Friday, February 19, 2010

Some More Help With Irons

There has been some talk over at Lag Erickson's forum as to whether or not vintage blade irons are better than modern blade irons. Lag's thoughts are along the lines that all of the truly great rounds of golf wound up being done with vintage blades. When Johnny Miller won the '73 US Open at Oakmont, he had the US Open's lowest round ever at what is considered by many the toughest course in the world. He hit 18 greens (and I believe he only missed 1 fairway) and his average length birdie putt was 10 feet long. And he did it with some 1950's Tommy Armour Silver Scot blades made by MacGregor.

But do Vintage Blades out perform modern blades or is it the other way around?

First, don't get me wrong in that I think there are some really good blade irons out there. I've hit the Mizuno MP-68's and the Cobra MB's and both are very nice. The same with the Miura blades. I have yet to hit the Scratch Golf irons, but I've heard nothing but rave reviews about them as well.

So, what are the differences in today's blades? Well I asked Tom Wishon about the differences in sweetspots and Center of Gravity (CG's) of vintage vs. modern blades and here was his reply:
It is true that old blades did typically end up with the center of gravity closer to the heel side of the face while more modern designs will have the CG more in the center of the face scoreline area. This is chiefly because back in the 60s and before that, few of the club companies really knew much about the center of gravity of a clubhead and did not know all that much about how to control its position.

By the 80s, more companies were becoming aware of the importance and control of the CG, so irons designed in this era are not typically going to show the CG being that much off center toward the heel. Some models in this era, yes, but not as many as you would see in the 60s and before that.

As to the vertical height of the CG, the only way you would see an early blade design with a lower CG than today's blades is if the old blade was designed with a shorter blade height and/or a more narrow sole. Yes, you did see a few more blades of the 60s and before that did have both a little shorter blade height, so in these specific cases, the CG could be a little lower. However, because there were more old blade designs with a little more narrow sole than you see today, that would have negated somewhat the lower CG that comes along with a shorter blade height.

So at the end of the day, from my yrs of experience in design and club analysis, I would say that old blades definitely had more tendency for the CG to be on the heel side of the center of the face, but the vertical CG positions would not tend to be lower than blades of today.
It's important to note what Wishon says here, especially 'As to the vertical height of the CG, the only way you would see an early blade design with a lower CG than today's blades is if the old blade was designed with a shorter blade height and/or a more narrow sole.'

Basically Wishon is saying that most vintage blades had a higher Center of Gravity, except for the blades that had a shorter clubhead height. The 1959 Wilson Staff Dynapowers are a great example of a clubhead that is very 'short.'

So, which can outperform the other?

I think the big thing the modern blades have going for them is distance. If they can go longer than a golfer can use less club and effectively be a bit more accurate.

However, I'm not sold on that always being true. In high school when clubfitting was still a bit archaic, one of my friends wanted to get fitted for irons and the clubfitter would fit irons solely by lengthening the shafts with shaft extensions.

He wound up going with shafts that were +1 1/4" longer than standard and was hitting his 7-iron about 30 yards further, but he certainly was not as accurate or as consistent. Thankfully, he quickly junked those extensions.

But that's part of the issue with modern clubs, even blades. You can hit them further because the shafts are longer (my Hogan IPT's are -1/2" shorter than standard) and the lofts are much stronger. I plan on making a 'test run' on getting one set of my vintage irons re-chromed, re-shafted, re-grooved, etc. and will put in standard length shafts and have standard lofts, but I believe in the end I will be able to hit them just as far and as accurate as modern blades.

So why would I want to do that if in the end I get the same performance?

Well, it costs cheaper.

If I want a new set (4-PW) of MP-68's...I'm looking at about $800. A new set of Miura's are about $1,100. Same with Scratch Golf unless I go with their Tour Custom line which is $2,500.

Plus, I don't get the razor sharp leading edges, unless I go with Scratch Golf's Tour Custom line.

However, if I were to buy some vintage irons and get them totally rebuilt thru The Iron Factory ( I would probably be out about $500 when all is said and done.

One of the things I'm experimenting with is Lag's protocol for flattening the lie angles and making the clubs heavier.

I have the lie angles 4* flat, but they are actually playing 5* flat because the shafts are -1/2" shorter (for every 1/2", that is 1* of lie angle).

This is an interesting concept because not only does it force the golfer to swing flatter but it takes the misses left and particularly the OTT miss left and long, out of the equation.

This is interesting because as Lag mentioned, if you look at course designs most of them are geared towards either jail or a very unlikely up and down. Here's a look at the number of holes where a golfer doesn't want to miss left at the courses I play at:

Windermere = 14 (out of 18)
OAC = 12
Hamilton Mill = 11
Traditions = 11
Eagle Watch = 13

I also added lead tape to my irons to make the clubs heavier. Unfortunately my IPT's were actually at C9 swingweights. I got some questions on how I lead tape them and here's the basic instructions:

- Get some *high density* lead tape. It weighs more and is easier to measure.

- 1" of High Density Lead Tape = 1 gram

- 2 grams = approximately 1 swing weight.

- Put the lead tape around where bottom 4th and 5th grooves are.

For me I just cut myself a 2" strip of lead tape (which equates to about 1 swingweight point). So for my C9 swingweights that I was trying to make D5 that required six 2" strips of lead tape.

However, you also have to be careful about the grip. The heavier the club is up by the grip, the lighter the swingweight will be. I think my IPT's were probably D-1 swingweights, but since I use grips that are +1/32" over standard, the grip may have made the swingweight lighter.

One of the reasons why I'm interested in the Iron Factory is that the owner Jim Kronus uses a special type of plating that supposedly can *add* or take off weight on the clubhead, so you can create a heavier or lighter swingweight naturally, without being forced to use lead tape or drill holes to take weight off. But every great player has used lead tape at least once in their life.

Either way, I think at the very least having blades as practice irons is a good thing and the game is filled with legends that used only blade style irons. I can certainly understand the preference for vintage blades, but I can also understand the love for modern blades. You just need to make sure that the specs are precise.


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