all the mis-hits.”

The width of a sole is only part of the technology story, of course. The way the sole angles back from the leading edge, known as the bounce angle, can determine how smooth turf interaction might be for a particular swing, even for average golfers.

“Without the proper sole design, you will not optimize your ball speed, launch and spin,” says Nick Sherburne, director of clubfitting at Club Champion, a national clubfitting chain. He says golfers with steep swings need more bounce, and golfers with sweeping swings need less. However, even if the soles on your irons are the right fit for your style of swing, he says, you’ll only reap the benefits if the lie angle and shaft length are correct, too.

So when buying new irons, be sure to check the tech in the sole as well as the face. As always, a quality clubfitter is a great place to start.

SRIXON
ZX5
The face insert, made of high-strength steel, has channels on the back designed with the aid of artificial intelligence. The intent is to have increased face flex on all impacts. $1,300/set

MIZUNO
JPX 921 TOUR
The long irons in this set feature wider soles for forgiveness, and the short irons have narrower soles to improve turf interaction. Mass was moved to the perimeter to improve feel. $1,300/set

CALLAWAY
X FORGED CB
Better players might add a “tip weight” to the shaft, but that changes the head’s center of gravity. An interchangable back weight in this forged iron keeps the CG in the right spot. $200/club

TOUR EDGE
HOT LAUNCH C521
The wing on the back of the sole provides forgiveness in two ways: One, it pushes the center of gravity back for more stability on mis-hits. Two, it helps turf interaction on fat shots. $70/club

TAYLORMADE
P•7MC
Designed for players who hit the center of the face, these forged irons move more mass behind the impact area. This forging process tightens the steel’s grain structure for maximum feel. $1,400/set

WILSON
STAFF MODEL CB
Tungsten in the toe helps align the center of gravity with the impact area and improves off-center hits. The Y-shape bars within the cavity stabilize the frame for a more solid feel. $1,000/set

TITLEIST
CNCPT CP-04
Power and forgiveness live in this traditional shape. A total of 100 grams of dense tungsten improves off-center hits. A face made of a special alloy used for missile fins boosts distance. $500/club

Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

CAN THE RIGHT SOLE END THE FAT SHOT?

Sadly, no, your swing plays a big role, too. However, the right sole design can mitigate fat shots. A Wilson study of players with a 10-handicap or higher revealed that nearly 12 percent of their shots were hit fat. “Our research shows that at a minimum this is a 10-yard problem, but because some shots in our test didn’t go anywhere and couldn’t even be recorded, this could be a 50-yard problem,” says Bob Thurman, vice president of Wilson Labs. It led the company to design its LaunchPad irons with a wide sole meant to help the club glide rather than dig into the turf. Even elite players whose swings are faster and steeper are looking to have the club not get stuck in the ground at impact. That’s what motivated designers at Srixon to add more relief to the front part of the sole on its irons. The design reduced by half the turf’s negative effect on clubhead speed through impact.

Dom Furore

SOLE DESIGN IS MORE THAN JUST WIDTH

Wide—or narrow—sole designs build in forgiveness with playability. Some game-improvement irons position extra mass toward the sole to help shots launch higher. But by adding relief on the trailing edge, there’s less surface area contacting the ground. Meanwhile, the narrow soles on players irons use softer, rounded leading edges for more forgiveness and less digging at impact.

FAT SHOTS NEED RIGHT SOLE AND RIGHT SWING

T.M. Detwiler

Most golfers who hit behind the ball don’t rotate their body enough, if at all, says Kevin Sprecher, director of instruction at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. “A wider-sole iron is going to be more forgiving for players who hit fat shots, but you still have to turn.”

There are a number of reasons an amateur might lack body rotation, Sprecher says, such as locking into an arms-only swing in fear of missing the ball. Other times a physical limitation prevents a healthy turn. Often rotation is lacking because the golfer doesn’t know what a proper swing should feel like.

No matter the cause, Sprecher says a few external cues can improve rotation for crisper iron shots: “To get the bottom of the swing ahead of the ball, turn the buttons on your shirt away from the target as far as you can on the backswing. Then, on the downswing, turn your belt buckle and shirt buttons toward the target. When that happens, the lead arm pulls forward, which pulls the handle of the club forward, allowing you to make ball-first contact.”

—RON KASPRISKE