By Jonathan Wall, PGATOUR.COM Equipment Insider
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Tour feedback and validation is an important piece of the puzzle when gauging the success of a club in the equipment world.
For instance, take a look at the rise of TaylorMade's RocketBladez iron this season. The cavity-back iron features a 2mm-wide Speed Pocket in the sole of the iron that, when flexed and rebounded at impact, increases the speed of the face for faster ball speeds.
When it debuted at the end of last year on TOUR, it was unclear how many players -- especially traditional muscle back players -- would consider the switch to a distance iron.
It didn't take long for someone to switch -- and win. Within a couple weeks of its unveiling, Sergio Garcia put RocketBladez Tour (the smaller, more compact version of RocketBladez) in the bag and won shortly thereafter at the Iskandar Johor Open.
Dustin Johnson followed, using a full set of RocketBladez Tour irons to win the very first week of the PGA TOUR season at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions event. Jason Day even pulled his 3-wood out of the bag and carried a RocketBladez Tour 1-iron -- a 2-iron that was lengthened one-half inch and bent to 16.5 degrees -- during his top-10 finish at the PGA Championship.
But the biggest piece of validation came this year from Justin Rose -- Rose swapped out his TaylorMade Tour Preferred MB long irons (3-6) for RocketBladez Tour -- who used a RocketBladez Tour 4-iron to hit the tournament-clinching shot from 235 yards to win the U.S. Open.
“I didn’t want to change [irons],” Rose said of the decision to put RocketBladez long-irons in the bag this season. “Because I was hitting it really good.”
However, Rose said he couldn't get past how consistent the long-irons were. They were also longer and produced a higher launch angle, two things he felt he could use in a long-iron.
Tour validation (and a major championship victory) turned RocketBladez into one of the biggest equipment stories on the PGA TOUR in 2013.
Believing it was onto something with the Speed Pocket, TaylorMade rolled out its newest iron, SpeedBlade, this week at Conway Farms Golf Club, site of the BMW Championship, that prominently features the same Speed Pocket that put RocketBladez on the map.
Based on what TaylorMade CEO Mark King and Executive Vice President of Product Development, Sean Toulon, said during the product launch -- Toulon went so far as to call the Speed Pocket the biggest advancement in golf equipment since woods became metal -- it's clear the Speed Pocket is going to be a big part of TaylorMade iron lines in the future.
Like the RocketBladez line that featured a 2 millimeter slot cut into the sole of the club, TaylorMade opted to keep the Speed Pocket in the 3- through 7-irons and make it larger (3 millimeters).
The Speed Pocket is also marginally wider and now extends to the heel and toe areas of the sole. By expanding the Speed Pocket and making it larger, TaylorMade officials said the face, which is cast from high-strength Carpenters steel, will flex more effectively at impact, and the sweet spot will increase across the face of the club.
Along with a lower center of gravity that also stretches the sweet spot lower on the face, the new Speed Pocket will also help golfers hit the ball about the same distance on shots hit off-center.
“The Speed Pocket performs where golfers need it most,” said Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade’s director of iron, wedge and putters development. “Our research indicates that 72 percent of shots by 5-25 handicap golfers are impacted below the center of the face. That typically results in low-launching shots of inconsistent distance. The Speed Pocket helps you launch those low-impact shots on a consistently higher, longer carrying and softer-landing flight.”
Openings were also added to the front wall of the slot (three in the 3- and 4-iron and two in the 5- through 7-iron) that allows the face to flex more for higher ball speeds and added distance.
As far as the mid- and short-irons are concerned, feel and feedback were at the top of the list. The irons were case using 17-4 stainless steel, which is softer than the Carpenters steel in the long-irons, to enhance feel and feedback.
"We spent a lot of time getting the sound right," Bazzel said, "because sound is feel. The structure, the badging, the filler – all of that works together to not only perform great, but feel really good."
Lofts were also strengthened slightly in the 3-iron (one degree), 8-iron and 9-iron (one-half degree).
"Five years ago we challenged ourselves to create the best iron we could,” added Bazzel. “We’ve taken everything we’ve learned since then and created our most complete iron ever in SpeedBlade.”
The irons will be available Oct. 4 with a SpeedBlade 85-gram steel shaft for $799; a set with graphite shafts costs $899.