S55 irons have been a game-changer for PING since they first started making their way into golfer’s bags in the summer of 2013. All told, they’ve racked up 45 professional wins to date around the world and been lauded by pundits as a true players iron from a company that’s been known primarily for its game-improvement offerings.
But PING’s engineers felt they could create a superior product for better players and set out to do so this time in the form of a true blade, with one important caveat.
“We wanted to design a blade iron,” said PING Design Engineer Cory Bacon, “but we wanted to do it the PING way.”
What exactly does that mean as it relates to the new iBlade?
“Under the hood, there’s a lot of technology that’s going to give this iron great playability,” Bacon went on to explain.
His answer would hardly qualify as surprising given that PING has built its reputation, as well as an incredibly loyal customer following, in large part thanks to the forgiveness and playability of its products.
The starting point for the iBlade in terms of its look, feel, and performance began with significant research prior to the design process unfolding.
“When we were designing the iBlade, we did a lot of research on the front end in terms of understanding that customer and what they’re looking for,”Bacon said.
PING’s research phase then carried over from the feedback it received from the golfing public to the wish list that came from its stable of professionals, including the likes of Bubba Watson, Louis Oosthuizen, and Hunter Mahan, among others.
Their wish list wasn’t overly long, but it was quite specific and non-negotiable.
“The big thing with (tour pros) is they want it thinner,” Bacon said. “They want a really thin top line, and then they want that muted, soft feel at impact. But they still want the workability and forgiveness. Even the best players in the world who rarely miss the sweet spot want some forgiveness.”
As for the design process, PING engineers didn’t have to look very far to get that aspect of creating the iBlade underway. In fact, they didn’t even have to leave their offices.
“I think the inspiration, which is pretty apparent, is our Glide wedges,” Bacon said. “We wanted to use that shape and design language. We started there because it looks simple but the design is playable. It looks really good, but it’s functional at the same time.”
Cast Design, Forged Feel
As the look of the club was refined, including thin toplines, minimal offset, compact blade shapes, and straight leading edges, PING then began to incorporate ways to improve the feel, performance, and playability of the iBlade as compared to the S55.
Several technological advances have been incorporated in the iBlade but what might stand out most is its softer feel. Creating a soft feel and muted sound in a cast club that rivals what forged clubs typically offer took quite a bit of experimentation.
It was achieved through the creative use of 431 stainless steel in the construction of the clubhead and what PING is calling Activated Elastomer behind the clubface, as those two components combine to create the type of feel that would be expected from a blade.
In terms of the 431 stainless steel, it is softer than 17-4 steel, which helped with the iBlade’s feel. Additionally, the 431 steel is also significantly lighter than 17-4 and just as strong, which allowed engineers to move four grams of discretionary weight to increase MOI.
The elastomer, however, is what PING believes is the true differentiator in terms of the improved feel of the iBlade.
“I think the big reason it feels so good is what we’re coining the Activated Elastomer,” Bacon said. “When you make contact, the ball is literally squishing against that plastic. That’s driving the great feel of this iron.”
More Distance Without Sacrificing Workability
Also significant in the iBlade in terms of its technology is a remarkably thin clubface that’s creating faster ball speeds and significantly more distance, as much as six yards in some clubs when compared to S55.
“The face thickness on our S55 is .135 and this is .068, so it’s almost twice as thin,” said Bacon of the iBlade’s clubface. “This iron actually has a thinner face than our G Iron. You don’t see that in a players iron very often.”
Engineers also were cognizant of making sure that the iBlade still provided players with plenty of workability, which isn’t always easy with a design that has high MOI as it relates to the center of gravity.
That’s actually one of the main reasons that most game-improvement irons usually don’t offer as much in the way of workability as players irons, because of their higher MOI construction.
While the weight saved by using 431 steel helped increase MOI and forgiveness, as does the use of tungsten weighting in the toe, PING engineers were still able to maintain workability in the iBlade by focusing on what matters most in that aspect of creating an iron.
“We wanted to have the workability in the design for situations where you have to work the ball,” Bacon said, adding that workability is a must when it comes to performance for better players. “It’s the MOI about hosel access, not CG, that’s really the big driver for people to manipulate face angle. Our goal was to keep (workability) about the same as the S55, and we’ve been able to do that.”
Gapping Issues? Not Anymore
One of the few knocks on the S55 and one area where PING readily admitted that improvement was needed was in terms of yardage gapping. The loft structure of the S55 sometimes led to gaps between clubs that were too large or too small.
That problem, however, has been fixed when it comes to the iBlade, and how it’s been fixed might come as a shock in this day and age of club design.
“The one thing that you’ll notice is that the lofts are a little bit stronger in the long irons,” Bacon explained. “We also made a pretty unique move in this industry by making the lofts weaker in the 7-PW, which you don’t see very often because everyone is chasing distance. But these irons are going to be more playable because these lofts are more progressive.”
The Waiting Game
Given all of the work that went into the finished product, it’s no surprise that PING is anxious to see how the iBlade is received. That said, the early returns have been overwhelmingly positive.
In what’s a rarity for professional golfers, several PING staffers switched to the iBlade during the middle of their season, providing evidence that this iron is the real deal.
Additionally, early testing with recreational players has also yielded promising results, which has everyone at PING encouraged.
“We’re definitely excited, Bacon said. “The feedback (compared to S55) has been more forgiveness and equally workable. But hands down, what everyone is noticing is how soft they feel.”