The legions of Ping fans throughout the world were all abuzz about the arrival of the Ping i3s. The Ping Zings were fine for some, but were a disappointment to many of the Ping Eye 2 devotees. The large, overly forgiving heads of the Zings might have performed as well as their predecessors, but the feel was not there. The Ping iSi irons gathered back in some of the old luster, but not enough to suit True Believers. Well, Ping set out to reconcile that situation and our testing to date has indicated that they have made a very large step in the right direction. More than a few of our testers have expressed great fondness for the i3′s, but, so far, not the intense love that was formerly bestowed upon the Eye 2′s. It is a kind of fondness that may grow into love, however.
In our testing to date the new Pings have demonstrated a decidedly different feel from the Zings and iSi’s, but some similarities remain. The Blades (which really aren’t) have a blade-like feel that provides substantial feedback. The O-Size (which stands for Optimum, not Oversize) have a decidedly solid, pleasant feel while retaining a good bit of the feel present in the Blade. Reports from around the globe are positive for the i3′s. (They are currently the third best selling irons in the world) We like them a great deal as well. They hit with authority – high and long. But, as with all Ping products, they have a personality that is uniquely their own. They are hard to pigeon-hole.
All testers like the way the i3 irons feel in the hands and set up at address. The jury is still out on their accuracy, however. They are heavy irons with very low swingweights. It takes a while for some hitters to zone in and get them consistently online. The shape of the head is a bit vague, but some white score lines have been added to help in alignment. One mid-handicapper fell instantly in love with the feel and look of the i3′s, but after sustained hitting we had to force him to acknowledge what he had been reluctant to admit – his shot patterns were all over the place. They were the least accurate of all irons he had hit this season so far. While some other testers have recorded similar erratic patterns, not all have. One pro found them to be much more accurate than the Apex Plus’s, the EVO 31′s and his own set of DCI 990′s. We had him purposely hit a series of intentional toe and heel shots. The results were impressive; fall-off and deviation were negligible. Even with intentional mishits, his patterns were superior to those of the other three irons mentioned above. All testers have found them to be more than adequately forgiving.
As to the feel: It is distinctive. The Cushin shaft inserts provide a good bit of damping to feedback. The irons feel extremely solid at impact, but the “click” of the ball coming off the face is actually more of a “cluck”. There are those who prefer this feel, but most have found it a touch dead or dull feeling – solid, but soft. We’re not sure that an insert-free shaft might not be preferable in the i3′s.
More hitting has to be done, but it is apparent that there’s a lot of good, new, innovative stuff engineered into the i3s. Towering shots have been common so far – high and long – higher than their strong lofts would indicate. Most testers have found it easy to hit booming trajectories with ease. This is doubtlessly due to the new Power Pod located center-low on the back of the heads. It should be noted that “booming” and “high” are meant to be positive descriptions of ball flights. “Ballooning” does not occur.
Workability has not been as good as the rival irons being tested, however. It’s not bad with the Pings; it’s just not as good as with the fine EVO’s and Apex’s. The short irons, in particular, feel much more like “game improvement cavity-backs” than “players’ irons” – more Zing-like than Eye2-like. Only Ping fans will feel as though they can work delicate, little approach shots with an O-Size PW or 9-iron. One of the nice things about the new Tommy Armour designs is the exceptional feel and agility incorporated into their blade-like, short irons.
The EVO stands for “evolving cavity-back”. Two of our testers are currently playing the O-Size as their iron of choice, but both substitute other short irons into the set. Both find, as others have, that the O-Size long irons particularly easy to hit. From a tee, the O-Size long irons make for very user-friendly and accurate driving irons. The light swingweights allow the heads to “catch up” to swings that lag too much with normal swingweights. The power pod cavity-backs add good punch to the hits and pronounced amounts of forgiveness.
This head design picks the ball up easily from most lies. But, from the heavy rough, the light swingweight and relatively flat, non-cambered sole make the golfer pay a price. Other new irons we have tested recently have been much more efficient at extracting balls from the thick stuff. The Ping can get the job done, but effort has to be exerted. These aren’t going to pop the ball out of there like many of the new, heavy-sole irons. Stronger players should have no problem, however. This is a factor to be considered by those playing courses with heavy fringe grasses.
The i3 Blades are geared more towards being “players’ irons”. The differences are visually quite minor, but they do manifest themselves in improved feel and workability in the Blades for low handicappers. There is less bounce, a thinner topline, a shallower cavity and less offset. Lofts, lies and lengths are the same. These two i3 irons are very similar and some players actually mix sets using the more user-friendly O-Size for their long irons.
- PING i3 O-Size Irons
- JZ steel w/ Cushin inserts, regular
- Swingweights C 8.5, 5-iron weight 431gr
Side by side comparisons between the two reveal exactly the differences intended by Ping. The “Blades” are more blade-like even though they are very real cavity-backs. They feel slightly firmer and are more maneuverable. Working the ball is easier and forgiveness is less on mishits. In both the strong lofts are offset by the low weight distribution of the head design. Shots are high. The O-Size will be the preferred by most players. Both come with a huge number of customizable variations.
Every single tester has used the word “solid” to describe the Ping O-Size irons – solid feeling, solid looking and solid shotmaking. They do definitely have their own sort of charm and lovability about them.