20 Second Intro

Model: KZG ZO Plus Blades
Availability: 3-9, PW  RH only
MSRP: $179/club
Additional Notes: KZG requires clubs to be purchased through an authorized KZG account and custom fit to the individual golfer.

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Back in the day....

In the early 2000s, the debates centering around the best blades always included the KZG ZO (Zero Offset) - and rightfully so.

Sidenote: I always felt mislead by the name "ZO" as the offset was actually 1.75 mm for most of the set. I digress...

In those days, the ZO blades were bagged by several non-contract Tour Pros. Sponsorships didn’t have the lucrative pull they do now, so some played the ZO because it was better. Those original ZO blades were legen...wait for it...dary. They could more than hold their own against any forged blade from that this era.

It's also important to understand a bit of context here. KZG bills itself as the "#1 Custom ProLine" golf company and it's been steadfast in requiring every club be fit and built by an authorized KZG account. Today custom fit and built clubs are rather commonplace, but in 2001 the fitting requirement differentiated KZG as decidedly upmarket.

Now, the best (arguably, I suppose) iron KZG ever made (ZO blade) is being retired in favor of the redesigned ZO Plus.

So, define "plus"

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Plus gives you the impression that here should be something more and that's logical. In this case, the ZO Plus blades do offer something extra, but something is also taken away.

KZG has increased the offset slightly. All things being equal, more offset means higher initial launch angles and more spin. It's an interesting evolution as increased offset (and the impact on ballflight) is not an attribute your typical competitive player seeks out. If anything, reduced offset and a higher COG allow for more control over trajectory and spin. That said, the offset is still minimal by today’s standards, and an eyeball evaluation at address suggests we're talking tenths of millimeters in change.

What KZG has taken away is a bit of the leading edge. The redesign promotes cleaner contact, better turf interaction (less digging) and more consistent ball speed. The way a club enters and exits the turf is of paramount importance to an accomplished ball striker, and you can't control trajectory and distance unless you can control impact. The modified leading edge aims to help you do just that.

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The rest of the picture....

KZG bills the ZO Plus as a high end forged blade for competitive players. KZG currently has an astounding 13 iron models in the lineup, and President Jennifer King expects the ZO Plus will account for 5%-8% of overall iron sales. While it won't be the highest-selling model, it's always been important to King to carry a club that will satisfy the most demanding players. Where establishing credibility with elite amateurs and competitive players is concerned, no iron is more important to KZG than the ZO Plus.

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The original ZO iron was forged in Japan from soft S25C carbon steel. This time around KZG is less specific with the details, but King cites industry advancements in CAD designs and CNC milling as reasons why the new model is being made in a different factory. In fact, King feels the new forging process, where each head is triple forged and completely CNC milled, is as good or better than Japanese forgings.

The updated process no longer requires hand finishing and polishing, which according to King, was "often faulty" and prone to errors. With fewer hands touching each club, KZG gets a better finished product that cost less and offers higher margins.

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King also points out the ZO Plus is a one-piece forging as opposed to a two-piece forging where the head and hosel are formed separately and then welded together. On this matter, there is no definitive better, and every company has its rationale for why it does things the way it does. Companies using a one-piece forging (e.g. EPON, Vega) feel the uniformity maintains the flow of energy throughout the clubhead, whereas proponents of two piece forgings (e.g. Miura) say it allows for more precise head weights, which then require less hand finishing.

MY THOUGHTS

The performance is entirely what you'd expect from a blade. The ZO Plus is workable and requires the player to hit golf shots rather than make golf swings. You can theoretically hit any shot you can imagine, but the ZO Plus won't cover up many mistakes. It's a bit like driving a very fast car with a touchy steering wheel. The slightest adjustment can have drastic results, but this is also part of what makes playing a club like this enjoyable.

As someone who pays careful attention to turf interaction, the leading edge grind is the most important improvement over the original ZO model. The previous model had a tendency to dig and stick, especially in soft conditions. There is no such issue with the ZO Plus.

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I struggle with the notion that we should discuss forgiveness in a club which is inherently unforgiving. It's a bit like being the cheap house in Beverly Hills. It's only cheap from a limited and narrow perspective. That said, King asserts initial feedback from players is the ZO Plus are more forgiving than other muscle-back irons. On balance, I found the ZO Plus to be no less forgiving than other modern blades (e.g. Mizuno MP-5, Srixon Z965).

"We don't skimp on our materials or our manufacturing processes...we insist on perfection," professes Jennifer King. This is a tough sell for consumers, and whether there's any factual basis to support people's perceptions or not, premium forged blades are historically forged in Japan and finished by hand, as opposed to milling machines.

I'm not suggesting there is any empirical evidence which shows that clubs forged in a particular geographical area perform any better or worse, but consumers aren't always rational creatures. There are, no doubt, plenty a lot of consumers who frankly don't care where the clubs are made, so long as they offer the desired feel and performance.

For what it's worth, the ZO Plus offered a moderately dense feel, that’s perhaps slightly firmer than the original ZO blades. It's impossible to say whether this is good or bad given the subjective nature of feel. Some people like their mattresses firm, while others prefer to sleep on marshmallows. Forged irons aren’t dissimilar.

The Last Word

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It's always tough to improve on a product which already stands out within a robust line. For many years, the original ZO solidified KZG’s position as a serious player in the better player category. Given the challenge, KZG has done an admirable job of adding substantive features (namely the leading edge grind), which improve performance for the target player.

Critics will see the change in material and forging process as more a cost-cutting measure than one necessary for improved precision, but overall quality meets expectations for the price.

For more information on the ZO Plus and other KZG clubs, visit www.kzg.com - And as always, we welcome your thoughts, comments, and questions.