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The best game-improvement irons of 2019—13 options to make you feel like a better player

February 26, 2019

The goal of game improvement irons is pretty straightforward: They aim to make you hit shots that are hotter, higher and farther. In other words, how to make you feel like a better player than you are without you even noticing.

The wheelhouse for these clubs is the true middle handicapper and perhaps even the high single-digit player who is secure enough to check their ego in exchange for playing better golf as long as the club looks pretty close to conventional. They’re irons for golfers who place a premium on distance but not at the complete sacrifice of everything else.

Today’s game-improvement irons are clubs for the everyman that continue to provide new levels of versatility and performance. How do they seemingly arrive at the best of all worlds? By employing technologies such as thin, wraparound cupfaces for distance or tungsten weighting to boost forgiveness and launch. Slots in the sole or special kinds of heat treated faces also rank among the technological attributes utilized by some. And since you are far from a hacker, they strive to do so in a package that doesn’t leave you recoiling in horror at address and putting the iron immediately back on the shelf before you strike a single ball with it.

Many of the game-improvement irons on this year’s Hot List employ all of that and often much more. As you might expect, the category geared toward the largest segment of golfers also has a variety of clubs with a wide array of attributes. But with some diligent research (and the help of a qualified fitter) that path to feeling like a better player just got a lot easier to navigate.

Gold-medal winners:


Story: The tendency for thin-face irons to sound clacky or tinny is a challenge for designers. Fillers behind the face or in the cavity damp sound but can come at the expense of ball speed. Callaway uses a urethane compound impregnated with millions of microscopic spheres of air. The material is positioned in the lower half of the iron where impacts occur, providing the necessary cushy feel but still allowing the face to flex.

Lofts: 7-iron: 30 degrees; PW: 44 degrees

Street Price: $900

Story: One might look at the stronger-than-usual lofts in this set and say, “Come on, man,” but Rogue X is not a case of obtaining yards solely by loft-jacking. In fact, without the stronger lofts, the ball might y too high. A wide sole brings the center of gravity low and back, allowing for a reduction in loft without a loss of launch angle. The club uses lighter shafts (about 90 grams in steel) to combine with the zippy face to produce Formula One horsepower.

Lofts: 7-iron: 27 degrees; PW: 41 degrees

Street Price: $900

Story: Cleveland’s focus here is marrying meaningful technology to the specific needs of the clubs being used. In layman’s terms, that means producing easier-to-hit long irons and easy-to-control short irons. The long irons have a low-profile shape to keep the center of gravity low for higher launch. The narrow profile also gets extra power from a cupface design (in the 4- through 7-iron). The short irons are more compact, with less offset to maximize control.

Lofts: 7-iron: 30 degrees; PW: 44 degrees

Street Price: $700 (set of seven)

Story: These irons look different, and that’s the idea. The distinctive shape stretches the low heel and toe areas to create a lower center of gravity for extra forgiveness. The grooves transition from V-shape on the long irons (to reduce spin) to U-shape on the short irons (to increase spin). Then there’s what no other iron has: Cobra Connect GPS sensors in the grips, powered by the Arccos Caddie stat-tracking app. Different? You bet.

Lofts: 7-iron: 29.5 degrees; PW: 44 degrees

Street Price: $800, set of seven

Story: It’s easy to overlook clubs with technology that isn’t especially visible. This clubhead is a one-piece casting with extreme perimeter weighting that provides power and forgiveness. Supporting ribs within the topline control sound and feel. Chromoly 4140M, a high-strength steel alloy, creates a very thin, fast-flexing face for more distance. You might need a class in metallurgy to understand all this, but the benefit is apparent after a few swings.

Lofts: 7-iron: 30 degrees; PW: 45 degrees

Street Price: $1,000

Story: There’s a sign at Ping that states: “Undocumented knowledge does not exist.” The company applied that mantra by taking what it learned from producing 10 previous G series irons and improving upon a time-tested winner. The top-rail-undercut design and “cascading sole” combine with the removal of the tuning port in the back cavity to create a more flexible face. The offset has been reduced 10 percent from the G400 for a more appealing look.

Lofts: 7-iron: 30 degrees; PW: 44.5 degrees

Street Price: $1,000

PXG 0311 XF GEN2

Story: Same name, better club. The Gen2 version of the 0311 XF has slightly more offset, less sole camber and more forgiveness. It preserves the thin topline that gives the clubhead a tasteful appearance at address. Key to this iron is a new polymer material that fills the hollow clubhead to enhance sound and provide additional ball speed. Just the kind of club one would expect when catering to the luxury iron market.

Lofts: 7-iron: 30 degrees; PW: 44 degrees

Street Price: $3,200

Story: TaylorMade knows its wheelhouse is serious players, so the company designed the M5 to have a more no-nonsense look. That includes a compact shape and small details, like creating a fluted hosel that you don’t notice at address. Like many irons in this category, the lofts are strong (half-a-degree stronger than its M3 predecessor), but the center of gravity is positioned low enough to provide a higher flight. Serious stuff, indeed.

Lofts: 7-iron: 30 degrees; PW: 45 degrees

Street Price: $1,000

Story: You might wonder why TaylorMade produced two irons in this category. But the fact is, the clubs are decidedly dfferent. The M6 is the company’s first game-improvement iron to have a through-slot “speed pocket.” That frees up the low portion of the face to be more flexible and hotter over a wider area and reduce spin. A structure connecting the topline to the back bar using a beam enhances the speed slot even more and improves sound.

Lofts: 7-iron: 28.5 degrees; PW: 43.5 degrees

Street Price: $900

Story: An excellent club for the middle- and high-handicapper. A hollow construction is used in the long irons, and the remainder of the set features irons with a 360-degree undercut cavity, wide soles and thin faces. Throughout the long and middle irons (4-7), high-density tungsten (an average of 58 grams) is used in the toe sections to improve forgiveness. A nice choice for those who shoot in the 70s once a year instead of once a week.

Lofts: 7-iron: 30 degrees; PW: 43 degrees

Street Price: $1,000

Silver-medal winners:


Story: Bridgestone has stepped up its game in irons, and this club is a nice advancement. The irons have a two-piece, forged construction with a polymer rubber filling in the back cavity to improve feel. The hero, however, is hidden from view. Bridgestone’s designers made the junction of the face and sole thinner than the surrounding areas. Called the “power slit,” it’s designed to act as a hinge at impact for high launch and more initial ball speed.

Lofts: 7-iron: 31 degrees; PW: 44 degrees

Street Price: $900, set of seven


Story: The simplicity of its compact look belies the quality of materials and technology within this iron. The clubhead is made from S45C steel, a strong metal that allows for a thin face to create performance maximum ball speed—something not always seen in a one-piece forging. The slight offset provides visual comfort at address, and the progressive center of gravity locations (higher in the short irons) promote control and a more penetrating flight.

Lofts: 7-iron: 31 degrees; PW: 45 degrees

Street Price: $1,100, set of six

Story: The brand name conjures up memories of the classic 845 irons, but today’s Tommy Armour is decidedly high-tech. This might be the only iron on the market that is forged, uses titanium, has an L-face and is brazed. Manufacturing and material prowess aside, there’s a lot to like here from a playability standpoint. The wide sole creates an autopilot effect on shots hit fat, and the strong lofts boost distance to make memories of another kind.

Lofts: 7-iron: 27 degrees; PW: 41 degrees

Street Price: $800