Written By: Tony Covey
Earlier this evening outside of Chicago at the site of the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship, TaylorMade announced their first new product in over a month (We covered the event live). I’ll have to check our equipment history books, but it’s entirely possible that is the single biggest gap between TaylorMade announcements in almost 5 years.
Everybody slows down at the end of the summer.
As we’ve come to expect from TaylorMade launches, a lot of noise was made, CEO Mark King made some pretty bold statements, guys (including an MGS staffer) had some fun, and when the dust settled, all of you got your first opportunity to see TaylorMade’s latest iron offering – the 2014 SpeedBlade.
Another game-improvement iron…let me offer a very sarcastic hooray.
Maybe even a yippee.
Somebody point me to Facebook, I need to vent.
This is typical TaylorMade. It's another gimmick. It's more release cycle acceleration. It's more mass-produced crap from China. Titleist would never engage in this this sort of bullshit. I'm done with TaylorMade (and this time I really, really, really mean it).
Did I miss anything?
Somewhere there’s an adidasGolf guy whose ClimaCool knickers are so twisted he just pooped on his own desk.
Settle down. Let's all try and be rational for 10 minutes while we work through this. It's really not that bad. It's actually pretty good. Maybe even really good.
SpeedBlade is lot of things, but what it isn't is a re-badged RocketBladez, and it's most certainly not crap.
A Great Year to be Not So Great at Golf
While we seldom give them the attention they deserve, the last year has offered up a pretty incredible selection of game improvement irons. There was RocketBladez, and XHot, and Mizuno’s JPX-825s, PING’s G25s, Cleveland’s 588 MTs, and Adams Speedline Super S.
2013 has been a great year to be an lousy improving golfer.
With the caveat that we didn’t put all of them head to head; I hit most of them, and I will tell anybody who’s willing to listen that TaylorMade’s RocketBladez was the best of the lot…and by more than a little.
Sure, they weren’t the prettiest iron (the mustard yellow didn’t help), and yes…lofts were strong, and shafts were long, but for those who tolerated their appearance, didn’t worry about the specs and actually took the time to hit the clubs; some pretty special things happened.
I said it at the time, and I’ll say it again today – RocketBladez was a phenomenal game-improvement iron.
I’ve heard good things about RocketBladez Tour as well, but I never got a set.
I’m not bitter.
While some inside of TaylorMade would probably suggest that the new SpeedBlade iron is equally as revolutionary as what came before it, in my opinion the SpeedBlade represents only evolutionary progress.
TaylorMade will tell you that the new SpeedBlade is longer than its predecessor. That’s not surprising given that they extended shaft lengths by half an inch, and weakened lofts by 1.5 degrees throughout the entire set.
That is a lie.
I made it up… every single word of it. But I’m willing to bet more than a few of you believed it.
One of us should be ashamed of himself.
The TRUTH is that shaft length is unchanged from RocketBladez. Lofts are comparatively stronger on only three clubs (3-iron/1°, 8 and 9 irons/.5°), and for the 8 and 9 iron, the slightly stronger lofts have very little to do with absolutely maximizing raw distance.
TaylorMade has put a lot of effort into creating precise yardage gaps between each iron in the set. To hit the numbers they wanted to hit, TaylorMade needed to smooth out the transition between the clubs with goo (the ones with slots), and the ones without. As it happens, that transition occurs between the 7 and the 8 iron. By taking some loft of the 8 and 9, TaylorMade was able to get both the distance and trajectory they wanted from those irons.
And for the love of god people…trajectory matters. There's more to this than lengthening shafts and reducing loft. The irons need to fly right, not just go long.
Any actual increases in distance aren’t the result of loft-jacking, or shaft lengthening, or any of that other evil stuff golf companies sometimes do to make iron shots fly farther.
This time around the distance increases are the result of collaboration with TaylorMade’s metalwoods team (thin faces and optimized CG placement), and an improved understanding of their own slot technology. TaylorMade goo slots are still in their infancy, and there’s almost certainly room left for improvement.
Worth noting for all those (myself included) who are keen to point out every instance of loft-jacking we come across, TaylorMade’s Brian Bazzel made a point of telling me that the company has chosen to anchor the Pitching Wedge at 45°. While it’s always possible that TaylorMade might eventually (maybe even next year) change their minds, for now, they’ve made a commitment of sorts to not go any stronger with the pitching wedge than they are today.
*TaylorMade offers just about everything you’d want as an upgrade/alternative to the stock shaft. For those who choose something like a Dynamic Gold or a KBS C-Taper, finished lengths will be shorter than stock to help offset the additional weight and keep swingweights comfortably playable.
The most significant of the technological improvements to the SpeedBlade is a larger (longer) slot. Extending the slot from toe to heel creates more consistent ball speeds, even on mishits; particularly those below the center of the face (that story hasn’t changed from last season).
In addition to being physically larger; in the long irons the updated slot also features new cut-throughs. These smaller internal slots allow some of goo to bleed through the cavity and rest directly against the face. The result is improved feel, and yes…greater ball speed.
Before you get all worked up about the latest round of TaylorMade bullshit hype, it’s important to understand two things:
- When golf companies talk about distance, they talk in terms of averages, and very often those averages are calculated from shots hit all over the face.
- When golf companies talk about the sweet spot, they’re not talking about the true sweet spot (where the center of gravity projects to the face). Instead, they talk about an area of the face that produces near max COR (90%+ depending on the company) on impact.
With SpeedBlade what TaylorMade claims to have done is enlarge the so-called sweet spot. That leads to greater distance across the whole of the face (greater average distance); from an iron that pushes COR to the USGA limit.
Not So Ugly This Time
I’ll say it…I already said it. Last year’s RocketBladez were ugly; a big, bulky, mustardy concoction of slotted ugly. Actually, it probably wasn’t that bad, but when you see the old next to the new, there’s really no comparison. It’s sort of like Charlize Theron in Monster vs. Charlize Theron any other day of her life.
This year things are better…so much better. If not for too much offset for my eye in the long irons, I might be inclined to tell you they’re actually good looking (you know…for a TaylorMade game-improvement iron).
Screw it…they are good looking. The wedges off-set my issues with offset.
The SpeedBlade offers a more compact appearance, slightly less offset, a thinner topline, an improved (blue) color scheme, and killer “smoke satin ion” plating which most of us would probably call dark matte gray.
Finally, while the differences may seem purely cosmetic, the bending notch has also been redesigned to make it even easier for fitters and builders to adjust lie angles.
As far as the game-improvement category goes for TaylorMade; it’s the best looking iron they’ve produced since they started popping obnoxious cavity badges into everything.
Damn the Offset
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m not an offset guy, and while I’ve got no issues with the way the short irons look, once you’re down around the 6 iron and into the 5, there’s definitely more visible offset than I’m comfortable with.
From a performance standpoint, TaylorMade’s Brian Bazzel told me that there are no guarantees as to how offset will change ball flight from golfer to golfer. For some it offers benefits. For other performance can actually suffer because of it. For me…offset just makes my eyes hurt.
Personal design preferences aside I’d be astounded if I found one guy who, even if he didn’t care for the new design, would tell me that the new irons aren’t a substantial aesthetic improvement from last year’s.
It’s not enough to be functional. Irons should look pretty too. TaylorMade seems to finally be catching on.
One of the big marketing pushes around the release of SpeedBlade will be this 4.9 thing. Basically a 2011 study found that on average golfers replace their irons every 4.9 years. I’m more of a 4.9 month guy myself, and I’m guessing the average gearhead probably doesn’t go much more than 2 years either, but for the rest of the world…the whole average thing, 4.9 sounds about right I suppose.
As part of the 4.9 thing, TaylorMade wants to show golfers how much better the modern distance iron (SpeedBlade) performs when compared to TaylorMade’s (and everybody else’s) distance irons from 5 years ago.
Not surprisingly, when compared to the 2009 Burner Tour iron, the SpeedBlade is almost 10 yards longer, and perhaps more significantly, produces a peak trajectory that is 4% higher on average.
10 yards? Who didn’t see that coming?
Re-queue the outrage.
Even if you’re willing to accept that TaylorMade irons are substantially longer than they were half-a-decade ago, there’s still one hurdle that might be difficult to overcome.
Distance Irons are Stupid
Hey I’m right there with you…at least I was. What’s the point of making irons longer? There’s a reason why we carry 8 of them. Distance irons are an abomination to golf.
They’re ruining the game…or so I’ve heard.
In my mind the distance iron thing has become an almost philosophical issue.
If you believe that the marketing that surrounds drivers, fairway woods, and even hybrids is complete bunk; that because of USGA limits on CT, it’s simply impossible for any golf company to make their woods go any farther than they did…let’s say…4.9 years ago, then I understand your thinking.
You definitely don’t need a distance iron. You probably don’t even need a modern cavityback.
If, however, you believe that by doing things like optimizing the center of gravity, improving aerodynamics, or engineering more consistent faces, golf companies are actually getting better at optimizing launch conditions and have actually made drivers longer…and have made fairway woods longer…and even hybrids longer, then, well, you may have noticed a widening distance gap between your shortest wood, and your longest iron.
If you’re like me and find yourself hitting a modern 4 hybrid, upwards of 20 yards longer than your traditional 5 iron, well…it’s possible it might be time to start thinking about a distance iron.
And that’s before we even talk about whether or not we could use a bit more forgiveness from our irons.
On the Course With SpeedBlade
In addition to spending some time hitting balls at TaylorMade’s Kingdom (where we quickly learned me and the SpeedBlade’s stock 85g shaft are never going to be friends), I had the rather unique opportunity to put the unreleased irons into play at Torrey Pines South.
I’ll admit that other than the Torrey Pines part it was pretty much a nightmare scenario for me. To keep Torrey from playing like your average par 3 track for TaylorMade’s stupid-long-hitting Tom Kroll we played from the 7000 yard blue tees (so much for Tee It Forward, I guess).
I had no idea (and I still don’t) how far I hit anything at sea level, nor did I have any idea how far I would generally hit a jacked-up distance iron like SpeedBlade.
Despite all of that uncertainty, I managed to more or less hold my own (for 9 holes I out-played the guy who designed the irons). We…that is to say Tom played well enough for us to take $20 off the other TaylorMade guys, and I suppose it’s only fair to report that despite the offset, I actually hit a pretty good 4-iron (ok…a really good 4-iron) into #12 for one of a handful of pars I managed on the day.
Did I just get lucky? Maybe. One swing is one swing – you can’t judge an iron by that, but I’m certain there’s no way I get the distance…not at sea level, with my current 4-iron...and I definitely don’t hit mine solid with any regularity.
I play progressive blades (and I love them), and that probably makes me an idiot.
Can’t Leave Out The Wedges
It’s reasonably safe to say that last year the gap wedge (A Wedge) was the star of the RocketBladez iron family. It was smooth. It was clean. And to its benefit, it looked almost nothing like the rest of the set. Even guys who hated the iron, kinda liked the wedge.
If there was anything wrong with the design it’s that it was almost too clean. This year TaylorMade has moved the loft designation from the sole to the back of the iron. They’ve added a touch of color to the logo, while keeping the matte dark gray finish.
As was the case with last year’s set, the wedges steal the show. Golfers are going to love them, and I suspect cries for TaylorMade to make an entire set that looks like these wedges are only going to get louder.
From a performance perspective, I don’t know if it’s possible to make the design practical in a long iron, but it sure would look sexy.
Is the SpeedBlade Right for You
How the hell should I know?
What I can say is that after back to back releases of solid...really good actually, game improvement irons, I’ve finally started to look at TaylorMade irons differently (I hate myself).
Despite the fact that they enjoy a comfortable lead in iron sales, until very recently I didn’t exactly hold TaylorMade irons in high regard.
Thanks to Facebook; at least I know I’m not alone.
Drivers. Absolutely. Fairway woods, and definitely hybrids too. But irons…not with Mizuno, and Adams, and well…anybody but TaylorMade making solid product.
Now…even though the SpeedBlade probably won’t make it into my bag (I’m currently golfing like a boss with my gamers), I will absolutely suggest…almost demand that anyone looking for more distance, more forgiveness, or more consistency from his irons check these out as soon as you can.
Speaking as a guy who’d love nothing more than to tell you that TaylorMade’s latest iron offering is complete garbage, the new SpeedBlade is much better than I’d like it to be.
Pricing and Availability
SpeedBlade irons are available in 8-piece sets, and are equipped with a stock 85-gram steel shaft ($799) or a VELOX-T 75-gram (stiff), 65-gram (regular), 55-gram (senior), or 45-gram (ladies) graphite shaft ($899).
SpeedBlade irons hit retail starting Friday, October 4. Wedges are available separately for $100 apiece.