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2nd Look: TaylorMade SLDR Driver Review
TaylorMade must have reached an interesting conclusion when deciding to release the new SLDR driver, “Maybe if we made it simpler and less ‘Techie’ we’ll capture more golfers.” If you currently own their R1 driver (white or black models), then you know what I mean. At last count, there must be a thousand different setting options; setting up the R1 was like ordering at Starbucks: 9.5 degree, medium-open, 10g weight on the heel, with a non-fat 70 gram UST Mamiya VTS TourSPX 75X Red shaft and 1/8 over build on the Golf Pride Decade grip (Black and Gold, please). While golf geeks like myself can spend all day on the range playing with the variables, many golfers who are forking over $400 for the new TaylorMade SLDR driver are more likely looking for the “set it and forget it” set-up. They want to hit it far and straight. They want to know that that mis-hits will still keep the ball in play, for the most part.
I must admit, TaylorMade has done a pretty good job. Less is more with the SLDR.
Mizuno first came out with sliding weights back in 2007, but TaylorMade improved the concept. While Mizuno’s set-up for the moving weights were toward the back the club head, TaylorMade moved the sliding weight system closer to the face of the head, allowing the golfer to still create high launch/low spin conditions that made the first movable weight drivers from TaylorMade so famous. Instead of two movable weights (10g and 1g) the engineers produced a single blue weight coming in at 20g. Moving the weight up and down and locking it in allowed for 21 different CG (center of gravity) locations. This also creates lower CG and better launch conditions than the R1. While not being the all-in-one lofted driver like the R1, the SLDR did keep their Loft Sleeve Technology (the newer version of Flight Control Technology) which allows the loft to be moved up or down 1.5 degrees. So your 9.5 driver could go down to an 8 degree driver or up to an 11 degree bringer of rain (it will hit it high…). The head is large, 460cc in volume, but does not look that way when setting up and looking at it. The face of the club is deep so there is a large hitting area allowing for mis-hits. The stock shaft is the re-engineered Fujikura Speeder 57. The SLDR TP version will carry the Speeder Tour Spec 6.3 Shaft. Your authorized TaylorMade dealer should also be able to provide you with multiple shaft options. If you already own an R1 driver and use one of their premium shafts, you can pair it with the SLDR head. The adapter sleeve works for both models, which is a nice feature. I have read conflicting reports on this, but my sources say it is possible.
TaylorMade was smart and avoided making the “crazy” claims from their RBZ models that a golfer would “gain 17 more yards” (although they were not far from the truth). But they did state that with simpler bottom of the club (I would call it less busy) and having the adjustable weight moved to the front of the club, combined with an even lower CG than the R1, most golfers should expect 1-5 MPH faster club head speeds. This adds up to longer distance pretty quickly. While I personally am not ready to declare the SLDR as the ‘Longest Driver on the Market”, I will say that the ball does travel well and seemingly far at the local driving range.
Accuracy and Forgiveness
This is where TaylorMade really excelled. I compared two other drivers, the R1 and the Ping G25 drivers, to the SLDR in my testing. It wasn’t even close. Ten drives with each club and the SLDR spray pattern was much narrower than either the R1 or the G25. Drives hit on the heel or toe still supplied decent distance and less spin. In fact, while speaking with other testers of the SLDR, they commented that the spin rate was almost non-existent. Like in the 1700-1800 range…when most drivers with low spin rates are more around the 2200 range (these numbers are also dependent on the golfer and how well they square the clubface at impact). I even had one tester tell me he thought the ball “knuckled” off the head with such a low spin rate. I did not see any knucklers on the balls I hit, so the very low spin rates kept my drive grouping very tight. This one factor can easily sway a golfer looking for a straighter driver.
Launch and Spin
As mentioned above, the SLDR produces a very low spin rate. Other testers have mentioned that increasing the loft .5 degrees brings the spin rate up enough to where the better golfer can work the ball more to their preferred ball flight. Those of us who like the straight ball will like the launch angles created when hitting drives with the SLDR. I found the SLDR produced a slightly lower launch angle than the G25 so I was able to gain extra roll on my drives.
For the past couple of years TaylorMade has made their splash coming out with drivers, fairways woods, and hybrids with white as the main color. Then TaylorMade started adding more graphics. So much so, that the consumer and touring pros complained about all the extra “stuff” on the R1 that TaylorMade was forced to come out with the R1 in black (May 2013). No problem with white here…the top is a charcoal-grey with a lighter grey section in back. I could do without the “Chrome Button Back” as TaylorMade’s marketing department has declared it, but I think it has more to do with identifying the club when viewers see players using the club on TV. I would have preferred more of a matted grey; you can see my reflection on the club. But, I like the look of the head and it was very easy to set up at address.
Here is another area where TaylorMade improved. The R1 and the G25 are so hollow that many drives produced ear-ringing noises. In the case of the R1, adding so many options to the club added a lot of weight to the head, so it needed to be hollow. With a simpler design and fewer moving parts, the SLDR head is very solid and produced a muted thud at impact. After so many years with hollow heads, it was nice to not have to wear earplugs while teeing off. I was skeptical about pairing this new club head with the Fujikura brand for a stock shaft. For my game, I have found that Fujikura shafts tend to be a tip-stiff and don’t give me the right feedback. But I have to say, I found the vibration at impact to be very similar to the Mitsubishi Diamana shafts I tend to prefer (on a side note, when the hell did I become a shaft snob?). The Fujikura shaft is also less than 60g so the golfer will easily be able to feel the weight of the club head. The stock grip is a Golf Pride Tour Velvet. You’ll want to change that to the grip of your preference since I found the grip already slipping after a steady number of drives.
Let’s face it: TaylorMade has been the number #1 driver on the market for a number of years now. There is a very good reason for that. They have engineers always thinking out of the box and then coming back with either something new or re-imagined. The SLDR head was being sketched as far back as 2002. It took until now for the technology to catch up to the sketches. As a golfer, you can still utilize the adjustability you want, but it’s simpler, takes less time (nothing physically comes off when adjusting the weight so nothing to lose), and sounds better when hit. Low spin rates keep the ball from veering too far off course on mis-hits, but a lower CG creates better launch angles for improved flight and distance. The standard SLDR retails for $399.99 and TP versions are $499.99. I believe TaylorMade has a winner in this driver and one that will benefit golfers of all skill levels.