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TaylorMade SLDR Driver Is So Good Even Phil Mickelson Uses It

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Written By: Tony Covey

Callaway’s Top Staffer Bags TaylorMade’s SLDR Driver

Phil Mickelson plays his TaylorMade SLDR driver in the draw position. I wouldn’t have guessed that. Of course, I also wouldn’t have guessed that Callaway’s #1 Tour Guy would be putting Callaway’s #1 competitor’s driver into play at the Presidents Cup either.

The same guy who told the world he couldn’t have won the Open Championship without Callaway, apparently feels he needs TaylorMade to help Team USA capture The Presidents Cup.

Spin it any way you’d like, but there’s no way this doesn’t look bad for Callaway. It’s as bad as the shoddy refinish job on Mickelson’s TaylorMade driver. And let me tell you, man, that’s bad.

We’ve Seen This Before

As you may recall, last November Phil Mickelson replaced his Callaway fairway wood with TaylorMade’s RocketBallz. That was Pre-XHot, and by Callaway’s own admission they didn’t have anything that could really hold its own against RBZ.

At the time, Harry Arnett, Callaway’s Senior VP of Marketing, thought it was much ado about nothing:

“We told him, ‘Play whatever you want. We’ve got the prototype coming in a few weeks. If you really feel like this is the best way for you to compete and win, then go for it!’” – Harry Arnett

And arguably Harry was right. Eventually Phil won the Waste Management Open with Xhot in the bag, sales increased significantly, and while Callaway didn’t come close to catching TaylorMade, there’s no denying that XHot helped put a resurgent Callaway back on the map.

Callaway would like us to believe it’s no different this time around.

They’re wrong.

A driver, especially a TaylorMade driver, is a much bigger deal than a fairway wood, and The Presidents Cup is a much bigger deal than the HSBC Champions series in China.

People watch The Presidents Cup. #JustSayin

Mickelson-sldr-mygolfspy

Same Story, Different Year

In a response to a question posted on Twitter about Phil’s driver choice, Harry Arnett had this to say:

 

The reality of the message isn’t much different from last year.

Let’s all be patient here. If we can just give Callaway a few months they’ll have something just as good as what TaylorMade already has on the shelves.

They’re just not ready yet.

For Callaway, a company hoping to position itself as the leader in technology, innovation, and all that cool stuff that makes us want to buy new golf clubs we probably don’t need, having to publicly acknowledge for the 2nd year in a row that the product they’ve spent hours dialing in to exactly details catch match the performance of TaylorMade’s flagship product; there’s absolutely no way that’s good for business.

Callaway and Phil Mickelson have all but completely validated the low and forward CG story of TaylorMade’s SLDR Driver, and that’s not good for business either. Well…it’s good for TaylorMade’s business.

Twist it, spin it, and promise a better future, but right now it’s not so good for Callaway.

Once is an aberration. Twice…well, that’s a pattern.

And the pattern suggests that for all the good things that have happened for Callaway this year, they’re still playing catch-up.

TaylorMade Responds

Golf companies are notoriously cagey about discussing players under contract with different companies. When asked for a comment, a TaylorMade Spokesperson, who I can only assume has been smiling uncontrollably since the news of the Mickel-SLDR broke, would only say this:

“SLDR has been hot since it hit tour in July and we are flattered he is playing it.”

Callaway’s Statement

Despite what quite obviously isn’t the best press of Callaway’s season, their willingness to sign off on Phil’s SLDR illustrates the commitment the company makes to its staffers. If there’s something better out there, Phil is welcome to put it in his bag.

That’s the commitment Callaway made to Phil, and they’ve honored it – even when it’s clearly not in their best interest to do so.

I gave Callaway’s Sr. VP of Marketing, Harry Arnett the opportunity to share Callaway’s perspective on Mickelson’s driver choice. What follows is his full statement on the matter.

“It’s no secret by now that Phil and Callaway have perhaps the most unique relationship of any Tour player and a golf company. It’s been reported before that we have one of the most flexible contracts of any top player and that much is for the most part true.Throughout Phil’s career, he has experimented widely and routinely both within the Callaway range of products and even outside Callaway’s range into competitive products. We’ve always allowed him to do so even on occasion when it was within our contracted right to prohibit it. This was the spirit of the agreement with Phil when it began a decade ago.It was fairly well publicized last Fall that Phil played a competitor’s fairway in some events in Asia. At that time, we said we were not that concerned because we had a fairway coming that we were confident would outperform anything and would quickly get into Phil’s bag when it was ready. That proved out to be true on both accounts.

About a month ago, Phil asked us if he could experiment with a competitive driver, wanting to try a low/forward center of gravity the SLDR driver produces. Since our own version of driver that can deliver this particular low/forward cg mass property wasn’t ready, we permitted him to do so.

On Thursday night Phil personally called Chip Brewer, our CEO, and asked permission to put the driver in play at the President’s Cup. He felt he needed to have a driver in the bag since the rain and wet conditions had made the course play longer than it had earlier in the week. Chip agreed to let Phil play the driver, feeling it was the right thing to do for Phil and his position in the team. And was completely consistent with the history of Callaway’s long relationship with Phil.

We are of course embarrassed by the conversation around this and we wish the circumstances were different. But once again, we are 100% confident the driver we have coming will dramatically outperform the competitive driver he’s playing and will be in Phil’s bag when it’s ready to bring to market. So to that regard, once again, we aren’t overly concerned.” – Harry Arnett, SVP Marketing/Callaway Golf

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

hckymeyer October 5, 2013 at 12:38 am

Of all the ways they can spin that, it’s a pretty good spin. But the fact remains the #1 Callaway staffer is playing a TMaG driver and yes, it makes me want to hit it even more…sorry Callaway

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Golf one October 10, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Did not seem to help him should have stuck with Callaway

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Lloyd October 5, 2013 at 4:52 am

Interesting to see that callaway let him do that. Let’s not forget callaway do make good clubs inc the xhot range which I think is very nice but they just released the optiforce driver and to think that phill the frill don’t think it’s up to the job is not good news for callaway. If phill ever left callaway ? Then he would be heading strait to taylormade and every one no’s it.

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Golfspy WD October 5, 2013 at 8:36 am

I think it’s brilliant on Callaway’s part. Doing this will differentiate their new driver from the previous models. Most staffers use some version of the latest and greatest, so the public is desensitized to them saying this year’s model is better than last. Going to a competitor, admitting their driver is better, then switching back to Callaway creates a sense that it really is better.

Plus, you know Phil will praise whatever the new model turns out to be a God’s gift to earth, so they’ll be fine.

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HackerDad October 6, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Brilliant? I think that’s a bit of an over statement. Callaway in no way, shape, or form, wanted to address this. See terrible dime-store paint job. They stepped in it, and Harry’s statement says it all to anyone who follows equipment technology: they’re faster than we are, and we are chasing their technology. Period.

I’m sure Callaway will release a new driver that out performs the SLDR or at least perform comparably, but what will TM be onto at that point? Lord knows we’ll see something new from them in short order, so will Callaway aim to knock their next-gen driver when Phil wants to try that one?

This isn’t brilliant, its a huge kick in the crotch for them to have to deal with!

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Golfspy WD October 7, 2013 at 8:42 pm

I disagree. It would take a seriously boneheaded move on Callaway’s part to allow this unintentionally. Plus Phil is a company guy and I guarantee he didn’t force Callaway into this situation. Callaway is playing this off as if it was all Phil’s decision, but I can’t imagine they weren’t involved.

Drivers don’t change nearly as much as people imagine. The companies simply target a different type of golfer every year so they can claim an increase in yards year by year. There are certainly small improvements, but nothing so dramatic to really think Phil couldn’t have played just as well with some Callaway model as he could with the SLDR.

The RAZR Fit Xtreme is a low CG club, as is the FT-i. Personally, I think Callaway would prefer he went with a competitor rather than switch to a previous year’s model. This shows what they release in a few months is “better” than what they had before. To me, it’s a technique of ceding some ground to gain more. This is exactly what they did with the Xhot woods, and look how that turned out.

A lot of the improvements have also come from shaft technology, which has improved quite a bit in the past 5 years (from what I can tell, I’m by no means an expert on shafts). However, this is a bit of a moot point because Phil has access to whatever shaft/head combo he desires.

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Greg October 5, 2013 at 8:37 am

Keeping in mind that I’m not a fan of callaways clubs…I see this completely different. I think this validates the rest of Phil’s bag as the best possible clubs for him. He obviously could be playing a volkey wedge or mizuno blades or prov1 if it he felt they were better and apparently he would. Compare this to the perception around Rory’s switch to a full bag of Nike’s sticks. Rightly our wrongly the perception is that his terrible play is resulting from the change, which he is locked into.

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Indexor October 5, 2013 at 8:37 am

I hit the SLDR for a month and finally returned to my previous driver. I don’t understand what Phil sees in it from a competitive perspective. Although I don’t play any clubs of their brand, I don’t believe Callaway has anything to worry about.

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Mike October 7, 2013 at 11:05 am

Completely disagree, not sure why you did not like it but the SLDR is the best driver I have ever put in the bag. I can fade or draw it at will and now hit driver on those tight par 4′s that I previously hit 3wood on. I previously played at 9.5 degree driver but found that the SLDR set at 11 degrees a slightly higher trajectory and still rolls out. I am fortunate to have a Taylor Made Lab at my home course and the trackman numbers do not lie. Higher, Straighter and lower spin, case closed. If you test it, I recommend that you set it at least 1 degree higher to produce a similar ball flight.

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Steve October 5, 2013 at 9:13 am

I don’t have an extensive amount of experience with the SLDR driver, but I have hit it. I am much happier with my 913 from Titleist. One of my students sold his R1 to buy it as soon as it came out and has lost around 15yards; and both of the other two pros at my club, both of whom have staff deals with Taylormade (I did not switch to TM when I came aboard) have stuck with their R1 instead of bagging the SLDR. Of course we all know that no driver by itself is going to shave strokes off of very many rounds…

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Charles October 5, 2013 at 10:27 am

I’m pretty sure he’s not playing it in the draw setting. It’s probably just a RH sleeve which works the opposite if you use it in a LH head.

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Tony Covey October 5, 2013 at 1:31 pm

With SLDR draw/fade bias is set with the sliding weight on the sole of the club. In the pic, Mickelson very clearly has it in the draw position.

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golfercraig October 5, 2013 at 11:29 am

The bigger story here is Harry telling us that the SLDR technology was lacking in performance, that low/forward CG was a mistake, and Callaway would prove it. Which is it? It’s a mistake, or yours just isn’t ready yet? Can’t have it both ways. Marketing spin from a marketing spinner. Hashtags won’t fix this fiasco.

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HackerDad October 6, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Harry: “SLDR is poop!”

Phil: “I want to play it.”

Harry: “$hit.”

Harry on Twitter: “We’ll have something better eventually! #G*dDamnit #ThereGoesMyWeekend”

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Doug October 5, 2013 at 11:43 am

I play a Ping i20 driver. I almost switched up to an R1 after a good session in a LM. But, I held off. Now I’m wondering about a SLDR… When will the madness stop?

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RP Jacobs II October 5, 2013 at 12:51 pm

My only question is when will Brewer get this ship turned around?

It’s accepted as an Immutable Law of marketing, and has been for decades, that for market dominance, it is imperative to be first than it is to be “better.” From the Executive Suites to the Business School case studies, the business landscape is littered with companies and products, that in an attempt to get it “right,” and produce a “better” product/service, sacrificed “first entry,” and very rarely, if ever, when the industry leader is the “first entry” product/service, do the later entries overtake the “first in.”

It is not a good strategy for a non-market leader to be “reactionary” in their strategies & tactics. You do not overtake a strong market leader, and I would definitely classify TMaG as a strongly entrenched market leader, reacting to their moves, actions & releases.

The first release dictates the game & the rules.

This is just common, basic stuff, not rocket science & Brewer’s a sharp guy and I just can’t believe that he can’t get his R&D guys into “Hyper-drive.”

This is systemic of a “culture thang,” and the lack of a sense of urgency is what would be very troubling to me if I’m Brewer or a Board Member, Phil’s loyalty not with standing, lol. That’s irrelevent.

Fairways & Greens My Friends

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Ryan October 5, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Agree with your comments about “first entry” being incredibly important in any industry, but launching a “new” technology driver in the August/September timeframe is akin to launching a consumer electronics product the day after Christmas. The peak volume in the golf industry really starts in April and is done by July/early August (golf balls last a little longer). Launching “big story” drivers at this time of year is usually to satisfy a lack of sales in an attempt to hit commitments to you parent company or your shareholders. If you don’t believe that, read some of Adidas’ financial statements of recent. If Callaway were to launch a big new story right now it would significantly derail their inability to sell in new stuff at the beginning of next year without cost them a ton in netdown dollars. TM has flooded the market with slower moving equipment than anytime in the past few years. SLDR will be dead in the water come January/February, when rumors of the next 2 drivers TM is releasing start popping up.

Moral of the story, the war isn’t won in Q3/Q4 in this industry. I for one can’t wait to see what Chip and team have waiting for next year.

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RP Jacobs II October 5, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Good points. Nah, I haven’t looked at any of their financials, and I while I would agree with your electronics analogy, the one thing that TMaG does better than anyone else is promotion/PR. Whether it’s January, April, August or November, lol.

Personally, I like Brewer, and while I still rotate the Steelhead 3+ & 5FM’s, I haven’t had any newer Cally products in my bag since they were new. I do rotate a RBZ T and that’s it for TMaG.

However, with perception being reality, Cally’s biggest job is to change the perception of them in the marketplace. And that won’t be done with focus groups, as those teach ya much more about group dynamics than they do marketplace, lol.

I like what Brewer has done I the past and I believe that he will position Cally to make a run at TMaG.

I believe that he will change the perception.

Nice post

Have a great Autumn

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william Pucci October 5, 2013 at 2:46 pm

It is in all their contracts,the big names, that if they find something that works better, they can use it. Callaway has a similar driver and this website had a picture of the prototype recently.

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Chris October 5, 2013 at 4:30 pm

I think this just confirms that Phil likes trying different drivers A LOT! Maybe Callaway could not get a new model designed fast enough so he had to do something. He can’t play the same driver more than a week or two. Thanks for sharing.

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Shark October 5, 2013 at 6:57 pm

Taylormade leads, Callaway follows… Eventually…
So Callaway claims their version will be better.
So do I get innovation by Tm now or wait for cally?
Answer? I buy Tm. Besides… By time Callaway catches up with their version… Knowing Tm quick & frequent product cycles means Tm will have a new model to beat out the cally catch up version….. Lol

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Bill October 5, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Phil is a hardware tinkerer. When he has success, he’s quick to address the club as part of the success. Phil’s one of the top players, so his opinion carries weight. But players get hot for weeks at a time. I’ve always felt that’s 90% of it. Rory switching to Nike and then being ineffective is more likely due to his personal relationship than the clubs. TM makes good clubs, as do Callaway, Ping, Nike and a dozen others. It’s largely marketing and not much else. Getting fit for your swing is more important than any off the rack club.

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Wayne Bosley October 5, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Doesn’t it just prove that Phil is not as confident in his own game s he should and that he always looking for a new piece of equipment to make the difference. This was the case when he was with Titleist even before the ProV1 was available when he pushed management for that ball to come to market because he believed he needed help to combat Tiger in the length department I see no difference now or in his recent past history to se an adjust in his mental
approach . He like many weekend warriors is desperate to buy a better game (he doesn’t buy his gear,,,) but in reality he always bring more variables into his game as new is different and
that is hard to trust when you are under pressure and you have not got a proven track record with the equipment to no all its issues ,,,,,just ask Rory about new equipment!

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Wayne Bosley October 5, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Sorry about the phone grammar,,,,

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AJ October 6, 2013 at 8:52 am

We can accept the premise that the Callaway prototype is not ready for a second year in a row and that Phil opts for a TM product to fill the gap for the second year in a row.
Or Phil uses a TM product then fronts up with the Callaway to win at a significant tourny and by your own example Tony, Callaway sales increase significantly.

The fact that the press are reporting on it and we are all talking about it is the whole reason that this is all good for Callaway. Do you not think that they (Marketing at Callaway) know that it would be hot news and of course focus the attention in this direction.

Really is the media that gullible and for that matter the buying public??

AJ

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Sticky October 6, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Callaway should just resume production of the Callaway FT-iQ. They were right the first time: weight in the back. If you want to keep it on the fairway there’s none better.

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Chris October 6, 2013 at 9:50 pm

So everyone is talking about this “new” design that Tm has in the LSDR and Callaway is supposed to be working on something similar. I spoke with some guys on the range that were using the SLDR and they said, “If you hit the ball lower on the club face it really goes, and runs out well.” This may be new to the big names but this is not new. Geek golf has been designing clubs this way for a long time.
The TM commercial says by increasing loft you can get distance. What it actually is, if you hit the club off of the lower half of the face to hit the “sweet” spot, you have to “increase loft” of the face to get the ball up faster. You get the extra distance from the extra roll you will get because of less spin. If anyone else has hit a Geek driver, you typically have to go up in loft to get the same launch when compared to most “off the rack” drivers.
I have been hearing a lot of people that try the SLDR actually lose distance. This is probably because they are trying to hit the ball in the same location on the face as their past drivers. With proper modification to their ball height, they may see better numbers but who knows.
Bottom-line, this is not new technology it is just now entering the mainstream equipment.

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Juno October 7, 2013 at 7:00 am

I don’t get it. Isn’t there something in his contract that prevents him from playing clubs outside of his main brand?

Either way. I don’t care how good people say the SLDR is. I think it looks cheap, and very gimmicky. I’m not a fan of Taylormade clubs in general. It’s just too noisy for my taste. Adjust-ability of a club mid round isn’t allowed is it? Just seems like too much work to keep readjusting it according to the course specs. I’d rather just keep it in neutral and put in the work to learn how to shape it.

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Jim October 7, 2013 at 8:05 am

Let’s be honest, Phil switches drivers alot. Taking one look at the photo tells you what is really wrong – he swings too far and over the line. Maybe the vaunted Butch should fix his swing rather than switching drivers so much. Next year he’ll do the same thing.

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johnloft October 7, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Yikes. Even the response is cringe worthy.

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DaveMac October 7, 2013 at 7:42 pm

Strange situation, it is only a few months since Phil Mickelson was singing the praises of the Razr fit extreme (RFE), which he credited with his winning the 2013 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
It is hard to believe that with the injection of enough hot melt, it is impossible to move the center of gravity of a (RFE) to anywhere Phil Mickelson needs.
I suspect some marketing skullduggery is going on here and Phil Mickelson is playing the SLDR under instruction, so Callaway can announce how their new driver exceeds the performance of the SLDR when it finds its way into Phil Mickelson’s bag early in the new year.

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johnloft October 8, 2013 at 12:50 pm

So saying, essentially, that they are copying TMAG and behind again?

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kloyd0306 October 8, 2013 at 5:37 am

Low and forward CofG with adjustable weighting:

Mizuno MP650 Fast Track set at 1 and 10.

What’s so wonderful about the SLDR?

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Shark October 8, 2013 at 9:58 am

Any people claiming that in any way Callaway was part of this, wanted it to happen to make their next driver sound better are lucky their not in marketing as they would be out of work instantly.
This as the second Tm woods club played by Phil is nothing more than a pr nightmare for them.

I am sure Phil tried his best to stay with almost all Callaway in bag but if he sees something he can’t physically get… Now… Not later once Callaway copies… Er… Um… I mean improves…. But rather at his age as opportunities go by he needs the best ‘now’.

Note that all major brands are making quality stuff with the right shaft and tweaks they are competitive. Taylormade is good, Callaway is good. Their all good. Just some… ie Tm push the envelope and come out with great stuff more frequently.

This comes from a guy that used to have no Tm as I hated their marketing. But I have given up that argument add they are that good.

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DaveMac October 10, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Yes on the face of it this looks like bad PR, Callaway playing catch up again. The performance difference between the SLDR and a pimped up RFE has to be minimal. Considering Phil Mickelson won earlier in the year with a RFE, it does not look like he tried his best for Callaway, hence my thought that something else is going on. Remember the buzz on the Phrankenwood.

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Fleeter October 10, 2013 at 10:49 am

I believe that this is truly a slap-in-the-face for Callaway. Their #1 guy hitting a TM driver? That makes me question what the rest of his bag looks like. Sounds like they’d rather keep him on than risk losing him to a rival over a club choice.

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Ken October 10, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Mickelson is as loyal as a dog in rut. Scoring on the tour is all about shots to green and, especially putting, A couple of yards off the tee has almost nothing to do success. Yet Phil, icon of millions, is the first to drop his sponsor’s clubs if he thinks a new driver will give him an edge.

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Shannon October 11, 2013 at 10:28 pm

The bizarre part of this entire thing is that the engineers and design team at Adams Golf actually developed this SLDR driver. TM liked the concept so much, they branded the product for themselves. Not the first Adams development TM has taken.

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