Written by: Tony Covey
The golf world awoke this morning to a new TaylorMade driver on the USGA's conforming list. If that wasn't enough to create some rampant speculation, TaylorMade also posted a pic on their Facebook feed. A healthy percentage of the early reaction - as it usually is - has been negative...unless I'm misinterpreting things and looking like "Iron Man's ball bag" is actually a good thing.
What we're being told through official channels is that the SLDR is a prototype driver that TaylorMade is working on with a few tour pros. For what it's worth, Tour Prototype is almost always the story when new TaylorMade drivers pop up on the conforming list.
Other sources are telling a lightly more interesting story.
As you're by now most certainly aware, within the last week Callaway announced their new FT Optiforce driver. We're told that Callaway basically hurried the Optiforce into production and release because they wanted to beat TaylorMade to the punch.
I'm not sure that TaylorMade necessarily cares.
While I can't be certain that's 100% true, from my perspective as a media guy, the release of the FT Optiforce certainly felt at best hurried, and at worst, haphazard. Basically, the release sure as hell looked rushed from this side of things.
Our own read on corporate strategy is that Callaway likes to be first, whereas TaylorMade would seem to be content being 2nd, or 3rd, or sometimes even 4th to announce and release new product.
What I am certain of is that nothing kills momentum for a new product quite like a newer product. For now anyway, and assuming the SLDR makes it to retail, TaylorMade has the newer, if only slightly so, product.
As is the case with any equipment release, golfers will no doubt be irate given their perceptions that TaylorMade is yet again flooding the market with drivers. Once the initial anger subsides, we can move on to the 2nd stage, which is to point out any aspect of the design that may have been ripped off from another company.
What The Pictures Tell Us
Based on what we can see, for the TaylorMade SLDR, comparisons to Mizuno's FastTrack Technology are inevitable. Ultimately, does it actually matter who did what first? I'm not so sure anymore.
Worth pointing out is that Mizuno's technology moved weight around the rear perimeter of the golf club, where as the TaylorMade's SLDR is positioned much closer to the face.
Such is the latest trend in driver design. Equipment manufacturers have moved away from placing weight low and and to the rear of the club, and are now trying to move it as close to the face as possible. That certainly would appear to be the case here.
On a related note, TaylorMade's Patent on what I suppose you'd call sliding rail weighting appears to pre-date Mizuno's.
From the photos we can see that there are 16 different positions for the weight, and it should go without saying that we have questions about any real-world impact from shifting the weight from position 6 to position 7 for example.
Saving the debate on the effectiveness of the technology for a later date, the most telling piece of information is perhaps the fact that the driver is clearly stamped 460.
Given that a healthy percentage of TaylorMade Pros generally play smaller heads (and only the 460 model appears on the conforming list), the 460cc model certainly suggests that the SLDR is heading towards a retail shop near you in the not-so-distant future. With Callaway about to drop a new driver on the shelves, I'd suggest it's all but a certainty.
What We Don't Know
That's a long list. We don't know release dates - if there is one (there will be one). We don't know specifications (beyond 460ccs and 16 position SLDR). We don't know stock shaft or performance characteristics. We don't know what new adjusability has been added to the hosel. We don't know the name (SLDR is like the name of the rail-based movable weight system, the greater probability is that the actual name will be something else).
Most of all, we don't know where the hell the SLDR fits in the TaylorMade lineup.
Is the SLDR what TaylorMade is releasing to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their first adjustable driver?
Is the SLDR an ultra-lightweight offering designed to compete directly with FT Optiforce?
Is the SLDR just a new release so TaylorMade can claim a new release?
Or...Is the SLDR just an idea TaylorMade is floating just to see how it's received?
We'll know doubt have more details soon, but in the mean time, feel free to speculate and comment below.