We use a number of various testers during testing sessions and on-course playing rounds. That’s the theory, at least. In the case of these Gun Metal blades, two lead testers laid claim to them after the first session. Each decided that these blades would be their new, full-time playing irons. A third tester was very interested and looked forward to trying them on-course. A feud over possession of the irons ensued. One of these testers, we will call him “Meathead”, commandeered the Gun Metals for his own full-time use much to the chagrin of others.
It’s not as though the Competitors were removed from the testing procedure completely. Anyone who happened to play a round with Meathead, or was present when Meathead was at the range, was allowed to use the Gun Metals. Eventually, we even managed to get him to leave the clubs with us for a short period of time. Consequently, an adequate number of testers eventually amassed the requisite amount of time required with the Gun Metals to make the testing process legit. The results: Three of six testers loved them. Two of the three would like to play them regularly. Both elevated the Gun Metals to a preference level above the chrome version of the Competitors, and on a par with the Mizuno MP-33 blades.
A fourth tester liked the Feel Gun Metals a great deal, but continued to prefer his own Cleveland TA-1 Gun Metal blades. (They have a similar look and feel, but hit lower and longer) Testers five and six liked the look and feel of the Gun Metal Competitors, but continued to generally prefer cavity-backed blades that have more offset and slightly larger heads.
It did not seem so to our testers, but the standard Feel Competitor blades and the GunMetal Competitor blades are the same clubs. Aside from a slight increase in swingweight, only the grips and finishes are different. The heads are cast from the exact same molds. The shafts are both True Temper Dynamic Gold tip-trimmed to Feel’s same preferred specs. Yet while these are the same irons, each has produced markedly different reactions from our testers.
In reality, the differences that exist between the two versions of the Competitors should not impact a player’s score to any great extent. They should just add to his enjoyment of the game. At least that is what logic would seem to dictate. For Meathead, our tester who commandeered the Gun Metals, the attributes of these blades have substantially altered his game. In the past, he has played a primarily bump and run game. He has preferred only cavity back irons that hit long. The Feel Gun Metals have inspired him to take more restrained swings, to take deeper divots and to hit higher trajectories. With a switch to higher-spin balls, he is now reeling the ball back for the first time in his twenty plus years of golf. He has enough confidence in the green-holding ability of the Gun Metals to attack tight pins directly. His iron game has never been better. (It’s a shame that he still has trouble getting safely off the tee – a real shame.)
The differences between the Gun Metal and chrome versions may be subtle, but the cumulative effect of those differences seems substantially real. At impact, the sound with the chrome blades is a “tock”. With the Gun Metals, it is a “tick”. Even that description may be exaggerating the varied nuance of sound. There are, after all, only twenty-six letters in the English language. (We could use more.) Whatever the case, each of our six testers has preferred the Gun Metal sound at impact. Our testers have also preferred the feel of the Gun Metals over that of the chrome Competitors. The Gun Metals just have a brighter, more enjoyable feel. While equally as solid, it seems slightly more crisp. In direct comparison, the chrome version feels a touch duller – slightly less lively. Since the actual hitting surfaces are virtually identical, we are assuming that the chrome metal coating on the regular Competitors dampens the vibrations that resonate throughout the head at impact.
Expert clubfitters and designers have discovered over the years that sound and feel do not always register as distinctly separate entities in the minds of most players. An alteration of sound often registers as an alteration of feel, as well. Appearance can also alter a person’s perception of a club’s performance. The dark, good looks of the Gun Metal create the instant image of an aggressive, dynamic iron. The ball just sets up more crisply behind the Gun Metal head. The dark tones exaggerate the alignment qualities of the Gun Metal head. In contrast, the chrome Competitors, while still very handsome, look understated and almost staid. Compared to the Gun Metals, their alignment qualities seem a touch vague.
We asked Lee Miller of “FEEL” Golf why we were experiencing such diverse reactions between the two sets. He said that the only satisfactory explanation he had from pros and testers was that the Gun Metals were “slipperier”. That is a positive statement when it comes to club design terminology. It means that the head experiences less resistance going through grass and dirt. “Slipperier” makes the club more maneuverable through impact when working the ball.
So, with all of the above influences going on, it’s tough to tell just what is doing what with the Competitor blades. Trajectories are virtually identical with both irons, but our testers seem to have more confidence in the Gun Metals. Being more relaxed, they seem to hit marginally better patterns with these blades, both in terms of length and accuracy. The newer, tackier grips of the Gun Metals may have a subtle influence on performance for some, but overall, we do not think that that is particularly relevant. We tried regripping one chrome wedge with a similar velvet grip. It did not do the trick. The Gun Metal wedge was still clearly preferred.
In spite of their like-ability, the Feel Gun Metals will not suit every blade fancier, however. The Mizuno MP-33’s hit higher, softer shots and have a mellower, sweeter feel. They have a more rounded leading edge and are less apt to take deep divots. The MP-33’s are not quite as stable, but may be better inclined towards working the ball for many players. They are gentler, more elegant irons that inspire finesse. The Mizunos have less of a dynamic quality to them, however. Also, they are less effective from thick rough than the Gun Metals and, being forged, they are less durable.
The Cleveland TA-1 GunMetals have a very similar size, shape and look to the Feels. Both can be highly enjoyable to play. In direct comparison, the Clevelands hit lower and hotter trajectories than the Feels. They are a more aggressive blade that can be prone to draws and hooks. Total distances can be a half of a club longer with the Clevelands, but dispersion patterns have been much wider. The TA-1’s lack the stability and consistent predictability of the Feels. They are less friendly for most testers. Similar conclusions are generally apt as regards comparison to the Hogan Apex’s. Ballflights are longer, lower and hotter. Feel is sweetly solid with the Hogans, but the friendly predictability is not there to the same extent. For looks though, nothing beats the Hogans.
The great-looking Golfsmith Pro Forged blades have proven to be as stable as the Feel Gun Metals, but they seem to be heavier and more aggressive. They are marginally less friendly and tend to be better suited to rippers – hard swingers and deep divot takers. In direct comparison, the Golfsmiths have hit slightly stronger, longer trajectories. While the feel of the Golfsmiths is rock-solid, it lacks some of the enjoyable crispness of the Feels.
Every member of our crew who has had a chance to play both versions of the Competitors has preferred the Gun Metals. Once an eye accustoms itself to seeing the ball set up behind a dark, gunmetal finish, it becomes difficult to return to the chrome versions. This new finish has elevated the Feel Competitor from a respected and appreciated iron into the category of Much Loved. We have eleven sets of blades, six of which receive regular or semi-regular play. The Gun Metals, along with the Mizuno MP-33’s, are the most favored. Both cross the line and inspire enough confidence in non-blade users to make them want to play blades full time.