Above all, better golfers prize precision in their irons, but what every player needs is a little forgiveness. The Nike Vapor Pro Combo irons offer a near-perfect marriage between the control of a player’s iron and the forebearance offered by one built for game improvement.
The entire Vapor line of irons features a concept Nike Golf calls “Modern Muscle” design — the redistribution of weighting within the club head to optimize workability and distance, which was the brainchild of Mike Taylor, master model maker at Nike Golf, and Tiger Woods. The two noticed a wear pattern on Woods’s irons that was more toe-centered despite the fact that the center of gravity was closer to the hosel. Taylor’s solution was to add tungsten weights to the toes of Woods’s clubs, who instantly observed improved feel and consistency.
Over the next few years, Taylor and the Nike design team moved forward with the idea of toe-biased weighting and enlisted one of the company’s greatest R+D assets to develop a new line of irons: its staff athletes. “We asked questions regarding preferences for shape, head size, finishing, current product feedback, as well as many other attributes of clubs,” says Taylor. “It seems like the more we engage the players, the more detailed these discussions can become over time.” But in order to gain the most from players like Woods or Rory McIlroy, who are hyper-sensitive to even the most minute changes, it pays to have the ideas take physical form. “Having prototypes for them to actually comment on or test is critical in my opinion,” Taylor says.
While McIlroy wasn’t with Nike at the inception of the development, the world’s best player instantly began weighing in on the process. “I felt like the first prototype iron that I hit, it was almost too good, too hot,” says McIlroy. Unlike the rest of us mere mortals, McIlroy thought the ball was going too far. “It’s going to be a little difficult for me to trust that I can hit a 7-iron in 200 yards or so,” he says. “It was more trying to customize it to my feel,” he said. “Because I hit the ball far enough.” McIlroy was more interested in the feedback he gets from a solid strike. “When you hit these things in the middle of the club face, it feels different, which is a great thing,” he says. “Obviously, the guys at the Oven (Nike Golf’s R+D headquarters) and the development team have worked hard to try to bring the center of gravity more towards the middle of the face, and you can definitely feel the difference.”
He’s right. The difference is immediately perceivable, even to a player of a lesser caliber. Irons are all about precision, maximizing control over the golf ball, and knocking it close. As McIlroy said, hitting a 200-plus-yard 7-iron is less useful than knowing precisely where your ball is headed, which is something these irons let you know as soon as you’ve made a strike. Nike designed the set with progressive blade lengths and sole widths to increase forgiveness with club length. The long irons (2-7) also feature lightweight RZN inserts, Nike’s tradeark for a polymer set in the center of the club head that allows more weight to be relocated to the perimeter of the head. The change in weighting helps generate faster ball speeds and higher trajectory. The short irons (8-W) employ a shallow cavity back for increased control and precision.
We tested the Vapor Pro Combo irons at Bermuda’s Port Royal, Riddell’s Bay and Turtle Hill Golf Club, as well as Neshanic Valley Golf Course in New Jersey. While we enjoyed a modest increase in distance, what caught our attention was the fantastic response. The sound and sensation at impact are substantially improved over last year’s VRS Forged Pro Combo set, which was also quite good. The small blade shape inspires players’ creativity and the clubs’ style will have golfers clamoring for an emergency nine, even as a single. After each shot, we found the clubs shockingly easy to control — both shape and trajectory — and merciful when our swing was less than perfect. Now, if only our putter was so magnanimous.
[$1,099; available for pre-order at nike.com]