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Are Muscle-Back Irons a Good Fit for Your Game?

Published on 03/14/2023 · 5 min readTrying to decide what kind of iron to use this season? Golf Expert Collin B. breaks down the blade iron and if it's a good choice for the average golfer.
Collin B., Golf Expert
By Golf Expert Collin B.

Photo by Christoph Keil

  • “Blades are for scratch golfers.”
  • “Pros don’t even play blades anymore…do they?”
  • “Shanks.”
  • “Oh, I'm not good enough. Cavity back, please.”

These were some quotes that came to mind when I told my friends I was doing an article about muscle-back, or blade, irons. This wasn’t too surprising, but it revealed that a few of my buddies haven’t even hit a blade before! It also demonstrated how much has changed in the golf industry and how golfers of every level have embraced the desire for forgiveness, distance, and game improvement. We have no limit in choices for clubs, and if you are just starting out you most likely started with clubs that are very far away from a forged blade. But is that a good thing? Let’s take a further look at these irons and see if they could be a fit for your game.

Blade, Muscle Back…What Is It?

These two names refer to the same type of club—a single piece of steel form forged with no material removed from the back of the club. The muscle-back is the bulk of that steel formed on the lower back half of the clubhead. Originally made by hand and hammer, manufacturing has moved to precision, machine-stamped forging.

These clubs are compact and feature minimal offset, sharper leading edges on thin-width soles, and thinner top lines from the address. With a smaller sweet spot located toward the heel of the center, which you can reference in my crudely marked 3-iron, these designs will also have less MOI (moment of inertia), resulting in more twisting loss of distance on off-center hits. The dense weight of the head is typically paired with shafts and grips to create heavier swing weights for players with faster swing speeds.

Look Good, Feel Good, Play Good?

Photo by Collin B.

When I began selling and fitting golf clubs, it was at the height of Tiger Woods’ dominance. We couldn’t keep enough red Nike golf shirts in stock since everyone was trying to get their own touch of Tiger. Customers would peruse the racks of irons, drivers, and putters, and inevitably one question would always arise, “What’s Tiger hitting?

A painful demo session would soon follow where grown adults would convince themselves that a bag of clubs like Tiger’s would make them a plus handicap, despite all the whiffs and shanks.

In my conversations as a Curated Expert, I’ve noticed a shift. Instead of trying to match visitors’ equipment to their favorite pro, more and more golfers are having an honest assessment of their game and their equipment needs. There has also been a big push with manufacturers to design irons that look sleek and feel great but implement modern game improvement technology, particularly in the rise of the player's distance category. Perhaps developing game improvement irons that don’t look like game improvement irons has helped this transition, but I think seeing our heroes, the PGA Tour pros, switching to more forgiving clubs (yes, even Tiger) has helped turn the tide and encourage us all to make the game a little easier.

So, with it being more embraced than ever to play more forgiving clubs, it begs the question:

Why Should I Play a Blade?

From left to right the Mizuno Pro 221, the TaylorMade P-7 TW, and the Cobra RF Proto irons

The character, Roy McAvoy, said in the film Tin Cup, “Such a pure feeling is the well-struck golf shot,” and there is nothing purer than a well-struck shot from a traditional, forged, bladed iron. Buttery. That feeling of almost nothingness. You hear the click of the ball off the face, and you receive the soothing, unified wave of numb vibration rushing through your arms as you hold your finish…We all know that feeling, and it’s that feeling that we all chase, shot after shot, round after round. Nothing provides that feeling quite like a bladed iron, and it is the perfect judge and jury.

But it is also a swift executioner because as generous as it is with your great shot, it is equally punitive with your bad one. It gives you the instant feedback of a miss that stings your bones and reminds you of the requirement that you bring your best effort every time.

If you are a consistent ball striker, like to work the ball, control your flight, and you can roll with the bad as you strive for the great; then consider the likes of the Mizuno Pro 221, P-7 TW Taylor Made, or Cobra RF Proto irons.

Are Blades the Right Irons for an Average Golfer?

With the average handicap in the U.S. being 14.2 for men and 27.5 for women, the reality is that blade irons are not a good fit for the majority of golfers. With the massive gains in technology and the manufacturing of multi-material irons, you can get a forgiving set of irons and not have to sacrifice too much with feel or control. You will benefit from better ball speed, distance, and tighter dispersion on off-center hits.

For most average golfers, the benefit of mid to oversize cavity-back irons is too great to make a complete set of forged blades a legitimate consideration.

But if your struggle is just with your longer irons, a combination set, which blends more forgiving long irons with more controllable scoring irons, could be the perfect solution. These once bespoke sets are widely offered by most club manufacturers or can be easily pieced together across brands. If you’re not too sure about a combo setup, but you already have a traditional gap, sand, or lob wedge, you have already experienced the benefit of combining forged short irons into your set.

Forge Ahead

Photo by Collin B.

Whether you’re a beginner, a well seasoned high handicapper, or a discerning pro, we all have different sensibilities for what feels good in a golf club. Most of us can agree that a set of traditional blade irons looks awesome in the bag. They are small works of finely engineered art! If you are like some of my buddies and have never tried one of these irons before, they are at least worth a demo. You never know; you may find a new frontier you want to explore, or you may just gain a greater appreciation for your easy-to-hit cavity back irons. Whichever it is, if it gets you excited to go out, play, and chase that pure feeling of the well-struck shot, my expert advice is: do it! Get in touch with a Golf Expert here on Curated, and we will get you hooked up!

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