Are blades better than forged irons?

Updated: July 9, 2004, 12:05 PM ET
By Frank Thomas | Golf Digest

What's your take on classic forged irons being for low-handicap golfers only? Everyone using those forged blades seems to say the instant feedback allows them to improve their game, and the feeling they get out of a good shot is superior to what they get with cast irons. -- Vincent Koenig, Mauritius

Vince,
I'm a believer in blades, be they forged or not. If you are prepared to work at your game and have a single-digit handicap, then go for it. The sensation is great when you hit the sweet spot and you do have better control and feedback. Be prepared to lose some distance and accuracy on your mis-hits though.

I've read about the advantages of having your clubs fitted by a professional. But should you, and can you, have clubs off the shelf fitted to match your swing and body type? I have a set of Callaway X-14s and am wondering if this is something I should do. Also, if it is, how do I find a qualified professional in my area to help? -- George Herbison, Highland Village, Texas

George,
Ninety percent of standard clubs are better than 90 percent of the golfers. So your odds of getting a reasonably well-fitted set off the shelf are good. As with buying clothes, if you have close to a standard physique, most stores will stock standard stuff that should fit you. But if you do need to make a minor adjustment, speak to your local PGA professional about a fitting system.

I'm just starting out and recently went to buy a new set of irons. The clerk asked me if I was looking for "offset" or "normal." I looked at him with a puzzled face. What is offset and how does it affect my future game? -- Chris Shullaw, Reston, Va.

Chris,
Offset is when the distance from the leading edge of the clubface is set back from the line extending down the front portion of the hosel. In many "normal" sets of clubs this offset progresses from almost nothing in the wedge to a noticeable amount in the long irons. I am not a fan of clubs with a lot of offset, but if they work for your swing then go for it.

I believe you (and others) said the maximum distance that can be achieved is only about 10 yards greater than the current distances Tiger Woods and others reach now. The "laws of physics" will limit anything greater. Without the math, how and what physical laws come into play? -- John Thompson, Chandler, Ariz.

John,
Just to be clear on this, the ball will continue to go farther if the clubhead speed continues to increase. I am sure that some golfers in the future will be able to generate more speed than Tiger. However, with the assumption that the clubhead speed remains constant, the exchange of energy from the clubhead to the ball is limited by the Coefficient of Restitution of the collision between these two bodies, and this cannot exceed 1.00. In practical terms, this number is not expected to exceed about 0.93 or thereabouts. Currently, the collision between the club and ball is close to 0.86 COR or more, so there is not much more to go. This means that additional standards on balls and/or clubs, which would limit more ball speed, are almost meaningless. With regard to the only other design factor contributing to distance (i.e. aerodynamics), manufacturers have almost reached the optimum based on what has been tried. Improvements will be very small, the way they are with records being set the marathon. Using this analogy, we don't expect to see a record broken by 10-15 minutes just like we don't expect to see any major advances in aerodynamics for golf balls. That said, we can expect to see only 10-15 more yards due to advanced club and ball design.

I'm 14 years old, about 5-foot-3 and weigh about 112 pounds. I have a handicap of 20 and am looking for a new set of irons to replace my first set, which are my uncle's old clubs and very stiff. I have a budget of about $400. Do you think you could recommend a type of iron that would suit me? Also, I cannot decide on graphite or steel shafts. -- Adam Igra, London

Adam,
At 112 pounds and 14 years old you can look forward to increasing in size and strength and becoming a really good golfer if you stick with it. I do suggest that you ditch your uncle's set and get one that suits you. In about two years you'll probably need another set, so speak to your pro about getting a good second-hand set that will get you through the next 18-24 months.

Frank Thomas, former USGA technical director, is now chief technical advisor for Golf Digest.

Do you have a question or comment for Frank? Send your inquiries to equipment@golfdigest.com with the word "Thomas" in the subject field. Frank will answer the best questions in this space.

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