This is without a doubt the most difficult review I’ve experienced in the 10 years I’ve been reviewing golf equipment on this blog. Why so difficult? The process and results didn’t go as I expected and I became frustrated enough that I wanted to bail on these clubs. Thanks to my friend Doug Bybee at Mizuno I stuck with them.
For a guy who has been playing 2002 Hogan forged irons for most of the last 13 years (a couple of others went into the gamer bag for a few months here and there) switching to different irons is very tough. After playing a single brand and model for that long one is (or should be) very in tune and connected to the feel and performance of the clubs. That was one of the difficult parts of switching to the JPX-850 Forgred irons. The 850’s had a hell of a tough task, to dethrone what I believed are the best irons I’ve ever played.
Before I go into the long winded story of my experience with these irons I’ll first mention the technology and engineering involved in making them.
The irons are forged using a “grain flow” forging process. This helps add distance to forged irons that might normally be lost in traditional forging.
1025E steel billets in the head add strength and distance to the club.
The face of the club is super-thin. Thin faces mean more control, forgiveness, and distance. Weight is moved to the outside of the club increasing the clubs COR rating (meaning it resists twisting and turning at impact) and making the club easier to hit.
The 4-7 irons have a slightly different feature, the “Ultra CNC Milled Pocket.” This produces a higher launch angle and ball speeds.
I have to pat myself on the back in this section of my review. The JPX-850 Forged irons are stunningly beautiful from a purely aesthetic standpoint. I take great pride in my high quality product photos for my reviews. I have to say these are probably the best iron pictures I’ve ever shot. It helps to start with such great material!
The first part of getting the 850’s was to go through the Mizuno fitting. The fitting was a fun and educational experience. Below is a video from the 2012 PGA Merchandise Show featuring the Mizuno fitting system. It is a little old, but gives you the idea.
In my fitting I learned that the dual chicken wing granny over the top swing I’ve got may not look pretty, but it is consistent and produces a very good dispersion rate. In other words, I don’t spray them.
Doug did my fitting along with a local club fitter at my local shop here in Salt Lake City, Uinta Golf. We did the fitting off of mats on a Flight Scope launch monitor.
During a fitting like this the player will take some swings with a test club and the Mizuno fitting system will produce custom club and shaft recommendations based on the results. Then the tech will make up a test club with some of those specs for the player to try. Once again those results are analyzed and the player will also chime in on feel and such. The process isn’t long and in short order one has the specs of the “pefect club” for his swing.
The results were quite stunning for me. Where my stock Hogan 6-iron was fairly accurate and fairly long at 180-185 yards, the newly built 850 Forged with custom shaft was even more accurate. Nearly no dispersion at only 1-2 yards off center. On top of that, the average distance was 200 yards.
I was sold and very excited to get my new clubs.
It didn’t take long for Mizuno to custom build the clubs and get them to my front door. Less than a week. Custom everything, down to the grips. I couldn’t wait to get to the course and start firing darts at flags and racking up birdies like John Daly racks up ex-wives.
Houston We Have a Problem
Now the frustration part…
I couldn’t wait to hit these, of course. On the range the day after I got them I was shocked to find myself literally cold-topping almost every swing. The contact was so bad that sometimes my hands were going numb. When I did manage to get a shot airborne it didn’t seem to fly well. It seemed I was missing the sweet spot 95% of the time.
For many rounds over several weeks I became frustrated and disappointed in these irons. The 6-iron was not going 200. It didn’t even go as far as my old Hogans. Most shots where coming up pathetically and painfully short right.
My confidence was shattered. So was my wallet. So were my scores.
I talked to Doug and he did his best to calm me down. I was surprised to hear him tell me that I had to get used to, and adjust to these clubs. In my mind I thought they were fitted and adjusted to my swing already.
I was tempted to send the clubs back and put the Hogans back in play, but Doug kept on me and gave me some pep talks. “These are the 2nd best selling irons in the golf industry” he would tell me. “Give this new technology a chance to work for you.”
Because of Doug and everything Mizuno had done for me, I kept with them. I kept making small tweaks and trying to figure out the proper swing and proper ball position. One round “it” happened. On the par-3 9th at my home curse I picked a 6-iron for a 185 yard shot. I nailed it, right at the flag. The shot didn’t go 185. It flew over the pin, over the green, over the cart path behind the green, and over a tall tree. My best guess is the shot flew 225 yards. Unfortunately the ball rolled down behind the trunk of the tree, on a downslope, behind the world’s toughest par-3. Never before have I been as happy with a shot which had such a horrible result.
That shot told me I could hit these solid, far, and straight.
Over many rounds I started to see slow improvement in the contact and feel. I wasn’t spraying the irons ever. It was mostly a distance issue from missing the sweet spot. I started to find myself hitting a laser at a flag more and more often. Shots that were so aligned with the pin I’d have to turn my head sideways to see the pin. I stared off hitting one or maybe two in a round. As I got more and more used to the clubs my iron play improved greatly.
My swing has been subconsciously adjusting as well as consciously to the 850’s. My confidence has returned. I am able to hit “shots” when needed, like low punches under trees, cuts, draws. Iron play is now fun again and I’m really feeling the clubs without having to make deliberate changes to swing or setup.
Despite the “fitting” it took me about half a year to adjust my swing to these irons. Maybe I’m a brain dead hacker used to doing the same thing and changing my iron swing was like trying to turn an aircraft carrier? Perhaps, but I have some other ideas. I’m a cause and effect guy and over the last couple of months I’ve tried to analyze the fitting and results. Some items stand out to me which could be factors.
First, the fitting was done on an indoor simulator on a mat. I hate mats. When given the choice to warm up or practice on mats I’ll choose to go to the first tee cold. It is almost impossible for my steep granny swing to hit a bad shot on a mat. The club bounces up just right. On real grass though, the club does not bounce up like that.
Second, I was wearing a particular model of FootJoys during the fitting last winter\fall. This spring my friends at FJ send in a new model to review and the platform is thicker and wider. As spastic as my swing is that platform difference could make a difference. If they’re half an inch higher that changes all sorts of angles. My gamer driver performance is greatly affected by changing from one of those sets of shoes to the other.
Finally, my fitting was at a time toward the end of last season. I had a whole summer of swinging leading up to the fitting, and was probably swinging well during the fitting. Then I change irons (and shoes) in the first half of the next season, possibly introducing all sorts of factors my rusty hack game wasn’t used to.
The frustration and overly long adjustment period of time could be attributed to one or any combination of the ideas above, or perhaps it is something else I’m not thinking of. It is golf after all.
Last week I hit a super solid tee shot on the par-3 6th at one of my home courses. The ball settled in to about three feet. My long time golf buddy chimed in, “what club was that?” I answered “an eight.” He then said, “for the first time in 20 years of playing with you I can’t tell what clubs you are hitting. That shot flew like a 9-iron but went as far as a 7-iron.”
As bad as my short game is, missing a green in regulation is going to mean a bogey 50-75% of the time, despite being a great putter. I need to hit greens and let my solid putting take it from there. That puts pressure on my iron/approach game. It has taken a while but now I have confidence in the JPX-850 Forged Irons. The JPX-850 Forged are truly great golf clubs, worthy of Mizuno’s fine reputation as one of the best iron makers in the world.