I review a number of clubs on this site throughout the year, and while I offer my opinion on how one club performs among the others, I’ve not had the opportunity to test two clubs against each other head-to-head.
Luckily, and with the help of my friend/golf coach Greg Baresel at Cantigny Golf in Wheaton, IL, I had the chance to do just that. The first two clubs thrown into the ring? The new Nike VR Forged Pro Combo irons and the PING S55 irons.
The Nike VR Forged Pro Combo irons are designed for the mid-to-low handicap golfer in mind. The longer irons are constructed with a muscle-back design while the shorter irons are closer to blades. They hit store shelves in November, 2013.
The PING S55 irons are cast clubs with a forged iron feel. Released in late Summer 2013, these clubs are also meant for mid-to-low handicap golfers and are blade-like in appearance. Compared to the Nike clubs, the lofts on the PING’s are slightly stronger in degree.
I am a 9-handicap golfer.
To conduct my test, I hit the same number of golf balls off a driving range mat while being monitored by a Trackman ball launch monitor. The temperature for this winter day was 32 degrees, so the golf balls would fly about a full club-and-a-half shorter than normal. Luckily, Trackman has a “normalize” function that coverts any readings into what they would be on a 75-degree day.
I chose three clubs from each set — a 5-iron, 7-iron, and pitching wedge — and all clubs had stock steel shafts (stiff flex) and stock lie, loft and length.
To keep it simple, the metrics I was concerned with were distance and flight pattern. If something monumental in spin rate or other stats jumped out, Greg would keep me informed, however I would not make my final judgement based on those “extras”.
No other swing analysis or assistance was offered during the test.
In terms of feel, the Nike VR Forged Pro Combo irons and PING S55 irons were very similar. Both “felt” like forged clubs (despite the cast design of the PING’s) and were similar in forgiveness. I found the latter to be surprising, especially since the PING’s did not feature the same “hefty” muscle behind the clubface like the Nike’s. Overall, a golfer of my caliber can’t really tell major differences between the two in terms of feel. (DRAW)
When comparing flight patterns, the PING S55s produced a more penetrating ball flight in comparison to the Nike irons. In fact, the Nike’s often caused my golf ball to “balloon” at the pinnacle of its flight, then die almost straight down. While the PING’s didn’t reach the same height as the Nike’s, I prefer this ball flight overall. (PING)
In terms of distance, the results weren’t even close. The PING S55s routinely performed better than the NIKE VR Forged Pro Combos across the board. For example, while the Nike 7-iron flew my typical 160 – 165 yards, the PING’s flew 170 – 180 yards. Admittedly, most of this difference was likely due to the stronger lofts in the PINGs (which are about 1- to 2-degrees lower than the Nike’s. (PING)
The PING S55 irons out-performed the Nike VR Forged Pro Combos in almost every way. Even while hitting driving range balls on a cold winter day, the differences were clear. While the Nike irons were of a high quality, they were no match for the PING’s.