I admit that I held out on the hybrid craze longer than made sense. I carried a two-iron in place of a 5-wood or hybrid and would use it from the tee, the fairway, and the rough when the lie was good enough to goad me into going for it.
What's that have to do with a set of irons? My two-iron was a PING Eye2, and until I tried the i15s, that single club represented the vast majority of my experience with PING irons. Sure, I'd seen how popular the Eye2s were with players in the 90s, but I never liked the look of the excessive high toe weighting, the bulge in the heel, the thicker topline, and the general look and feel. Even that two-iron had a bit too much offset for my taste - I had to watch that I didn't hook the thing off the planet.
Having played with the i15s for several rounds now, though, it's obvious to me that while PING has stayed true to their roots (the i15 is immediately recognizable as a PING iron), they've made substantive improvements through the years and deserve consideration from a wide variety of players.
Design and Technology
PING's i-series irons of irons - though not their "S" series for the best players (or those wanting the most blade-like irons, anyway) - were designed with the better player in mind. However, the i15 borrows heavily from the company's G15 line of irons and works the technology into a sleeker, more workable iron that better players will find more pleasing to look at and play with more compact heads and thinner lines to give these better players more workability and shot control.
The most prominent feature on the i15 is the tungsten weight low in the toe to add forgiveness. The bulge that houses the weight is visible at address only in the longest irons and only if you tend to lean the shaft forward a bit. The toe weight also helps to optimize the center of gravity to provide trajectories better players prefer across the set.
The back of the i15 features a dual stabilizing bar and a Custom Tuning Port (CTP) support the face for a solid feel and sound across the hitting surface. In photos, the bars and CTP are housed in the raised "PING" on the back of the irons.
The i15 was designed as a progressive set of irons. The long irons are slightly longer heel to toe for a touch of added forgiveness while the short irons are a more traditional width for better shot-making ability and control.
And yes, the i15, like all of PING's irons, is a cast club. If you're still hung up on the process by which the metal in your golf clubs is formed, then you've either drank the Mizuno Kool-Aid or you have a heightened (and unrealistic) opinion of your ability to feel things.
I've never cared for the look of PING's irons, but if I'm being honest with myself (and you), I really stopped looking at them a decade or so ago with the Ping Eye2. As you'll recall, that club had protuberances and bulges all over the place, with thick lines and a healthy amount of offset.
In the years since, I'd picked up a few of irons in the S series in golf shops, but hadn't really looked at the i or G series at all. My bad.
The i15 is still obviously a PING iron in the Eye2 lineage, but PING has done well to choose a color scheme that looks great and to do all they can within their design beliefs to minimize any obvious thickness, bulging, and protuberances, since I want to use that word again.
The silver/black/dark red thing PING has going on with the i15 irons appeals to me. Again, I've always liked their slightly darker grey/silver clubheads, and the i15s carry that color forward. The back of the irons get the bulk of the "decoration," and on the i15 that means a PING logo on the CTP, "i15" on the high toe, and a black meshwork pattern printed in the cavity with a splash of red paint between the dual stabilizing bars.
The hosel retains the look of recent PING irons: a gouge of metal is taken out of the hosel on the very heel end of the clubhead (which undoubtedly helps to move the sweet spot further towards the toe), and the hosel is angled at roughly the lie angle so that the collar is level at address.
The large tungsten housing in the low toe isn't as hidden as I'd like at address in the longer irons, and the topline is thicker than I prefer as well. Though these are nowhere near the "shovel on a stick" look favored by some other companies, they're halfway there. Some players may like this - they'll say it "inspires confidence" or something like that - but I've never been among them. The thick topline I can deal with - the protuberances and bulges (one more time!) less so. On the bright side, it's only a two-club issue: from about the 5-iron on up, the back cavity and toe aren't visible at address, and the notch in the hosel/sole is never visible.
On the bright side, again, the clubface remains relatively uncluttered. A number stamped on the high toe lets you know at address that you have the right club, and the bottom groove is filled with white paint to aid in alignment.
The PING i15 are targeted at better players. They're not PING's "top" club in terms of feel (and corresponding lack of "game improvement") - that honor belongs to the S57 - but occupy the second slot on the list.
The first thing I noticed when I picked up the irons was the reminder rib installed along the underside of the grips. The grips themselves were PING's standard all-rubber grips, and just fine for the job. This reminded me that PING pioneered what may still remain the most advanced custom fitting system in the world of golf, and they'll fit golfers to a wide range of shafts, lofts, lies, lengths, and grips. If you're ordering a set of i15s (or any other PING club), be sure to check out your options. PING's custom department is second to none.
Overall, and in a variety of situations, the i15s performed extremely well. The feel is freakishly consistent all over the clubface. No matter how good the contact, the i15s never felt as good as a svelte muscleback struck on the button, but only the worst mis-hits relay a noticeably different feel to your hands. I'd personally prefer more feel - I like to know exactly where I struck the ball on the clubface - but I've come to understand that I'm in the minority on this issue.
I've long postulated that feel and forgiveness are diametrically opposed to one another, and that seems to be the case here once again. While the lack of specific feedback and feel is mildly disappointing, the forgiveness offered by the i15 does more than make up for it. In short, the i15s are some of the most forgiving irons in this category that I've ever hit. If you make contact anywhere in the "it all feels the same" area on the clubface - say within a half inch in any direction of center - your ball will pretty much go where you expect it to go, give or take two or three yards. Ball flight is almost completely unaffected as well.
On a lark I grabbed some impact tape and hit some balls at the range. No, it's not the most scientific of tests, but the results were still surprising. Shots struck as much as 3/4" towards the heel or toe lost about five yards of distance and were a few yards offline. Shots struck high and low on the face were affected even less. No doubt the range mats helped (particularly on the "high on the clubface" shots, which on grass, would have been fat), but the results were still surprising. Play during rounds of golf did nothing to lead me to any different conclusion than: these are incredibly forgiving irons for better players.
If you're a golfer who likes to work the ball with every shot you take, these clubs may impose a bit of a ceiling on your ability to do so. However, such players are few and far between these days, particularly within the i15's target market. The i15 excels at hitting the ball high in the air - it's fairly easy to hit a 7-iron with a 9-iron trajectory and a normal 7-iron's distance if you need to clear a tree, for example - but it lacks the ability to really go downstairs, what with the thick sole and the tungsten weight. Though I understand the modern trend towards putting more weight in the sole, I still wish the center of gravity was a bit higher specifically for this knock-down, escape-from-trees shot.
Golfers in the northern states know that the lies can get somewhat "cuppy" in the spring and fall, and though I feared that the thicker soles on the i15 might cost me some striking quality from these cuppy lies, that never turned out to be the case. The normal adjustments one would make for a cuppy lie - moving the ball back a smidge in your stance to ensure a bit more downward angle of attack - worked just fine with the i15s. If anything, the thicker sole and lower center of gravity helped with those lies, as you could catch them a tad thin and still get a fairly normal ballflight and distance.
The i15s have grooves which conform to the 2010 groove rule, so I've got to mention something which will again become a factor in golf: the flier. The i15s are susceptible to flier lies, as I think all irons in 2010 will be, and golfers everywhere will have to learn the lost art of reading their lies. The i15s are what they are - neither better nor worse than other clubs with the "new" grooves, and I personally think having the occasional flier lie is fun.
Overall, the i15s were impressive in terms of forgiveness, consistency of ball flight and distance, and in providing uniform, consistent feel to the golfer within a wide range of strike positions.
PING's i15 irons have the following specs:
Club Length Loft ° Lie ° Offset Bounce ---- ------ ------ ----- ------ ------ 3 38.75" 21.0 59.25 .26" -2.7 4 38.25" 24.0 60.00 .22" -1.8 5 37.75" 27.0 60.75 .19" 0.8 6 37.25" 30.0 61.50 .17" 2.8 7 36.75" 33.0 62.25 .14" 5.0 8 36.25" 37.0 63.00 .11" 6.0 9 35.75" 41.0 63.75 .09" 8.0 PW 35.50" 46.0 64.00 .07" 9.0 3I-9I swingweight is D0; PW is D2
I was going to compare these numbers against some other clubs in the same niche (one spot down from any company's "for the best players wanting the most feel" irons), but this is a PING i15 review, and I don't want to throw in the names of other clubs (and exclude others in the same market) just for the sake of comparison.
I will say that I found that the PING i15s tended to have as much as or more offset, particularly in the longer irons, than many of their peers. Their lengths and lofts are "fair" - they don't "give you more distance" via a 37.5" 40° pitching wedge. The bounces had the widest range, but that's largely due to the negative loft in the 3I. By the time the i15s get to the 6-iron or so they matched up well with the others.
The i15s are available in sets of 3-PW, and come with either the PING-designed AWT steel (Soft R, R, S and X flexes) or TFC 149i graphite shaft (L, Soft R, R and S flexes). MSRP is $115 per club with steel shafts and $142.50 per club with graphite shafts.
The i15 remains true to its PING roots while taking advantage of newer technology. If you're looking for a more consistent iron game, they deserve a look: they offer a consistent ball flight, distance, and dispersion when struck almost anywhere on the clubface. You won't get the marshmallow feeling on a well-struck shot, but nearly everything will feel "solid" instead, and that's a tradeoff I think a lot of people are willing to make.