Written By: Tony Covey
Gentlemen (and the three handfuls of ladies that read this site), prepare to wowed (excited even)...or agitated, or maybe just sit calmly in a state of tepid indifference.
Whatever. I'm good with any of it.
This isn't one of those days where I'm going to tell you how to feel or what to think.
What I'm certain of is that today's Official announcement of the SLDR Mini Driver will leave you feeling something...or nothing.
What the Hell is a Mini Driver?
For those of you just hearing about this for the first time, the SLDR Mini Driver is TaylorMade's latest driver...or fairway wood...or something inbetween. For the purposes of Golf Datatech's retail surveys, I'm reasonably positive (actually, let's go with 99.999% positive) the Mini is going to be classified as a driver. But out here in the real world (or at least on the golf course), the true nature of this particular species is going to vary from bag to bag.
Let's start with the particulars.
The SLDR Mini, be it driver or fairway, has a 260cc steel head, comes in lofts of 12°, 14°, and 16°, and the stock shaft length is 43.5". Like everything else with SLDR stamped (or glued) to the sole, the Mini features a low/forward center of gravity placement for low spin and (with a properly fit head) high launch.
Does that clear it up?
Didn't think so. Maybe this will help.
According to TaylorMade, the SLDR Mini was designed to be hit primarily off the tee, but with its "smooth sole" (I'm talking Barry White smooth-you-out-of-your-knickers smooth), it's much easier to hit off the deck than a conventional driver. Incidentally, that turf interaction piece is why you would maybe consider Mini over cutting 2" off your driver.
Leave it to TaylorMade to create the club you never knew you needed.
Actually, leave it to TaylorMade to create the club you needed in 2001.
13 years and 200cc later, what used to be called a driver is reborn as the SLDR Mini Driver.
Ain't that something?
If I told you that SLDR Mini Driver was actually a #ThrowBackThursday idea that simply got out of hand, you might be inclined to believe me.
So I asked Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade's Senior Director of Product Creation for Metalwoods, why his damn title is so long. After that I asked him why TaylorMade felt compelled to reinvent the driver from 2002.
Bazzel touched on the talking points from the press release. Things like this:
He spoke about things like control and workability, and the old-school guys who have never been comfortable with the adjustment from sub-300cc to the modern 460cc driver. And then matter of factly he added:
I'm of two minds on that:
Most golfers don't think in terms of head volume. I mean, some may prefer 440cc drivers to 460cc drivers, but I don't think many (if any) have concerned themselves with the volume gap between their 460cc driver and their 160cc 3-wood.
I also know that golf is a psychological game. It's true that some golfers have never completely adjusted to 460cc, or 425, or even 400cc drivers. Some guys grew up playing with sub-300cc drivers (and liked it...and long for those bygone days of yore), and there are some guys who inexplicably can't hit a big-headed driver.
I'd make a joke, but the truth is that back in the days of R580 I hit nothing but 3-wood off the tee for two straight years simply because the driver got in my head and I couldn't get it out.
Now I can't hit 3-wood to save my life, but that's another story.
Call it a driver. Call it a fairway. Call it completely unnecessary. Whatever, like I said, I'm good with whatever you think.
Is the Mini Driver Even Really a SLDR?
Prefacing this with a reminder that the actual name of the club isn't SLIDER, it's S L D R (es-el-dee-are, or es-el-dee-arrrrrr for you pirates out there), here are some things that differentiate the Mini Driver from all, or some of the existing SLDR lineup.
Unlike SLDR Driver, but not unlike the namesake fairway and rescue, SLDR Mini Driver has no actual SLiDeR. Apparently sole bling isn't conducive to that smooth turf interaction we talked about. The only way you're going to tweak your draw or fade with the Mini Driver is to alter your face to path relationship. That's Trackman wisdom, kid.
That's right, there's not single purposeful spot on the club that will allow you to make use of anything in your stack of TaylorMade wrenches. Quite frankly, I'm not sure how I feel about that. Sad maybe.
Unlike all the other SLDR stuff, instead of a glossy charcoal crown, SLDR Mini comes in a smooth matte silver. While the contrast with the black clubface doesn't get us back to the Science of White, it does give it Science of Silver sort of vibe, so there's that.
SLDR Mini Driver isn't the type of product that's going to set the world, or even the cash registers, on fire, but it is an intriguing option for guys who play on relatively short courses, are looking for more control off the tee, or who have otherwise totally abandoned the conventional 3-wood or the 460cc driver.
As it happens, I qualify for most of the above.
Something Old or Something Borrowed?
While not even TaylorMade is going to argue that spec for spec the SLDR Mini doesn't look a hell of a lot different from your 12 year-old driver, Brian Bazzel told me that TaylorMade sees Mini in a category unto itself. As you might imagine, if golfers take to the Mini (they buy the club in meaningful numbers), TaylorMade will be ready (and happy) to expand their offerings in the category (whatever you want to call it).
There's also little doubt in my mind that suggestions will be made (actually, they've already been made) that TaylorMade's inspiration from the Mini was borrowed from Callaway (Deep Series fairway wood) or even the PING Rapture 3-Wood.
Having hit the Rapture, which is already larger than the X2 Hot 2 Deep, I'll tell you that I personally don't see it, but by all means, decide for yourself.
Here's a comparison chart:
How Does SLDR Mini Driver Perform?
All of this background info is great (unless you totally don't give a damn - in which case, why have you read this far?), but we thought some of you would be interested to see how the SLDR Mini Driver performed, and where that performance suggests the Mini Driver might actually fit in your bag.
We brought in a few of our testers to hit the Mini alongside the SLDR Drivers (460 and 430) as well as the 14° SLDR Tour Spoon Fairway. We tested with the equipment we had on hand using stock TP shafts. As the chart below indicates, we delofted the fairway to get to 12.5° (as close to 12° as the settings allowed), and added loft to a 10.5° 430cc head to get to 12°.
We hit all of the clubs off the tee and also hit the Mini Driver and the Fairway from a fairway lie. Here are the average results.
From the fairway, the Mini produced numbers quite similar to the fairway wood. It's not an unreasonable stretch to assume that the extra distance (and higher ball speed) is a result of the additional 1/4" of shaft length.
What I think is most telling is the similar (even slightly better) accuracy numbers. Our preliminary data suggests that the Mini Driver isn't any more difficult to hit of the deck than your average TaylorMade fairway wood - even if it will look like a bulky monstrosity to many of you.
As far as hitting out of the rough goes...we didn't try it, but I did ask Brian Bazzel about from-the-rough performance. He basically told me that if you can't hit a standard fairway wood out of the rough, you're not going to be able to hit the Mini out either. Me...I've never been afraid to try it, but it's almost never gone well. Your actual mileage may vary.
Off the tee, the numbers broke out more or less how we expected they would. The SLDR 430 is a beast, and it basically did it exactly what we expected it to off the heels of our 2014 Most Wanted Driver test. It was the longest, it spun less, and yes...it didn't fly as straight as the others.
The real story lies in the other 3 clubs. In theory, the 460cc SLDR head should be the most forgiving, and the easiest for most to hit straight, and again that proved to be the case for us. Telling perhaps, the mini wasn't that far behind, and again our data suggests it's slightly more forgiving than the SLDR fairway wood, which also makes perfect sense given the larger head.
In looking at the chart above you'll notice that the SLDR Mini Driver fell almost in the absolute middle between the 460 driver and the fairway wood for Carry Yards, Total Distance, Ball Speed, and to a lesser extent that accuracy number. Obviously we'd like to see that spin number go down a bit, but that could simply be a matter of finding the ideal tee height. We really don't know.
If for any reason you think you have a need for something to fill the gap you may never have realized existed between your driver and a conventional 3-wood, the SLDR Mini Driver would seem to fit the bill.
Timed for Augusta
I'm not one who generally believes in coincidence anyway, and I never believe in coincidence when it comes to TaylorMade, so it's pretty safe to assume that this announcement was cleverly timed for Masters Week (also, TaylorMade told me as much). We try to condition you not to care what Tour guys are bagging, but for those who do concern themselves with such things, I'm told that the probably is extremely high that Justin Rose will have the SLDR Mini (bent to 13°) in play at Augusta.
While Rose would use the Mini primarily from the tee, he's said that he could conceivably use it to play his second on #8 (the only place other than the tee on the entire course he's likely to use a 3-wood anyway).
While TaylorMade would no doubt love to have more Mini Drivers in play during the most-watched tournament of the season, Augusta isn't a place where equipment companies, even TaylorMade, are likely to try and force an equipment change on any of their staffers. If more Minis make it into play this week, it's because a given staffer (or we're told potentially non-TaylorMade staffer) believes it will give him the best shot at winning the biggest of the big ones.
Some Closing Thoughts...
As intrigued as I am by the Mini (I'll definitely be spending some on-course time with it when the rest of this miserable snow melts), for many it's probably not destined to be an everyday club. I see the Mini as very much a horse-for-the-course option.
Playing in a scramble and want something a little longer than your 3-wood? Grab a Mini.
Playing a shorter course where control is at a premium? Grab a Mini.
Do you hate your big-headed driver and conventional 3-woods? Grab 2 Minis.
Sure, there will be guys who take the driver out of their bag for a Mini, but for most of us, I think it will prove to be more fairway wood than driver...assuming it proves to be anything at all.
The SLDR Mini Driver almost certainly won't be longer than your driver, and it may not prove to be more forgiving (or more accurate) than your driver either, but as a hybrid of sorts between a driver and a 3-wood, it fills the space nicely...even if we're only hearing about that space for the first time today.
The SLDR Mini Driver hits stores May 2nd.
Retail price is $279 for the standard model and $379 for the TP model.
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