As golfers, we often think designing new clubs is easy. Come up with a new technology or a new material, give it a new paint job and a new name and... bingo!
However, when the preceding model was used to win more than 30 professional events in the past three years and heralded as one of the best irons in company history, coming up with a new version can be, well... challenging.
That was precisely the challenge Ping faced as they set about designing and testing the new S55 irons to take over from the successful Ping S56 irons.
When the new design had two-time Masters Champion, Bubba Watson switching irons for the first time in nine years, as well as the likes of Hunter Mahan and Miguel Angel Jimenez, I know it was certainly worthy of my attention.
The first thing that grabbed my attention was the looks. It seems a lot of irons on the market these days attempt to grab your attention with bright or bold colours, materials and branding, but the S55s' simple looks give you the impression they've come straight from the factory floor and have been designed specifically for better players and golf purists.
The modern, clean, soft-edged, steel look of the S55s sit very impressively in your bag and will definitely have your playing partners reaching for a waggle and a gander.
Put the club behind the ball and you are again reminded that these are irons for players looking to break par, i.e. they are very compact. I repeat, very compact.
The look at address is again very clean and smooth, with Ping choosing to add less offset in the S55s than the i25, Anser or previous S56 irons. The lack of offset is more noticeable in the longer irons, but certainly gives the entire set a sharp, better-player look.
Despite the new looks on the shelf, the S55s maintain a very distinct, love-them-or-hate-them Ping look. However, with minimal offset and an understated finish I am confident that most low handicap players would have nothing but admiration for the looks. Personally, I found the shorter irons a little square at address, but that didn't take away from the performance.
We all know golf clubs need more than shelf appeal and my dad always taught me not to judge a book by its cover, so what about the performance?
One of the key improvements Ping wanted to make with the S55 was to give it a slightly softer feel. The construction, like almost all Ping irons is cast, which tends to make them slightly firmer off the face when compared to softer, forged irons. Having received feedback from Tour players, they set about making changes to the head to make it feel and sound softer.
For me "softness" in an iron is a funny concept. I often find the feel and strength of impact on a game-improvement iron to be softer and more comfortable than that of a blade or better-player iron. Thus, the S55 felts strong to me, but not necessarily soft. They did offer more feedback in my hands than any previous Ping cast iron, and I think that is what Ping were looking for.
So how exactly did they do it? Answer, a new CTP.
The CTP or Custom Tuning Port, located in the back of the clubhead, is larger and made from a new thermoplastic elastomer. It can now handle vibrations better, caused when a player strikes the ball.
Compared to the Ping i25 irons, the S55s felt slightly stronger and sharper into the ground, taking a divot more easily. The S55s may not be as buttery soft as those old-school blades we all wish we could hit, but they struck a good balance between forgiveness and feel, especially in the mid and short irons, which we all know isn't easy to do.
With more mass being taken up by the CTP, Ping were able to take and move more of the weight in the clubhead to toe, heel and perimeter of the head and that means more forgiveness. To further enhance MOI, or forgiveness, Ping included a Tungsten weight in the toe, much like the one seen in the S56 model, masked by the Ping branding on the head.
All that weight relocation and addition has moved the centre of gravity on the S55s a touch lower and deeper than before, although it is hard to believe considering the small, thin size of the clubhead. That new CG position is what offers the S55s a slightly higher ball flight, again a request from Ping's Tour staff.
Whilst I didn't notice a massive increase in height, I did have to remind myself that these are very much better-player irons and for that reason the height the ball was flying was probably mid-to-high for that range, especially in the 6, 7 and 8 iron.
Catch a long iron sweetly and you're guaranteed to get that same, powerful, high flight, however they are not the most generous long irons. Thin soles, compact heads and thin toplines certainly challenged my ball-striking prowess. Despite enjoying the shots I strike cleanly, I have to say the 3, 4 and 5 irons were a little too much club for my game/swing.
Having made various changes to improve launch and forgiveness, Ping chose to alter the lofts in the S55 set to ensure effective distance gapping. Interestingly the S55 4-iron is now 0.25° weaker than the S56 model, whilst the 6-iron through PW have been strengthened by as much as 1.5°.
I've read reports that say that the S55's new design should improve distance by 3-5 yards per club. To be perfectly honest, I found it hard to gauge if I was gaining in-line with those numbers however I did them extremely consistent and fun to shape and flight up and down.
The thin sole certainly played very close to Ping's sharp, thin Anser irons, and didn't provide the same help and forgiveness through the turf as the i25 or G25 irons. That again speaks to the player these irons are geared towards, i.e. competent ball strikers.
Ultimately these haven't been designed to "guarantee x yards more per club", they have been designed to offer better players and Tour players a complete, consistent, responsive Ping iron. And if that was the goal Ping had, they passed with flying colours in my opinion.
At more than £800 for a 4-PW set I am disappointed that some players could be ruled out by that price tag and won't be able to enjoy what Ping has created. With previous success on the Tour with the S range, my guess is Ping had their Tour players in mind with the S55 design. You certainly need to be a competent ball striker to get the most for the design, but the added height and feel will be a joy to those players.
Excuse the price tag and you will be hard pressed to find a low-handicap player that wouldn't fall in love with these irons.