Playing blades is a controversial topic. Some say they are the only way to learn to play the game whereas others claim that it’s the last thing any golfer should do.
This can leave the average golfer pretty confused. Obviously when you look at something like the new Callaway muscle back and compare it to a super game improvement iron the difference is huge. All that technology must help right? And then you see the bags of the PGA tour players-they aren’t all playing blades are they? So what is the average golfer doing with the shiny muscle back in his bag?
The same thing is true in the forums- do a quick search on golfwrx and you’ll find hundreds of threads about blades versus cavity backs, beginners playing blades, low handicap players playing super game improvement irons and so on.
Unfortunately, a lot of this is simply based on opinions of people who don’t play blades ever. To me, there are two big questions. Firstly, why would you actually want to play blades? And secondly, what difference will blades actually make your score?
Why Would Anyone Want to Play blades?
Me talking about blades might seem a bit strange. After all, I’ve written fairly extensively about the single length irons I use. As much as I do like single length, I change the clubs my bag about as often as I change my socks!
As I type this I can see two sets of single length irons, a couple of sets of blades and a lovely set of copper Ping eye two irons sitting in the corner of my office. In fact, over the course of the year I might play a dozen sets of irons.
I do this because I enjoy testing equipment and because to me, one of the great pleasures of golf is trying all this new stuff. This means I’m in quite a good position to talk about what equipment actually does for my game.
Now a lot of people say the reason to play blades is workability. As if it is only possible to hit a fade or draw with something the size of a butter knife. If you’ve ever played with a high handicapper you know this isn’t true. I often see weekend hackers curling super game improvement irons into a hazard, hooking hybrid out of bounds, or slicing the latest easy to hit irons into the woods. Workability? Just how much do you want?
Of course, the real key is being able to do this when you want. However, we all know that if you give a really good ball striker any iron he will be able to hit a draw, fade,high, low or whatever type of shot . Is this easier with blades? Certainly, but it is far from impossible with any sort of club. Workability comes down to the player, not the club.
For me, there are two main reasons that might make you put a muscleback in the bag. Firstly, they simply look great, both in the bag and behind the ball. I played yesterday with an older set of Titleist 695 MPs. I didn’t play any better or any worse than normal, but I certainly felt like a great golfer as I set up to hit the shot. Bad strikes didn’t fair any worse than bad strikes with any other club.
Confidence is Key
And that’s certainly the first good reason why playing blades makes sense. You should appreciate the club you’re playing with. Just because you are 15, 20 or more handicap, it doesn’t mean you have to play with shovels. Nobody is paying you to play golf so it certainly makes sense to play with something you enjoy looking at. And just to be clear, I sometimes enjoy playing with the biggest game improvement stuff out there. All hybrid set? Bring it on. I will certainly give the new Cleveland launcher irons a go at some point because trying stuff is fun.
How Much do they really affect score?
Of course, regardless of how good they look, nobody wants to hit blades if they are adding shots to their score. Common knowledge says blades might be responsible for a few shots around for a decent golfer and somewhere between a million shots and giving up the game altogether for the rest of us.
This is actually hard to quantify and to my knowledge, no study has ever been done on exactly how many shots blades to cost. In fact, this would study would be to all intents and purposes impossible to carry out.
As I mentioned previously, I do play with all sorts of irons. My personal anecdotal experience is that the irons that are in the bag actually have the smallest impact on score. If I’m driving the ball well, my putting isn’t too catastrophic, and the rest of my short game is tidy, I will probably put a good round together. If I’m striking my irons but the rest of my game is poor, I won’t score.
This might sound like saying that everyone should simply put blades in the bag. This isn’t the case and I really do believe that amateur golfers, at least those were not playing competitively all the time, should play with what they enjoy playing with. However, I do have a theory on who should be using blades. Now, this isn’t based on any scientific scientific evidence at all but simply my personal experience.
I think there is a sweet spot where blades make very little difference to score. While the link between handicap and ball striking ability is tenuous at best, golfers around my level; that is to say between high single figures and 15 to 18, often actually do better blades.
I don’t mean to say they will score better blades, simply that it will have the smallest impact on their score. This sort of player tends to have a reasonably repeatable swing. Contact won’t be perfect all the time but we are generally striking the ball reasonably. The occasional horrible miss will be just as bad with any sort of club. Conversely, high handicappers really will get punished more with blades. A really high-handicapper is likely to lose all confidence in his or her ability to hit the ball well when looking down at a very thin top line.
So what about low handicap golfers? Obviously, the golfer who is hovering around scratch can really play whatever he wants. Funnily enough though, I actually believe that low handicap golfers, especially those who play competitively, might be better staying away from blades. For them, a small miss really can be costly and perhaps game improvement would actually make sense. That slight off centre strike when aiming at the flag could be the difference between bunker and birdie putt. Personally, I am rarely shooting at flags. If I hit the green, I am generally pretty happy and blades in my experience tend to produce fewer “lfyer” type shots that suddenly go 20 yards further. A slightly off-centre strike isn’t making much off a difference because I have a bit of room for error when aiming for the centre of the green. The guy trying to shoot at a tucked pin without being short-sided doesn’t have the same luxury.
Pick What You Enjoy and Enjoy What You Pick
As golfers we can get a little bit dogmatic about equipment. You should play this/can’t play that/need to play these etc. Reality on the course is a little different. So before deciding that you can’t play blades, put them in the bag for a bit. You don’t need the latest sticks either. It is easy enough to find a set in reasonable condition from the last ten years without spending a fortune.
One word of warning-I love some of the classic blades from the eighties and earlier, however the sweetspot on these tends to sit very close to the hosel which can make them more difficult to hit. A modern blade will generally have a more centred sweet spot.
Don’t judge things on one round. Give them a month or two and see how they perform in different conditions. It isn’t all about score either. Unless you are playing competitively all the time, it should be about enjoyement. If you like that look and feel, that should be all you need to know. Maybe after a month or two, you will put them in the closet, knowing that you have scratched that particular itch. Or just maybe you might keep them in the bag (even if it is just the short irons) and discover that everything you read on the internet about the terrible blade isn’t necessarily true!
one of the best thought out views on this controversial topic
Hi Michael, thanks and sorry for the horribly slow reply!
Absolutely love this article. Playing blades is a itch i believe many golfers need to scratch. You may just be surprised.
sorry for the slow reply-I agree with you 100%. Without saying everyone should play blades, there really is a lot of misinformation out there about just what ‘game improvement’ really is for example. As you say, it is a case of try it and see and many golfers will be surprised as to the results in my opinion.