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TaylorMade SLDR Driver Review
It’s August 9, meaning TaylorMade’s SLDR driver is here, after a briefer period of hype and Tour promotion than we are used to seeing from the TMaG marketing machine. If you’re a golfer who bought into the advertising blitz earlier this and picked up an R1 or a RocketBallz Stage 2 at the beginning of the year, I can’t blame you for being perplexed at this move. We’d been told these were the next big thing. What gives?
The answer is probably simple economics: golf club sales have declined this year, due to a long winter, and TaylorMade lost a little of the market share they snagged from the competition following last years’ spectacular sales of RocketBallz; the company pulled in 52 percent of the market in that category last year, a staggeringly high number that had to come down sooner or later. TaylorMade responded to slow growth early in the season by dropping prices on drivers $50, and then another $50 a month or so later. They further juiced sales by introducing a black-crowned R1 driver in July, and the next logical step was to offer something entirely new to generate another sales bump. In some shape or form, this mid-season lineup change is in response to Callaway, who made a nice little go at the No. 1 Driver Company in Golf this year. Callaway didn’t come close to toppling the king in terms of market share, but they closed the gap significantly in terms of the performance and, just as importantly, marketing of their metalwoods, in particular the RAZR Fit Xtreme driver and the X Hot fairway woods.
Did TaylorMade really come out with SLDR just for a marginal payday and to stick a thumb in the eye of their rival, without actually bothering to put out a, ya know, better product? Actually, no. TaylorMade’s marketing materials have touted three claims: the longest distance ever (longer than that dinosaur, the R1!), lower spin, and revolutionary adjustability.
These “longest ever” claims are starting to feel pretty shopworn, and I think they have reached a point of diminishing return as the average customer starts to tune them out, after hearing it product cycle after product cycle. Golfers should be skeptical: for balls hit on or near the sweet spot, manufacturers have nearly uniformly reached the maximum level of energy transfer (known as COR) from club to ball allowed by the USGA. The size of the actual effective hitting area continues to incrementally improve, but at this point, if you’re not consistently hitting on or near the sweet spot, another few millimeters aren’t going to be the difference-maker, and you’ve got bigger problems than gaining a couple extra yards on the small number of well-struck balls you hit a round.
Here’s where the second claim of “lower spin”, probably the least-noticed of the three, comes into play. Lowering spin is really one of the last frontiers for manufacturers to improve performance of their drivers that doesn’t revolve around adjustability. If you can lower the spin rate of the ball in flight, you’ve accomplished several things: you’ve somewhat straightened out the banana curve of a hook or slice; prevented the ball from ballooning upward, instead of outward, at its peak trajectory; and increased the amount of rollout you’ll get after the ball hits the ground. Those last two points, by the way, actually will increase your distance. Some Tour players and low-handicappers do prefer high spin, because they can actually use it to control and shape shots; most golfers, however, are not that in tune with their swing, making more spin, in general, a bad thing.
The third claim, “revolutionary adjustability,” is what the SLDR hangs its hat on, because it’s the most visible, what with that shiny blue dial across the sole, and all. Is it revolutionary? Well, the premise of movable weight technology is nothing new for TaylorMade; it’s been a staple of their driver tech since the R5. The “revolutionary” aspect of it, if we insist on calling it that, is that it’s a whole lot easier and more intuitive in the SLDR. Instead of gram-by-gram weight kits and ports in the toe and heel, both of which needed to be changed out to produce the desired result (assuming you knew how they interact with each other), the dial never changes, and it’s got “FADE” and “DRAW” written big and bold on each end, just so there’s no confusion. TaylorMade took the most difficult thing to adjust on the driver and made it the easiest, which is improvement, no matter how you slice it (crappy pun not intended).
In my testing with the club – done at the brand new TaylorMade fitting studio at 2nd Swing Minneapolis – I found a compelling case to be made for the last two claims: lower spin rates and meaningful adjustability. (A little background: I play at a 15 cap, but that’s mainly due to abhorrent mid- and long-irons play; off the tee and around the greens I’m usually better than my handicap would suggest. With the driver I typically have a slight fade, which can turn into an “is that OB over there?” kind of fade if I’m not feeling it that day.) I started by hitting a few shots with my gamer, a 2008 Tour Burner, which turned out very average for me: average distance of about 240, with about 5 yards of fade and a spin rate of 2200. I switched over to the SLDR and put the setting all the way to fade, just to see what would happen: in five shots, my effective distance actually went down by about 10 yards to around 230, while the bend of my fade skyrocketed to 25 yards and the spin numbers also increased significantly, to around 2700. If I had this club in the bag I’m not sure I’d ever put it to this setting, and I promptly switched it back to neutral weighting.
Back in neutral, the differences between the SLDR and the club I’ve been hitting for five years were practically imperceptible to me. Seriously, aside from a slightly larger look at address and the sliver of chrome at the back of the crown, the SLDR didn’t look, feel, or play any different; my numbers went right back to almost exactly average for me. At this point I was feeling a little skeptical, but I slid it into Draw for the final part of the test and that’s when things got very interesting for me.
My initial impression in the draw setting was that I felt like I could see the face angle close down a little bit, but it might have just been that I was thinking “draw,” at this point – I can’t be sure. In the five shots I took with this setting I didn’t hit one fade, not one. Of course, that’s exactly what I should have expected, but that slight fade is probably the most dependable part of my game, and it had shown up consistently for the first 20 swings of my session, so I was pretty surprised, in fact. Three of the five shots were baby draws, and two were full-on half-fairway benders, for an average of 10 yards of draw on those shots. Significantly, I hit my four longest drives of the session on this setting, averaging about 247 yards, with a long of 255. What was happening? My spin rates had plummeted to an average of about 1400, almost a thousand RPM’s less than my gamer!
The three distinct shot shapes I was getting out of the SLDR’s dial weighting impressed me much more than the 7 yards of distance I gained in the ideal setting. Plus, it was really easy to change – it took about 5 seconds to switch weighting, compared to a minute or so with the replaceable-weight drivers of the past, meaning you might actually feel like it’s worthwhile to do it when you encounter a shot you want to make. Overall, I think the SLDR is a worthy offering, with significant differentiation from anything else in the TMaG product line, especially for a mid-season addition.
What are your thoughts on the new TaylorMade SLDR Driver? Leave me your comments!