What do Adam Scott's final-round 61 and three-shot victory at the Qatar Masters and 2007 European Tour Rookie of the Year Martin Kaymer's first win a week earlier have in common? Both were fired with new Titleist irons. Adam Scott won with the Titleist Forged AP2 irons while Martin Kaymer played the Forged ZM irons in taking the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship by two.
The existence of these irons (and their two siblings) has been official for a few days now, but the details were made known in our Bag Drop "Titleist Introduces New Irons for 2008" of a few weeks ago. Titleist is replacing every iron in their set with the new AP1, AP2, ZB, and ZM irons. Gone are the well-liked 695 (in CB and MB variations). Gone is the 735.CM. Gone are the 755s and the 775s. Five models are being replaced by four, three of which are forged, and one of which aims to bring incredible feel and performance to the "aspiring golfer" crowd.
Though no Acushnet company (Titleist, FootJoy, Cobra, Pinnacle) has displayed at the PGA Merchandise Show in several years, Titleist was nearby prepping sales representatives and their vast club pro network on the changes coming in 2008. For many of the sales reps, that meant familiarizing themselves with the 2008 irons lineup.
The Sand Trap was there, and I've hit all of the irons. What follows are my quick observations. As a quick teaser, I will tell you this: you cannot judge a book by its cover.
Several of the comments on the original post talk about the looks of the new clubs. Most didn't specify whether they were talking about the looks of the AP1 and AP2, which I will admit look different than previous Titleist irons, the ZB/ZM, or all of the irons.
I think it's likely, though that the ZB and the ZM irons are not the irons people were talking about. They're a fairly evolutionary step up from Titleist's "Z-Muscle" 695.MB models and really aren't remarkably different looking from previous models.
Instead, I'm going to assume that most of the people who have anything to say about the looks of the clubs are talking about the AP1 and AP2.
They say there's no accounting for taste, but my own personal opinion is that the irons offer a nifty throw-back look. I don't personally care for the "overdone" graphics we see on a lot of clubs, and I'm willing to say that the Titleist AP1 and AP2 come close to overdoing it a little. The lines don't bother me - in fact, I like the lines - but the black/grey and black/red striping and the words in that area are what push the iron close to the edge for me. And this isn't the first time Titleist has "dressed up" up the backs of their irons. The very 755 and 775 irons these clubs replace also had decorative backs with different colors, materials, and lettering.
And let's be real - as much as I like to look at what I personally deem to be an attractive set of irons, the graphics and look of the back of the club matter for naught when you set up at address position and take your swing. If I were to assign weight to various factors when I review clubs, the looks of the club would barely even register on the scale.
That's not to say the look of the club at address doesn't matter. It does, and can affect performance or perceived performance. Fortunately, even the bulkiest of these irons, the AP1, looks squeaky clean and simple at address.
So, whether you like the looks or not, in the end it really doesn't matter much at all. At address, these clubs have clean lines not a bit of writing, stamping, or unnecessary markings in sight.
I was able to test the performance of each of these irons by hitting about 40 balls with each on a cool, windy day in central Florida. Testing took place on a fairly well marked range with Titleist Pro V1 and V1x practice balls.
My swing was in early season form - I was striking the ball crisply and could hit a variety of shots. You know what they say about winter being good for un-learning the compensations you build up over the summer? It's true.
Even Adam Scott Uses the AP2 Now
Little did I know what a shock I was in for. Word that Adam Scott - a longtime muscleback iron player - had switched to the AP2 made me curious. Titleist finally availing themselves of an elastomer cushion also intrigued me. Other companies have used elastomer (most recently, Cleveland with the CG Red and Yellow) to varying degrees of success.
Titleist is quick to point out that the primary focus on these revisions was not only the usual performance advances, but feel. After hitting a few shots with the AP2, I started to see what they were talking about. Balls struck with the AP2 felt quite softer than the cold weather and cavity-back design would have me led to believe they would. The clubs were rather forgiving but still told me where I'd struck the ball on the face. Though I didn't care for the slightly thicker topline at first, I adjusted fairly quickly.
The AP2 still features minimal offset and traditional lofts and about 0.01" more offset than traditional musclebacks, and I found that I was able to do my normal tricks: alter the trajectory and shape of shots, control distance, and get to the ball from a variety of lies. The AP2 did nothing but soften the feedback and gently correct the shot when I got a bit too carried away with some of the swings I was putting on them.
This stands in direct contrast to, for example, the r7 TP line of irons. The r7 TP over-corrects and yet still passes on a clunky feel to the golfer. The AP2 gently corrects and passes on a muted, soft feel. Though I've been a die-hard muscleback golfer for as long as I can remember, I must stay I'm looking forward to reviewing the AP2s this spring.
AP1 Irons for the "Apsiring" Golfer
I've always had bad experiences with the "high handicapper" line of any clubmaker's sticks. For Titleist, those "high handicappers" are the double-digit handicappers and their sticks are the AP1. These "aspiring golfers" as Titleist prefers to call them prefer "game improvement" irons. I've always found game improvement irons to be clunky beasts that feel like shovels at impact and which can generate only one ball flight. They tend to do everything they can to help the player get the ball airborne, minimize shotmaking, and maximize distance.
I'm happy to report that the AP1 succeeds on the "game improvement" front without sacrificing too much feel, workability, or distance. The topline is thicker than I'd like (again, as a 2.7 handicap) and the offset a bit more than I'd like, but the clubs seem right up the alley for a golfer looking for more game improvement than has traditionally been available from Titleist.
Shots with the AP1 did not balloon or get in the air too quickly. I was still able to hit a variety of shots, from knockdowns to bleeding cuts and sharp draws. The feedback isn't as rich as you get from the AP2, but the feel is even softer. Given that this is Titleist's one cast iron in the lineup, that's amazing in and of itself. The elastomer must work.
On a few bad swings I felt myself hitting the ground a bit behind the ball (fat), yet the AP1 responded by gliding into the back of the ball without any noticeable loss in distance or any change in trajectory. Thin shots weren't rewarded nearly as perfectly as the slightly heavy shots, but still got in the air and tracked nicely.
Titleist calls these double-digit handicappers the "aspiring golfers." The word "aspiring" says to me that the golfer wants to improve, and I've long believed that these types of golfers should play irons that force them to hit the ball a little better than they can at their current level. The golfer usually gives up a little forgiveness in exchange for the extra difficulty, but I think that learning to hit "tougher" irons facilitates their improvement.
The AP1, however, may offer the perfect blend of both sides: game improvement for their current playing ability with enough "room to grow" that the player can continue to improve.
As for the low-handicapper's approach to the AP1, I'll put it this way: I'd play the AP1 before I'd TaylorMade's r7 TP, and it's a coin flip at this moment between the AP1 and Cleveland's CG Red. If you know me, that's saying something.
ZB and ZM
I ended last year with a 2.7 handicap, so I gravitated towards the ZM and ZB. The lines are clean, the tops of the clubs relatively thin, and the "Z" cut into the back is simple and attractive. The clubs perform as you would expect: quite similarly to the 695.MB and 695.CB irons. Any subtle differences between the current models and the previous models is tough to discern, so for now I'll simply believe that Titleist has tweaked the irons a bit to improve feel and performance.
The introduction of the AP1 and the AP2 mark a bold step for Titleist: tungsten sole weights, flashier graphics, and elastomer cushions are all new to their irons. I've played Titleist irons for quite a long time, always going with the muscleback variations or, on occasion, blended sets.
We're obviously going to give these irons a more thorough review in the future, but for now I'm rather confident in declaring the entire lineup a winner. The ZB and ZM will appeal to traditionalists like me who are looking for slight improvements to their 690 or 695 irons (or their Mizuno MP-67s, MP-32s, MP-60s, or MP-57s)
Pictures are Worth a Thousand Words?
You know, the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words doesn't quite hold up in the golf world. That is, unless you would rather mount your golf clubs on the wall as art than play with them.