As I predicted in my review of the Callaway Steelhead XR irons, there is now a Pro version of the re-imagined Steelhead irons. From those original models it was the X-12 and X-14 Pro Series that really stood out so I was full of anticipation for what the 2017 version would be like.
As you can see they have gone to the dark side with a black PVD finish that could divide opinion. Some will think it looks sleek, but most better players I have shown this to are not over-enthusiastic about the colour.
It's probably going to wear over time and I am not sure that this is the right finish for this market, especially if you want to blend the XR Pro with the standard chrome Steelhead XR irons in a single set.
When it comes to dimensions, the length of the Pro heads are pretty similar, which is a little bit of a surprise as I was expecting something more compact.
The top line looks thinner at address and it is, just, but most of this is an optical illusion because the back of the top edge of the Pro iron has been bevelled off and has a gloss finish to contrast with the matte in front of it.
There are other subtle differences too, with slightly less offset on the Pro model that becomes more noticeable in the longer irons.
There is also one less groove on the face at the bottom of the XR Pro and they are all the same colour, which sadly loses the white alignment paint from the bottom grooves of the XR.
The back of cavity on the standard iron also features more weight in the heel and toe sections, whereas the Pro goes for a clear curved trailing edge with a slight bevel on it to keep the weight back, but again not looking as deep as the standard Steelhead XR.
The standard irons lofts are also 1° stronger and the shafts in the 3 to 6-irons are progressively longer so if you are comparing the two, bear this in mind. This set up seems to indicate that the Pro version is designed for players who have higher swing speeds and don't need as much forgiveness or help to launch the ball.
Going up through the set, the P wedge felt pretty good for a cavity back set and gave a 'tingy' sort of feel without a 'tingy' sort of sound if you know what I mean. It is quite strong at 45° so you will need to watch the gap to the next club in your bag or go for the 50° A wedge.
The XR Pro 8-iron is where you start to notice a difference in the cavity as it seems less undercut than the XR where the steel infused polyurethane 'snubber' sits to modify the CG and the feel from the club as I found out on Skytrak
Performance wise there was not a lot in it once you allow for the slightly different club head speeds, which I would put down to the stock True Temper XP 105 Stepless steel shaft of the XR Pro suiting my swing better.
You can see that the Pro version spins less, which is what I would expect from a head with a slightly shallower cavity back.
The 6-iron is where the Pro starts to have noticeably more offset and the cavity looks shallower even if it is pretty similar depth front to back.
Having the weight higher in the cavity is what will raise the CG and give it that lower spinning flight than the standard XR. The XR Pro 6-iron still had a very cavity back feel, but sounded a bit less ‘clicky’ than the standard model and gave a good powerful, mid to high flight.
Finally on to the 4-iron which was a bit of a rocket launcher in the XR and in the XR Pro it also gives a high powerful flight that was pretty similar on numbers.
Despite that longer XR shaft, the faster ball speed and slightly lower spin of the XR Pro gave the same distance with a marginally lower flight, but the same clicky sound and feel. However, you might still prefer the XR version for the larger offset and thicker top line as it could be a great driving iron from the tee.
Maybe I was expecting too much from the Steelhead XR Pro as I looked back fondly through rose tinted glasses at the X-12 Pro Series irons of my youth.
It almost seems to be the same chassis as the Steelhead XR with a slightly different weight distribution, less offset and a few optical illusions to make it look a little slimmer than it actually is.
This is OK in some respects as better players want forgiveness too and if it is masked, then fine, but the performance is so similar that the XR Pro almost becomes a personal preference choice.
If Callaway were going to target the high single figure market with a fast, forgiving iron like the XR Pro, then I would expect something that was a little more compact that did not sacrifice too much forgiveness and sounds and feels better.
That type of iron is pretty close to what the more expensive Callaway Apex CF 16 is, which you can also get in chrome or black. However that is forged and just like the forged cavity back irons from other brands, will deliver similar forgiveness and performance in a better looking chrome package.
As a standalone iron the Steelhead XR Pro is a decent club, but put in context with the rest of Callaway range and the market, it seems a bit unsure of its place. Unless you have a preference for black coloured irons then you could save yourself £100 by going for the standard Steelhead XR and getting all the speed and forgiveness you need from them.