(Written By: Tony Covey)
As we roll into the 2014 equipment season golfers have already started talking about Callaway's forthcoming iron products; specifically X2 Hot and Apex. We hear there's going to be at least one more added to the list (so much product), but the top of the line product for better players - Callaway's sexy X Forged, will remain in the 2014 lineup.
Get excited people. This was, is, and will remain, a pretty damn sweet little player's iron.
A two-year life-cycle for these type of irons isn't the least bit unusual. As companies churn out product after product in the game-improvement, super game-improvement, and even in that grey area between game-improvement and player's clubs, blades and muscle cavities like the X Forged tend to have a bit longer shelf life.
The reality is that while you can tweak the materials, the cosmetics, and perhaps even move a little bit of weight around here and there, nobody I've ever spoken with has given me any indication that a huge breakthrough in muscle cavity performance is right around the corner. In actuality player-centric designs like the X Forged are throwbacks to a time before perimeter weighting, multi-material construction, and unsupported faces.
They're not high-tech. They're not evolved. They're relative relics, but damn if they ain't beautiful. And on the off chance you're swinging well, not much else feels as good.
Love at First Impact
I first became enamored with the X Forged while on a visit to the Ely Callaway Performance Center nearly a year ago. It's taken us a while to get around to this review, and so I found myself wondering if I'd enjoy hitting them as much now as I did when I first got my hands on them.
Of course I'm just one guy, and it doesn't matter if I like a club or not. What matters is what happens when our club testers hit them.
Before we get to the results, here's a little bit of what Callaway has to say about X Forged.
The Marketing Angle
You know the drill. If you really want to dig deep into what Callaway has to say about the X Forged irons you should probably chase down the original press release. This isn't a place for an extensive amount of marketing speak, but in the interest of semi-fairness, here's 3 things Callaway apparently thinks are compelling.
- Triple Net Forging Triple Net Forging is designed for more aggressive grooves and extreme precision to provide forged feel and high performance for the very best players.
- V Grooves These are the most precise grooves we’ve ever put in an iron of this type, and they’re designed to deliver more control and shot-shaping for pinpoint accuracy.
- Bright Chrome Finish This clean and classic finish creates a smooth, appealing look at address.
How We Tested
If all goes according to plan, this will be one of the last few iron reviews conducted under our old system. Big things are on the horizon, but for this test here's what we did:
We fit 3 testers for length and lie (in this particular case they all came out standard/standard) and asked them to hit a series of shots to various distance. Testers could use whatever club in the set they needed to get the requisite distance. Individual scores for short, middle, and long irons were calculated for each tester. Overall scores are derived from those individual scores.
The handicap range for our X Forged tester is between 2.4 and 12.3.
For more information on our "Radius-Based Scoring System": CLICK HERE
Callaway X Forged Specifications
While the Project X PXI is a very nice stock offering, it's not for everyone. Thankfully, Callaway offers a fairly complete assortment of custom shafts options from True Temper, KBS and Nippon. Lefties will be happy to know that backwards models of X Forged are also available. It's a Phil thing.
Short Iron Performance
As has become my tradition, I'll start with a discussion of the pitching wedge. With 46° of loft, it's a tad on the strong side. It's not really an issue for me (mitigated further by the fact that X Forged is not a distance irons), but we're aware that there are those of you out there that concern yourselves with such things. Given the target market for X Forged, I'd actually like to see it at 47°, but what's a degree or so between friends really? For better or worse, the 48° pitching wedge is extinct, and the 47° may not be long for this world either.
Hitting short irons, as a group our testers missed the flag by an average of 23 feet. Our lowest handicap golfer missed by an average of just under 19 feet, while our 12 handicap missed by an average of just under 25 feet. That number is just a tick below past averages, but considering that much of our previous data is derived from more forgiving designs, it's fair to say that X Forged performed admirably.
Backspin numbers (8984.66 on average) are also high compared to previous averages, but many will find this desirable in their scoring clubs. Group launch angles were also among the highest we've seen (probably less desirable in a short iron), however; that result is admittedly skewed by one tester who launched much higher (29.79°) than our other 2 testers (24.96° and 26.68°) degrees.
Middle Iron Performance
Our formulas attempt to normalize the expected differences between short, middle, and long iron accuracy. That is to say that as the clubs get longer, and you hit them to more distant targets, we expect that you'll be less accurate - and we account for that. While we've seen a wide variance between long, middle, and short iron scores, what we like to see is scores that are relatively consistent across the board (within a point or two of each other).
With X Forged, that's basically what happened. Our testers missed the target by an average of 27.90 feet (just 4 feet and change beyond the average short iron distance). Our highest handicap golfer (that's me) missed by the narrowest margin (less than 22 feet), while our low handicap golfer missed by just over 30 feet. It's not unusual for my misses to be tighter with middle irons (I tend to get a little hooky with short irons), so don't read too much into that.
The group performance number is above average, which again, considering the design is quite impressive.
Looking at launch and spin characteristics, we find that X Forged produced a below average amount of spin (6818), and launched (22.29°) in the average range with no real outliers in the group.
Long Iron Performance
Long iron performance is generally where we see the most distinction between the models we test. Some long irons are easier to hit than others, and very often the ones that produce the best results feature long iron designs that are distinctively different (wider soles, more offset) from their middle and short iron counterparts.
One of the things I really like about X Forged is that there is near flawless continuity within the set. The 3 iron looks like the 7 iron. Granted, the pitching wedge has more rounded toe (relatively common these days), but otherwise, at address, from shape, to offset to topline width, there's tremendous similarity within the set. Sole widths get progressively wider, but otherwise...samesies. The trade-off, it would seem, is that X Forged is perhaps not as forgiving in the 3, 4, and even 5 irons.
As a group, our testers missed the target by an average of 37.79 feet. It sounds bad, but we're talking about shots taken from upwards of 200 yards, so it's not really that bad. In fact, looking at past performance data, 37.79 feet is relatively solid. Granted, we've had some real standouts, but we've also seen irons that perform considerable worse at length and distance.
With the long irons, spin numbers were a tad on the comparatively high side (5693), but not so much as to be a cause for concern. The additional spin is likely do to the higher than than average launch angle (17.92°). It's not the highest we've seen, but it's up there. I suspect the majority of you will appreciate the little bit of extra air under the ball.
As much as I hate to keep coming back to it, for a design that's intended for the tour level ball strikers, or at least really strong amateur players, Callaway's X Forged long irons performed admirably, even in my 12-point-whatever-mediocre-ballstriker-hands.
Overall, the Callaway X Forged proved to be a solid overall performer. While accuracy and dispersion patterns were generally very good, our testers noted that there is severe distance loss when the sweet spot is missed by even a fraction. It's actually probably more accurate to say that there's a severe distance gain when the ball is struck precisely on the sweet spot. Any deviation from the middle, and you will be punished.
Given the design of the irons and their intended audience this isn't really cause for any sort of alarm whatsoever. Callaway's X Forged is a better ballstriker's iron, and if you don't fit the description, you're almost certainly going to be better served with something more forgiving (like X2 Hot, X2 Hot Pro, Apex, Apex Pro) The point is, whatever your ballstriking ability (or pain tolerance, I suppose) Callaway has you covered.
The Interactive Data
The charts below show the individual and group averages (black dotted line) for out test of the Callaway X Forged iron. You can click on each of 3 tabs (Callaway X Forged - Short Irons, Callaway X Forged - Mid Irons, Callaway X Forged - Long Irons) to view the raw data (averages) for each of our testers. You can use the filters on the right-hand side to show and hide individual golfer based on handicap and proximity to the pin.
Ok...Calling it "Subjective Scoring" is a bit misleading. We no longer score clubs on their subjective qualities (looks, sound/feel, likelihood of purchase). That's well...subjective, and ultimately IF (and that's a huge IF) those things do actually impact performance, well, then it should be reflected in our performance score.
Otherwise, it's just noise. To each his own right? We're not going to let a negative opinion or two drag a good club down...not any longer.
All of that said, we're still going to give our opinion, but it's just that. As far as the numbers and scores go, it doesn't actually count for anything.
From a looks perspective, X Forged is a little bit of a tweener, and that alone could cause some golfers to look elsewhere. While it's not quite a true blade, it does have some very blade-like characteristics. The head is compact, the shape is blade-traditional (save the wedge), the topline is thin, and there's very little in the way of offset. Like I said, it's blade, but it's not.
There is some evident perimeter weighting, which if you're looking to draw some comparisons, makes X Forged more Mizuno MP-64 than H4. My point in all of this is that if you're looking at something this close to a true muscleback design, why not go all the way? Absolutely, there is a bit of extra forgiveness, but I'm not sure it's enough to reach the guy who's straddling the line between very good ballstriker and exceptional ball striker. Maybe there's something for the guy between a hope and a prayer and absolutely no shot whatsoever.
Nevertheless, on looks alone, it's a very attractive offering, even if it's not a pure and clean as a traditional muscleback.
Sound & Feel
From a sound and feel perspective X Forged plays very much like a full muscleback. Balls struck squarely on the sweet spot are pure butter. The feel is absolutely nothing short of exceptional. On a less positive note, when you're strikes migrate out towards the toe, or a groove low, well then things start to feel a little less buttery. Frankly they're a bit harsh, but again, that is to be expected, and not for anything, that's what better players call feedback. It's desirable. Besides, the kind of guy who should be playing the Callaway X Forged is the kind of guy who doesn't venture far from the center of the face anyway.
If you find your hands hurting very often, you probably should be playing something else.
I've touched on this already, but since we have an entire section dedicated to forgiveness, I suppose I should touch on it again.
If there's one area where our testers dinged the X Forged it's forgiveness. Based on what we saw during testing, the difference between a perfectly struck ball, and one just a little off of the sweet spot can be upwards of 10 yards. That's fairly significant, especially if there happens to be a pond between you and your target. If that's going to be a problem, you should probably look elsewhere, like not a blade.
Granted, we have seen some muscleback and near muscleback designs that inexplicably over-perform in terms of forgiveness (the Cobra AMP Cell Pro and Adams MB2 spring to mind), but even the exceptions can't touch a perimeter weighted iron for overall forgiveness.
I'm not saying that a comparative lack of forgiveness should scare you off. Just be sure you know what you're getting into.
Conclusions & Recommendations
In testing the Callaway X Forged I found nothing to alter my original opinion of the club. I love them...even if they don't love me back.
The most least forgiving option in the current Callaway lineup is, for my money, the best looking, and the most enjoyable to hit (even if it punishes you like a Texas shop teacher when you misbehave). My general lack of consistency with iron not withstanding, it's the Callaway iron I'd personally be most likely to put into play. Now is probably the right time to mention that I'm not very smart.
If forgiveness is even a little bit of concern for you, then you should absolutely be looking elsewhere. If, however, you're looking for an iron that looks good in your bag, and at address, and anywhere in between, feels absolutely outstanding when you hit the ball on the screws, and is generally just a whole lot of fun to hit (when you hit it well), then it quite possibly might be worth looking past the new for 2014 stuff in favor of the still relevant 2013 X Forged.
Callaway X Forged Gallery
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- Driver: Cobra KING LTD w/ 75g Aldila Rogue Silver 125 MSI X
- Fairway: TaylorMade SLDR S Mini, 12° Fujikura Speeder X
- 3-4H: TaylorMade SLDR TP S
- 5-GW: PXG 0311 w/ KBS C-Taper S+
- SW: TaylorMade Tour Preferred EF Tour Grind (54° bent to 55°)
- LW: Callaway Mack Daddy PM Grind 60°
- Putter: PING Karsten TR ZING