What I learned getting fit for Callaway’s Paradym Ai Smoke irons | ClubTest 2024
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TESTER: Josh Berhow (Managing Editor) | 14.1 HCP
THE GOAL: To find a forgiving iron to improve my mishits without compromising distance.
THE LOWDOWN: I made my inaugural trip to the Ely Callaway Performance Center last year, when I checked out the new Paradym line and was fit for some lovely, high-performing new gear. That driver is still in my bag; as is the 3-wood and 5-wood, the latter a club that’s quickly become my favorite for its ability to fly far and launch high. The hybrid I added has been big, too, giving me more flexibility from a troublesome distance.
This time, I returned to the ECPC in November to check out the newest of the new — the Callaway Paradym Ai Smoke line, which officially launched earlier this month. My colleague Tim Reilly covered everything you need to know about the Ai Smoke drivers, fairway woods and hybrids (check out the video below), so I’m going to take you through what it was like testing the Ai Smoke irons line (with a bonus blurb on the new Odyssey Ai-One and Ai-One Milled putters).
THE FITTING PROCESS: For the second straight year, I hit balls into the cool, crisp San Diego air under the watchful eye of Gerritt Pon, a senior club performance analyst for Callaway. This time, though, I had the shanks. Sigh. I was on the far end of the range warming up before the fitting and holding back tears as I hoseled one 9-iron after another. Long story longer: I was stuck in between two common misses I have. My ball flight — or lack thereof — told me I needed to have my hands at A instead of B, but when I tried to fix it things got worse. Anyway, after hitting a few squirrelly shots in front of Pon, I eventually found a bit of a rhythm. Now, on to the fitting…
My Fitted Gear
Irons: The Paradym Ai Smoke line has three iron sets: Ai Smoke, Ai Smoke HL and Ai Smoke Max Fast. These are all game-improvement sets, but that doesn’t mean you should write them off if you are a low handicap (especially the Ai Smoke). Many pros even use split sets, electing for more forgiveness over workability with some long irons.
But the moral of the story here is these irons are going to fit well with a lot of games and make a ton of golfers better. The entire Ai Smoke line focuses on its Ai Smart Face technology. Using swing data from thousands of golfers — including things such as swing speed, club path and face angle at impact — Callaway’s engineers created a face for max distance and even tighter dispersion. A new Dynamic Sole Design has a pre-worn leading edge to create better contact and more forgiveness.
At least that’s what some of the PR speak will tell you. But it definitely checks out after testing.
The Ai Smoke Max Fast are for players with slower to moderate swing speeds, so that set I didn’t test, but they might really help an aging golfer who is losing swing speed and distance and hoping to get some of it back.
The Ai Smoke HL are for players with moderate to average swing speeds searching for a higher launch (that’s what the “HL” stands for) and more forgiveness. Like the Max Fast, these have deep cavity backs. I tested these, and I hit them well, but I hit them really high. That’s the point, yes, so I can assure you the High Launch is no joke. But for someone who already has a bit of a higher-launching ball flight, it seemed a little more than what was necessary for my game.
That leads us to the Ai Smoke, the game-improvement option for the player with an average-to-fast swing speed. A handy comparison chart on Callaway’s website will help you figure out which might be best for your game, but the description for the Ai Smoke says it is ideal for a player who “typically hits the ball high and is looking for more distance and tighter dispersion.” That’s me!
The results proved it, too. I eventually found a groove and was hitting shot after shot with crisp contact and an ideal ball flight. Misses weren’t penalized, either. We hit a few different irons and checked out the dispersion afterward and, despite an annoying shank here or there, it was tight. Game on.
I also liked the profile of the Ai Smoke — a modern hollow-body with a slightly longer blade length and thinner topline — which at address looks smaller than a typical game-improvement iron but bigger than a butter-knife blade. More importantly, it gave me the confidence I needed standing over the ball. The Smoke Ai was the clear winner for me.
“This is the aspirational profile in the lineup,” said Brian Williams, Callaway’s VP of R&D. “It has a thinner sole and topline for a clean hollow-body look that we’re seeing players gravitate towards these days.”
The Ai Smoke irons will be available for purchase on Feb. 9. You can pre-order them here or below.
Callaway Paradym Ai Smoke Custom Irons
Putter: While it wasn’t an official fitting like what we went through with the Ai Smoke drivers, fairway woods, hybrids and irons, we did poke our heads into the epic little putting lab inside the ECPC. There, the room was lined with putters. Dozens of them. Maybe 100. But they mostly consisted of the new Odyssey Ai-One and Ai-One Milled lines, which were unveiled in November.
What makes the Ai-One and Ai-One Milled lines stand out is that engineers leaned on Artificial Intelligence to increase the sweet spot and create an improved insert that minimizes ball-speed losses on off-center hits. The insert in the Ai-One putters is a grooved urethane layer with an aluminum backer, similar to what Odyssey fans might see in a White Hot model. Meanwhile, the Ai-One Milled insert is forged from titanium. Combined with a milled stainless steel head, it offers a more premium feel at impact.
While I toyed with a few, I took an immediate liking to the designs of the Ai-One #7 CH and the Ai-One #7 S, eventually determining that the slant shaft of the Ai-One was a better visual for me when standing over the ball. My putting stroke is an arc motion, and while I wish could tell you the science behind it all, the reality is these types of putters, with some degree of toe hang, are better for my game. I consider myself a good putter, so I’ll take the gear experts’ word for it.
As for important bonus points, I love the navy blue finish to these putters. It’s a slick, eye-catching design that looks luxurious but not too flashy. It’s without question the most esthetically pleasing putter I’ve ever owned.
The majority of the Ai-One and Ai-One Milled designs launched in November, although a couple won’t be available for purchase until February. You can check them out on Fairway Jockey here or below.