Build a Better Blade
by: Britt Lindsey - VP of Technical Services
For as long as I can remember, the term "blade", when describing an iron,
meant a club that required a high level of skill to use successfully.
Visions of thin top lines, no offset, narrow soles and long hosels are what
come to mind. Even today, when you hear avid golfers talk about blades,
they are referred to as clubs only the best players can play. "Blades" have
been a synonym for unforgiving. Unfortunately, this perception of the blade
iron was true because designers from decades past focused on a shape that
they believed was the right shape. They had been taught by the previous
generation's designers, with no thought to cg location or the mass and
dimensional characteristics of a club head and how it may affect the
playability and performance of the club. Even as club designed moved from
the 1950's and 60's to the 70's and 80's, those companies that continued to
offer blade designs made no real changes to the dimensions of the blade.
Blades were incredibly short toe to heel, with long hosels and the center of
gravity was in towards the heel. When the wear spots on the faces of these
irons used by the tour pros were examined, they were in towards the heel,
where the cg was. The conclusion was that golfers should hit the ball in
towards the heel of the iron because that is where the tour pros hit it.
The fact was the tour players wear patterns were in the heel because that is
where the cg was. If the cg had been in the center of the face, the wear
patterns would have been in the center.
There is no reason a "blade" has to be difficult to play. If careful
attention is given to the mass and dimensional characteristics of the
design, the center of gravity can be located in the center of the face,
where it is suppose to be and where we are suppose to hit it. If we look at
blade designs of today, even most of the popular brands, it is evident that
many designers are still designing to a shape, without consideration to the
mass and dimensional characteristics. By examining a few of the designs on
the market today, you can see the difference (see Photo 1).
Due to the longer hosels and the shorter blade lengths, it is easy to see that the center of
gravity is higher and towards the heel. It is important to note that for
every 1/2" off the center of gravity that a ball is struck, there is a loss of
5% of the distance. At 1/4" there is a 2.5% distance loss. On a 175 yard
shot, that equates to a loss of 8+ yards on the 1/2" variance and 4+ yards on
the 1/4" variance, assuming the ball is struck in the center of the face. For
those players that tend to miss hit the ball slightly towards the toe, which
is the tendency for most amateurs, the loss of distance is magnified. Not a
positive result, not to mention the feel difference.
for a larger view of Figure 1
Figure 1 shows an
overlay of a popular OEM blade designed by shape only and one that is
designed with the proper mass and dimensional characteristics (the Maltby
MMB). The difference is quite obvious. When I get a chance to play, I
usually play with pretty good players who use the hot OEM blades (no names,
but you probably can pick the ones I refer to). It is comforting to know,
at least to me, that in many instances I have a distinct advantage based
simply on the mass and dimensional characteristics of the head design. It
is not perceived. It is real.
The truth is a classic shape does not have to be sacrificed for the sake of
playability. The good news is that in the last few seasons, a few
manufacturers have recognized this point. It is coincidental, I suppose,
that the improvement in blade design seemed to coincide with the publishing
of the Ralph Maltby¹s book The Maltby Playability Factor - Understanding
Golf Club Dynamics (You can go to Ralph Maltby.com or to Golfworks.com to
get a complete list of the ratings of irons). The book illustrates the
design points that must be considered to make a solid, forgiving and
playable design. For a "Blade" design, slightly shortening the hosel and
slightly lowering the heel height, combined with a very slight lengthening
of the blade from the heel to the toe and a proper sole width, the club goes
from one that is incredibly difficult to play to one that is equal to or
better than many of the so called "game improvement" irons on the market
today. So you can have your cake and eat it to a traditional blade design
that offers playability and forgiveness, and, quite simply performs better.