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Before the start of the 2022 LPGA season, Lydia Ko found herself looking for new irons to put into play. The 24-year-old New Zealander turned to her trusted clubfitter Mike Kim and asked for some recommendations. Kim, proprietor of Jessy James Golf, a custom clubfitting shop in Orlando, Fla., suggested trying irons from a new and very small Japan-based clubmaker called Proto-Concept.

Some months earlier, Kim received a call from his longtime friend Marcy Kamoda, who for the past 17 years had headed the U.S. operations for the highly-regarded Japanese clubmaker Fourteen. Not long after Fourteen shut down its U.S. operations in 2021, Kamoda was granted sole distribution rights to Proto-Concept’s full line of clubs in the U.S., as well as everywhere outside of Japan.

“I trusted Marcy explicitly,” Kim says. “So, if he said these new clubs were good, I wanted to try them out. In fact, they were great. We found the Proto-Concepts performed the best for [Ko] in terms of consistent spin rates and distance control.”

Ko, a two-time major champion and 17-time LPGA winner, is playing Proto-Concepts without an endorsement contract and had the irons in the bag when she won the Gainbridge LPGA event in Boca Raton, Fla., at the end of January.

The behemoth Japan-based golf retail chain Golf Partner owns Proto-Concept and has teamed with the famed Japanese forging company Endo Mfg. to produce the company’s initial line of clubs. Golf club afficionados around the world revere Endo for its forging process and is known to have produced some of the best sets of irons in the business, for companies that include the old Ben Hogan Company, Nike Golf, Titleist, Srixon and Mizuno.

Ko is using a combo set of forged Proto-Concepts, comprised of the company’s largest and most forgiving C07 model as her 6-iron and the slightly smaller-headed and more workable C05s as her 7 through 9 irons. Each of these clubs features a horizontal pocket cavity on the back of the iron. This allowed designers the leeway to position weight precisely where they wanted it on either side of the irons’ sweet spots for optimal distance, forgiveness and spin control.

The company’s line of irons also include the C01, a classic-looking muscleback blade being played by Ryuji Imada, who is returning to competitive professional golf after a seven-year absence. The C01 is a hollow-forged head casing inserted with a round titanium rod, which the company says enhances feel stability on off-center hits.

"I’ve known Marcy for many years, as I played a set of Fourteen irons when I played regularly on the PGA Tour full-time," says Imada, the PGA Tour’s 2008 AT&T Classic winner. “I really trust Marcy, so I was eager to try these irons.

“What I found was that these blades are as forgiving as the cavity-back irons I used to play, and I was also able to hit the 5-iron well up in the air and stop it close to where it hits on the green. This is all I want from my irons."

The company also offers C03 irons, a compact pocket cavity back forged out of the softest carbon steel of all the clubs. Regardless of the model played, the clubs have an almost identical top line, which makes individualizing a combo set easier. 

Proto-Concept is in the high-end golf club market at $370 per iron and will compete with brands such as Miura, Honma and PXG. Proto-Concept also makes drivers, fairway metals and hybrids.

Proto-Concept clubs can be purchased through individual club builders and repair shops or through clubfitters Cool Clubs and True Spec.