There have been few reviews as eagerly anticipated by Sand Trap forum members and readers as this one and our upcoming review of the Titleist AP1s. Our Bag Drop article announcing these clubs has well over 50 comments and my follow-up field test will likely reach 50 before this review is published. In the forum, people are being fitted for, buying, and asking questions about the AP2s and AP1s left and right. Titleist VP of Golf Clubs Chris McGinley feels that this is "the most technically advanced forging ever made" and adds that "demand for this iron is unprecedented in the forged category. Not since the Hogan edge has there been this much buzz and demand for a forged iron."
Titleist, always at or near the top in the "player's irons" category, has in 2008 simultaneously simplified its product lineup and broadened its target market. Though their ZB and ZM models are still available for those who like player's cavity and musclebacks, the AP1 and AP2 are intended to cover pretty much everyone from the PGA Tour golfer to the "aspiring" golfer.
This review takes a look at the Titleist Forged AP2s - the irons intended for the "skilled" player in Titleist's parlance. The "skilled" golfer is anyone with a single-digit handicap right on through to PGA Tour stars like Adam Scott. Like Scott, I've been playing musclebacks for several years due to their superior feel, tremendous workability, and stringent demands that kept my swing in check. Read on to find out what I think of Titleist's fairly radical departure from even their recent past.
Design and Technology
The AP1 and AP2 were designed by Titleist veteran Peter Gilbert, designer of almost every notable DCI iron of the past, with the guidance of Dan Stone, new head of Golf Club Research and Development. Gilbert started with a fresh slate, casting aside the well received 775s and 755s and the technology that had brought them to their current state. He looked at new materials, new shapes, and new processes and created a revolutionary pair of irons - the AP irons.
Titleist describes the Forged AP2 as "advanced performance, multi-material, dual cavity, technical forged irons providing traditional solid feel, looks, and shot control for the skilled player." Uhm, yeah. Let's crack the marketing mumbo-jumbo to see what we've really got here.
The acronym "AP" stands for "Advaned Performance," and the AP2 is constructed with several materials, hence "multi-material." The AP2s are formed with a 1025 carbon steel body. Laser welded to the back and sole, a tungsten nickel box lowers the center of gravity, creating an optimal CG location low and deep in the clubhead. The lower, deeper CG results in improved launch conditions with consistent ball speed for distance control and optimal launch and spin for trajectory control. Titleist calls this a "process break through" and, in the words of Chris McGinley, says "never has a back piece with that kind of function or complicated geometry been welded to a forged body." The breakthrough is on the order of the undercut cavities employed by the likes of TaylorMade and Callaway.
An elastomer cushion and a metallic cavity plate complete the list of materials. Both of these materials soften the feel at impact, tune the sound for optimal pitch, and generally make everything feel just a bit sweeter.
Titleist considers the AP2 a "dual cavity design." The first cavity is obvious: it's the top portion of the club, above the elastomer cushion and below the topline of the club. The second cavity is hidden by the tungsten nickel box. Both cavities push the weight to the perimeter, improving forgiveness on off-center shots. The lower cavity is "capped" with what Titleist bills the "central cross member." It's a metal shelf that connects the back of the cavity to the clubface, right behind the impact area, and it improves the rigidity of the rather thin clubface while acting in cooperation with the elastomer cushion to reduce face vibration.
Finally, the sole itself is optimized for better players. Though the sole is a bit wider than most good players are accustomed to, it features a relieved trailing edge and optimized bounce that seek to achieve the delicate blend between forgiveness and playability for the better golfer.
Better players care a good bit about a club's esthetics, and to say the look of the AP2 has been the topic of many discussions would be an understatement of sizable proportions.
Whether it's the metallic insert on the back with the venetian blind look, the "silver "AP2" logo lodged in the toe of the tungsten nickel box, or simply the shock of seeing a Titleist iron with some graphical "stuff" on it, I do not know. After all, the 775 and 755 weren't exactly austere and simple in appearance, either, what with their colorful backs and aluminum bars and things.
Personally, I grew to like the looks of the AP irons, and find that they look a fair bit more handsome in person than in JPEGs on the Internet. Not that it matters much - you don't see any of the cavity back inserts or the toe decals at address. It's simply there for "bag appeal," and whether you like it or not, the AP2 is undeniably recognizable.
At address, the AP2 does have a noticeably thicker topline than the musclebacks I've been playing in prior years. The thickness is on par with other skilled player cavity backs, like the Cleveland CG Red, the TaylorMade r7 TP, and is barely thicker than even Titleist's 695.CB or their new ZB models. Additionally, the slightly thicker topline hides the back of the club, presenting a clean look at address.
The AP2s have what Titleist bills a "confidence inspiring appearance." They're contemporary, with a satin groove area framed by polished steel on the toe and heel. They feature a traditional profile and a blade/hosel junction that flows smoothly and with little offset. The hosels themself vary in length throughout the set: they're shorter in long irons to help promote launch, and longer in the short irons to help control trajectory.
The simple ferrule continues the clean look at address and matches the simple, un-stepped look of the stock Project X shafts right on through to the stock Tour Velvet grip.
Again, I've always played musclebacks for the feedback they provide. If I play a cavity back iron - even the "good golfer" cavity backs like the TaylorMade r7 TP or the Cleveland CG Red - my game and swing quickly suffer from their lack of feedback. Poor swings are rewarded with decent shots and a generic "feel," and my ballstriking suffers. I can't play the variety of shots I like to play around the golf course. After a short, subtle scoring drop, my swing suffers and my scores rise.
In other words, I've learned to stay away from the "good golfer" cavity backs. I need all the feedback I can get and find it critical to keeping my swing in tune.
So it was with some trepidation that I first hit the AP2s. To be honest, Titleist's ZM and ZB models seemed more up my alley. But long-time muscleback players and traditionalists like Adam Scott had made the switch to the AP2, so who was I to argue?
Nobody, that's who. Though my initial impressions were quite positive, I only came to like and appreciate the AP2 more the longer I used them.
With other clubs in this class (r7 TP, CG Red), only the worst shots transmitted enough feedback to let me know where I'd struck the ball. Contact near the center of the face (but not necessarily on the sweet spot) all tend to feel about the same and a bit dull. I needn't have worried about the AP2s, as they provide nearly all the feedback I've come to expect from my muscleback irons. Every bit of feedback is transmitted, albeit in a muted form. If you pay attention, you can discern the differences between a well-struck shot and one that just missed. I've found that virtually impossible with the others, but the AP2s excel in this area and I cannot commend them highly enough.
For those times when you find the sweet spot, contact cannot be described as buttery smooth as with a muscleback, but it's awfully close. I'm also not sure I've ever heard an iron "crack" with as much clarity and power as these do when you catch one on the sweet spot, either, but it's music to my ears. Miss it a little and, again, a muted tone of a slightly different pitch lets you know.
Feedback on mis-hits is great, but it was also nice to discover that the AP2 does not punish you severely for small mis-hits. If contact ½" towards the toe would result in your golf ball landing short and right in a bunker with, say, the Titleist 695.MB, the same strike with the AP2 will put the ball on the fringe or the front right portion of the putting green. This seems true of contact all over the face: the AP2 consistently outperforms all the musclebacks I've played and a fair number of the "good player" cavity-back irons as well.
If you're accustomed to working the ball, the AP2s will not disappoint. Though I was skeptical at first of the amount of control and workability these irons would provide, I've found that I've had to make few to no adjustments when playing shots that curve left or right or go higher in the air. These clubs do hamper my ability to hit the super-low shot, such as when playing out of trees, but this is mitigated somewhat by the Project X shaft. It's a low-spin shaft, so shots played into the wind don't need to be knocked down quite as much, limiting the number of times you'll be forced to flight the ball really low.
I had but one final concern: the wider sole. In reality, the sole plays thinner than it looks due to the trailing edge relief. Having played in wet conditions, dry conditions, from bent/poa fairways and Bermuda fairways, and from all sorts of other lies (that I'd rather not talk about), I found my concerns to be unwarranted. I can still pick the ball off of hardpan or other difficult lies. I can get down to the ball when it's nestled in the rough. I can even hit the ball just a tiny bit heavy with no real detriment. Whether I'm opening or closing the face or moving the ball up or back in my stance, I never felt that the sole was getting in the way or hampering my ability to pull off a shot, and in the case of the ever-so-slightly heavy shots, felt as though the sole provided just enough glide to move into the back of the ball without losing much clubhead speed.
One thing you may not be aware of is that the grooves on the Titleist AP1s and Forged AP2s conform to the proposed revised specifications. While I applaud Titleist for treating their customers well (you can buy these irons reasonably comfortable in the knowledge that they should meet revised rules), it did take me a little while to get used to having to deal with fliers again. Knowing how to judge a flier lie isn't a skill a lot of golfers have ever learned, but it's a skill that's fairly easy to pick up and may very well be something all golfers will be dealing with very soon.
In the end, the AP2s have what I consider to be just about the perfect blend of forgiveness, feedback, and playability. Before, my choices were muscleback clubs with lots of the feedback I craved but virtually no forgiveness or cavity-back clubs that transmitted little to no feedback to me on slight mis-hits but which rewarded those mis-hits with good results. The AP2 offers me the best of both and doesn't take away my ability to hit creative shots against the wind or to access tucked pins.
The AP2s come with Project X shafts stock, Tour Velvet grips, and in a set of eight irons (3-PW) with the lofts and lies below. Retail pricing is about $999. They're available for both righties and lefties.
They're Titleist irons, though, so custom options abound. Righties can customize the length from +2 inches to -1 inch (lefties from +1" to -½"). Lofts can be adjusted +/- 1°, and righties can adjust the lie angle from +4° to -2° (+/- 2° for lefties).
I'm a fan of the New Decade Multicompound grips, so mine came with those. You may also opt to replace the standard Tour Velvets with Golf Pride grips like Dual Durometer, Tour Velvet Ribbed, Tour Velvet Cord, and Tour Wrap or Lamkin grips like the Crossline and Crossline Cord, or Winn grips like the Black RF or V17 AVS.
Shaft options include several in both graphite (Aldila VS Proto-T in various weights, Graphite Design YS-IRON+ w/GAT) and steel (Project X, Project X Flighted, Rifle, Nippon NS Pro, Tri-Spec, Dynalite Gold, Dynalite Gold with Sensicore, Dynamic Gold, Dynamic Gold HL, and more).
A 51° "W" Wedge is available, and eight-iron "4-W" sets are available for those who would rather not carry a 3-iron.
Loft Lie Length Swingweight Offset ---- --- ------ ------------ ------ 3-iron 21° 60° 39" D2 0.160" 6-iron 31° 62.5° 37.5" D2 0.120" 9-iron 43° 64° 36" D2 0.090"
Lofts of the clubs are fairly traditional. you may balk at what appears to be one degree less loft than normal on some irons, but I can assure you the tungsten nickel box lowers the CG and raises the ball flight to make up for the slightly stronger loft. Your distances should remain consistent unless your current irons "cheat" with super-strong lofts.
Though Titleist has long been in an "evolutionary" phase (see the 690MB -> 695.MB -> ZM lineage), making subtle tweaks to proven designs, the AP1 and AP2 represent a revolutionary break from the old and a bold new direction for Titleist.
Revolutions do not come without risk, but this risk has paid off for Titleist. The AP2s are some of the best "skilled player" non-muscleback irons I've ever played. They offer the perfect blend of forgiveness and feedback that good golfers need. If you can get past the slightly thicker topline and you don't often need to hit a super-low shot, these clubs may very well find their way into your bag. If they do, your scores should drop, your consistency should rise, and your satisfaction could very well hit an all-time high. I know mine has.