And Taylormade Barely Even Threatened To Sue Us This Year

Written by: Tony Covey (@GolfSpyT) - Unless you've been in a coma for the last couple of months, the announcement of new woods from TaylorMade, specifically the R1 Driver and RBZ Stage 2 Series woods came as anything but a surprise. The cat was out of the bag quite a while ago. Features (selling points) aside, the clubs were nothing short of the worst kept secrets in golf, and for once, the blame isn't on us. This year TaylorMade barely even threatened to sue us at all.

I suppose I could have simply rewritten a press release with a couple of money quotes tossed in for good measure (ok…the truth is I do have a couple money quotes of my own), but I decided I'd rather focus on what I find exciting, curious, and downright befuddling about the upcoming releases from the biggest name in golf. Bear with me folks...this is going to take a while.

If you’re not interested in any of that, I’m sad, but feel free to skip ahead to the pictures. There's over 100 of them in our photo gallery.

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TaylorMade R1 Driver

This is the first I’m hearing of the R1 or RBZ Stage 2.” – nobody

So as many of you already know, the Taylormade R11s is being replaced by the Taylormade R1. Like upcoming releases from Cobra (MyFly) and Nike (FlexLoft), the R1 features what TaylorMade is calling Loft Sleeve Technology. Despite the new name, Loft Sleeve is little more than the evolution of TaylorMade’s previous FCT technology. What all the OEMs implementing similar designs have done is figure out how to extend the range of adjustability (in TaylorMade’s case, 2° in either direction, 4° total) far enough that a single head can cover the most commonly purchased lofts.

TM Says 80% of Golfers Playing Wrong Loft

Why does that matter? TaylorMade says 80% of golfers are playing the wrong loft (based on testing on their MATT system). Interestingly enough, we've heard the exact same thing (basically the same number) from other OEMs. We've also been told that amateur level swings (like yours, you damn hack) change on an almost daily basis. Short story, the loft that fits us one day, may not be the one that fits the next.

I’m guessing most won’t take advantage, but Loft Sleeve gives you the option of adjusting your driver for the swing you have on any given day. Technically you could have done that all along, but Loft Sleeve’s hosel numerical loft based designations are much easier to understand. The real selling point for the R1 (and other like it) is that you’ll never have to worry about buying the wrong loft again.

MWT . . . Now Called Shot-Shape Technology

As part of a technology re-branding initiative of sorts TaylorMade has renamed MWT (moveable weight technology) to Shot-Shape Technology. It’s semantics…nothing has fundamentally changed, but the new name better expresses what the technology is designed to do. Simplification is a word I've heard tossed around by several different OEMs already this year, and it looks like TaylorMade has decided to join that movement.

R1 Specs and Technical Details

TaylorMade RBZ Stage 2 Driver

If I’m being honest about my own excitement level about the Spring 2013 products from TaylorMade, the RBZ Stage 2 Driver is the one spot where I’m not feeling it. I’m very much meh. I’m not saying it’s not better than last year’s (I don’t really know). I do know that last year’s was a great driver - arguably the best on the market  (funny story about this for another day), but this is all very slightly evolutionary, and while TaylorMade might tell me otherwise, I’m not seeing anything ground-breaking here.

Like the R1, the RBZ Stage 2 features Loft Sleeve Technology, however; TaylorMade has elected to restrict it to 1.5° degrees in either direction, and so multiple lofts (heads) will be available. I think it’s safe to assume there’s no technological reason to limit adjustability, but doing so is a great way to maintain some differentiation in what I believe is otherwise murky segmentation between the R-Series and the RBZ line.

Unlike the R1 which is only available in a single model, the RBZ Stage 2 driver will also be available in a Tour model. Apart from a different stock shaft (Matrix 6Q3 or 7Q3 TP), the primary difference is the placement of weight. The standard model is designed with a slight draw bias while the Tour model has a neutrally placed center of gravity.

Let’s Talk About Those Damn Crown Graphics

It’s hard not to notice the 7° sole compass (I’m not sure what they’re calling it these days since the previous designation of ASP (adjustable sole plate) has disappeared from the literature), but by far, the most attention grabbing feature of the R1, and certainly the RBZ Stage 2 lineup are the crown graphics.

When the first pics hit the internet, the designs were near universally panned. The “serious golfer” crowd stepped up to let us know that as “serious golfers” there was no way they’d put such a silly looking design in their bags. That’s a clown club, bro. And by the way, no other “serious golfer” would ever play it either.

It was practically official. TaylorMade had seriously jumped the shark.

“No way I’d play that garbage” . . . well . . . “I actually kinda like it”

Not only would TaylorMade lose their stranglehold on that #1 driver spot; never mind Nike or Callaway, TaylorMade driver sales were going to be dwarfed by second-hand Nickents. It’s just that bad.

But as it usually does, over time (all of a few weeks) the outrage tempered as golfers, even some “serious” ones moved from “There’s no way I’d play that garbage” to “I actually kinda like it”… kinda…seriously.

I should probably also mention that those leaked pics really didn't do the clubs any favors. Between bad lighting and factory plastic still on the crowns, the clubs couldn't have looked much worse. Take away Minka Kelly's makeup and force her to wear a moo moo; that's basically what we got with those early images. It’s all subjective anyway, and even if my take is that neither one is going to win the Miss Universe of Drivers pageant, neither graphic pattern is a deal breaker.

Settle down…it’s not that bad.

Buy Why are the Graphics There?

Despite all the talk of the graphics being nothing more than the latest in a long line of TaylorMade marketing ploys, the company’s claim is that they actually serve a purpose.

(Warning: Press Release  Regurgitation is forthcoming)

Plucked right from the Press Release (yes…I’m sufficiently embarrassed), here’s the official story on the RBZ Stage 2’s Crown Alignment Decals (small point… I spent 20 minutes trying to peel off the ugly decal. It didn’t work. If I can’t peel it off, doesn’t that make it paint?)

"The white metalwood crown that TaylorMade introduced in 2011 on our R11 metalwoods works with the black clubface to make it easier to align the face accurately at address. We’ve enhanced that alignment benefit on the RBZ Stage 2 driver with the addition of a prominent crown decal. According to Dr. Steve Hitzeman, Professor of Sports Optometry at the University of Indiana, the additional linear reference features on the RBZ Stage 2 crown benefit golfers by providing additional visual cues for alignment.

Designing the linear reference features was complicated, as we had to manage parallax as well as the rounded surface geometry of typical metalwoods. We used our MAT-T (Motion Analysis Technology by TaylorMade) System to define the visual angular range for most golfers using typical metalwoods’ lengths and lie angles. This produced a visual reference angle of approximately 70° from the ground for metalwoods.  We fed that information into our Pro Engineer CAD system, which allowed us to define the exact layout of the decal in terms of position and angular orientation".

As for the R1, the story is slightly less involved.

The new crown graphic acts as an additional alignment aid, while the preserved white space creates a frame to position the ball against and promotes improved focus”.

So there you have it. As we expected the story behind the funky paint is one of alignment and visual acuity. The question is…what’s real, and what’s the kind of stuff you don’t want to step in with your brand new Christmas slippers? I got new slippers for Christmas. They're awesome, and I don't want to be sticking them in any poo.

Without getting into whether or not I find them pretty, or even tolerable, what I will say is that I actually find the decal graphics on the RBZ Stage 2 effective.  I’m not an expert on parallax and I honestly have no idea how a bunch of seemingly random lines can make a clubhead easier to square, but it does, and I think that’s pretty cool.

As for the R1…look, I don’t mind the paint job even if TaylorMade and I can’t agree on the color (they say orange, I say red), and I don’t find the graphics distracting, but comparatively speaking, I don’t see the same value in the R1 graphics as I do on the RBZ Stage 2.

If you wanted to argue that the R1 pattern was as much about TV recognition as anything else, you might be able to convince me. I think you just did.

Incidentally, if you overlay the R1 graphic pattern with the crown pattern on the new Adams Speedline series…let’s just say there’s enough similarity to suggest it didn’t happen by accident.

Before You Start Screaming The Crown Graphics Are A Scam

Now before you start screaming that it’s all a scam and I’ve simply had too much of the TaylorMade Kool-Aid, please take a moment to consider that TaylorMade isn’t the first to suggest that golfers can benefit (and potentially significantly so) from some added visual stuff on the crown.

The guys at TrueAim have been talking up their crown decals for a while (and they tested very well for us). We've known the research was happening. TaylorMade is simply the first to put the theories into practice on a production head. I’d wager they won’t be the last.

Quite frankly, the only thing that surprises me is that TaylorMade isn't offering multiple patterns in each head so that golfers can choose the pattern that best works for them. Give it time…

TaylorMade RBZ Stage 2 Fairway Woods

So given my lack of enthusiasm for the RBZ Stage 2 driver one might think I’d feel similarly about matching fairway woods. One (you) would be wrong (as usual). Before we get to the why of it, let me be clear about one thing - and it’s the kind of thing impartial, unbiased media-types aren't supposed to say out loud (we're all supposed to pretend we don't like some clubs better than others - which isn't much help to you guys):

Unless somebody gives me a REALLY compelling reason to do otherwise (and assuming TaylorMade pairs me up with a suitable shaft), the RBZ Stage 2 is going in my bag this season. For real.

More on that in a moment, but first...

17+10= ROCKETBALLZ-IER

Seriously…TaylorMade is actually going with that.

That was my one and only laugh out loud moment of 4 separate press releases sent to us by Taylormade. Now I know press releases aren't generally supposed to be funny, but this is TaylorMade, and occasionally they do work overtime. Perhaps they drink a little too much caffeine, or get all hopped up on goofballs. Whatever the reason, the result is a statement or two that comes across a little (a lot) over the top. I always laugh a few times when I read these things.

I mean, they say things that seem so outlandish (positively crap-tastic) that one could actually find himself laughing to the point of anger. And then one might spout off about how it’s all a giant pantload, and then a little bit later one finds out maybe it isn't and the by the time it’s all over all one has to show for himself is a couple days in a warmer climate, a stupid haircut, and a 3 wood that’s nearly as long as his driver. You know what I’m saying? Has that ever happened to you?

Whoa…flashback.

And yet, here were are again just a little more than one year later, and TaylorMade is saying something completely nonsensical.

ROCKETBALLZ-IER - Is That Even A Word?

Is that even a word? Worse…it’s a non-word, built from another non-word. Two non-words make a word now? C’mon.

In case I haven’t been clear…the 10 more yards (plus the 17 we got last year), that part I’m good with. I’m basically zero percent skeptical. Sure…not everyone picked up 17 yards last year (compared to the previous Burner), but plenty…likely a high majority, did.

Now I know we’re all supposed to be completely tired of 10 more yards claims (and I mostly am), but when I visited TaylorMade last January, TaylorMade’s Chief Technical Officer, Benoit Vincent told me, as matter-of-factly as he possibly could have, that his team believed there was another 20 yards worth of distance to be had in fairway woods. And yeah…that means fairway woods could eventually be as long, if not longer than drivers.

So...10 more yards…not surprising. Honestly, I’ll be surprised if the 2014 Taylormade Stage 3 doesn't offer 10 more.

But ROCKETBALLZ-IER… you've got to be kidding me with that. FYI…next year’s club will be the ROCKETBALLZ-IEST. You heard it here first.

The Most Hittable-Looking Fairway I've Ever Seen

Now sure…10 more yards sounds nice, but it’s not the reason why I want a RBZ Stage 2 in my bag. Even at zero more yards, I’d probably trade my RBZ for a Stage 2…and here’s why.

The first thing - even before those damn crown graphics - I noticed when I put the RBZ Stage 2 to the turf (actually Berber carpet) is how the trailing edge…really the entire edge of the heel side of the club sat so perfectly on the ground (without looking all nasty and toe up). It’s something you need to see for yourself, but it’s the most hittable-looking fairway I've ever seen.

The Taylormade RBZ Stage 2 is the Brooklyn Decker of fairway woods…well the Brooklyn Decker Wearing an Ugly Hat of Fairway Woods anyway. Whether that translates to actually being easier to hit remains to be seen, but it’s a definite confidence builder. As I always do, I wish it were a tad bit more compact, but the shape is otherwise flawless...just like Brooklyn Decker.

Also worth mentioning is that the Tour model of the Stage 2 fairway is adjustable. This was actually a surprise given that we've been told that there are performance implications to using an adjustable hosel in a fairway wood.

I bounced that idea off of TaylorMade’s Tom Olsavsky who told me that performance isn't the reason why last year’s RBZ wasn't adjustable.

“One of the challenges of the designing the Speed Pocket was durability, so adding an adjustable hosel in the same area was something we chose to avoid.  However, the overall playability of the Stage 2 fairways (Standard and Tour), is much better than the respective RBZ versions”. –Tom Olsavsky, Senior Director Metalwood Creation TaylorMade Golf

Contrary to what I may have suggested, there’s no plot to outperform Adams by crippling them with an adjustable fairway. Nearly everyone in the industry will offer at least one adjustable fairway this season.

In addition to basically the same lineup they offered last year, TaylorMade will also offer a 16.5° HL (high launch) Tour and 17HL° (standard) model. It’s not quite the Tour Issue only 4 Wood (17.5°) from the original RBZ, but I suspect it’s an offering that will appeal to many golfers looking for a longer fairway wood that launches a bit higher and lands a little softer.

If you want 17.5° adjust it. If you want an 11.5°, buy the Spoon…and adjust it.  See…adjustable fairways are cool.

TaylorMade RBZ Stage 2 Rescues (what everyone else calls hybrids)

Although TaylorMade didn’t devote much time to them in their press releases (or last year’s marketing for that matter – probably because nobody actually cares about hybrids), TaylorMade is releasing RBZ Stage 2 Rescues. FYI – They are also ROCKETBALLZ-IER, which is nice.

As you might expect, the marketing reads very similarly to the fairway woods. They offer faster ball speeds, and more distance (and slightly longer shafts …boo…boo...shenanigans!) from last year, and the Tour model is adjustable.

I don’t love that what TaylorMade calls a Tour 4H (20.5°) is .5° stronger than what I still consider the industry standard for a 3I/3H, but it is what it is. At the long end of the bag, filling gaps is still important, so jacked-up lofts aside, it should be about finding the club that fills the need rather than a club that has certain number stamped in the sole (or painted on the hosel). Let the chumps get caught up in the distance through less loft game. Unless you consider yourself a "serious golfer", you're probably smarter than that. Forget the number...buy what you need.

Last year’s RBZ Rescue was … IS … an absolute beast. The 16.5° (2H) became my preferred option off the tee, and is largely responsible for my handicap dropping to the point where I’m sniffing single digits.

IF (and I’m not saying it will) the new one gets me a little more distance still; given that I use mine almost exclusively as a fairway wood replacement, then hell yes, I’m all for it. And if it doesn't get me more yards, the adjustability (versatility) of the Tour model still makes for a compelling upgrade option.

Still Playing to the Middle

As far as the Stage 2 fairway wood and hybrid are concerned, I very much like what I see. The Stage 2 Driver…I’m reasonably confident it’s as good as anything else; it just doesn't get me hot and bothered (it's no Brooklyn Decker). The R1…maybe I’ll come around when I try it with a different shaft (performance can move me like nothing else), but frankly, it’s a little bit of a letdown for me as well. And it has nothing to do with those damn crown graphics (which I swear really aren't that bad).

Yeah, adjustability is cool, and nobody offers more places to stick a wrench than TaylorMade, but the lack of an R1 Tour option is somewhat befuddling…actually frustrating is probably a better word choice. TaylorMade makes no secret that the R1 head you buy in stores isn't exactly the one that will be in play on tour. That’s standard practice for TaylorMade.

TaylorMade R1 Retail vs. R1 Tour Issue (side by side)

The thing is…the total lack of a retail driver product that is clearly designed with the better golfer in mind flies in the face of the assertion that TaylorMade aggressively targets the 0-4 handicap market. I wouldn't suggest that the R1 isn't suitable for very good golfers, but it doesn't target that niche with nearly the same precision as a PING i20, Nike Covert Tour, or even an Adams Speedline LS.

The R1 is equally suitable for very average golfers, and probably nearly as suitable for very bad golfers as well.

While other OEMs have moved to clear differentiation in their product lines, the dividing line between the R1 and RBZ Stage 2 Tour would seem to be one between guys who like using wrenches, and guys who really like using wrenches. Even something as basic as cost would seem to be more of a differentiator than the actual performance characteristics of the drivers. Like I said, befuddling.

As I’ve said a few times of late, despite suggestions from TM HQ to the contrary, the secret to TaylorMade’s success lies in servicing the wide middle – the 5 to 15 market – better than anyone in the game.  There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not exactly what I want.

As much as I’d love to see a R1 SuperDeep or something more similar to the Tour Issue head at retail (and I know I'm far from alone), it doesn't make a lot of sense in the context of the larger marketplace as a whole – and TaylorMade tells me it’s not happening.

I know I’m super-important, but even allowing for as much; what I want has nothing to do with what TaylorMade needs to do to remain on top, which is why I suspect, despite those assertions to the contrary, TaylorMade is content to mostly cede the narrower markets to its competitors, and perhaps even to Adams as well.

TaylorMade is doing what TaylorMade needs to do, but I’d be lying if I said the 2013 driver offerings have done much to make me think twice about spending more time with offerings from Adams, Callaway, Nike, Cobra, and Krank. Honestly, when it comes to the new drivers, I wanted to be more excited than I am. I thought I would be.

And About Those RocketFuel Shafts

In case you missed it from the spec sheets, the majority of TaylorMade’s new lineup is powered by RocketFuel (some Matrix, some Fujikura). Even though the new shafts are very real (I've touched them, they’re not holograms), they’re not what most of our readers would consider “real shafts”.

I know…we’re all fuming mad about this epidemic of made for shafts. They’re the scourge of the industry. Everybody should be using true aftermarket equivalents. After all…that’s what tour pros use, right? Hmm…hold on.

If you accept my premise that TaylorMade is all about the middle…does the average golfer, that "SCREW FITTING, I BUY MY DRIVER OFF-THE-RACK" guy actually benefit from playing the same shaft as PGA Tour pro?

I’m guessing most fitters willing to take a break from ranting about how off-the-rack has completely ruined the golf industry would tell you that, while lots of golfers might want a Matrix Black Tie in their driver, most would probably be better off without it.

As a manufacturer you can either bitch about off-the-rack purchasing, or you can accept that it's how the tremendous majority of golfers buy their clubs. For its part TaylorMade accepts the latter, which is precisely the reason why they continues to leverage “designed for” stock shafts while many of its competitors have shifted to what they claim are true aftermarket equivalents.

According to Tom Olsavsky, “The shaft we put in the club is the best for the golfer population we anticipate buying the club “.  Aftermarket shafts mean .335 tips, which Mr. Olsavsky explained aren't necessarily ideal for the average golfer:

"From a durability concern, the biggest challenge is the tip diameter. With the widest reach in the market, we must design for the optimum combination of performance and durability for all types of impact locations seen in the market. This requires a .350” tip design. Since aftermarket shafts are primarily designed for tour and better players, a .335” tip design is acceptable since these players don’t have the range of miss hits seen typically by the market golfer".

With the R1 and RBZ Stage 2, TaylorMade will continue to offer a large variety of aftermarket shafts as upgrade options, but don’t expect TaylorMade to follow the lead of its competitors and start making high-end shafts stock across the whole of the product line. Added Mr. Olsavsky, “We realize most golfers don’t need the same shaft as a tour player, so we don’t put a ‘tour’ shaft in the stock product”.

Brand New Tips

One of the things that made TaylorMade’s driver lineup so appealing was the FCT tip. Dating back to the original R7, if you had a shaft with a TaylorMade tip on it, you could put it in any TaylorMade driver. Bad news…with the introduction of Loft Sleeve, your FCT tipped shafts are now completely incompatible with the new heads.


Sonofabitch!

TaylorMade confirmed that moving to a 4° loft range necessitated a redesign of the FCT tip. They probably could have leveraged the previous adapter in the RBZ Stage 2, but chose to use the new style Loft Sleeve for compatibility (future-proofing) purposes.

Incidentally, you can use the R1 tip in the RBZ Stage 2. The numbers on the hosel won’t make any sense at all, but theoretically you could use the R1 tip to squeeze a little extra loft out of the RBZ.

A Too Quiet TaylorMade

The strangest thing about this entire Spring 2013 release is how quiet TaylorMade has been during the lead-up. Couple the lack of noise with less than the usual amount of bravado in the press releases, and one might get to thinking that TaylorMade has slowed its roll. I mean we’re talking about the company that makes the #1 Driver in Golf (and seldom lets you forget it). And yet, apart from the nebulous #TaylorMade13, and despite this being a pretty big release for them, all is silent in the Twitterverse and elsewhere.

Unlike the RocketBladez irons, there’s no big launch event planned (or if there is, I didn't get an invite). No preview hashtags (#freakishlylonger). Just a couple of Tour Pros opening boxes…that’s it. What the hell TaylorMade?

When I pressed TaylorMade for a hashtag preview of the marketing plan (because, let’s face it, the market plans are almost as interesting as the products these days), all I got back was #morecoming. That's not even a real hashtag. What the hell…again, TaylorMade?

The way I see it, one of three things is happening:

A) There’s a massive holiday hangover happening in Carlsbad and making any real noise would give TaylorMade a headache.

B) They know Nike and Callaway are gunning for them, and they’re going to lay low until they figure out what to do about it.

C) They've got something big planned.

Take your pick, but I’m nearly certain it’s not B, and it’s probably not A either.

What I've been told…and it ain't much…is that TaylorMade has “Big Things” planned for the next month and half. Love it, hate it. I don’t care, but do yourself a favor; watch it. It’s always entertaining, and no matter what industry you’re in, you will learn something from it.

So here’s my advice: While you wait for February 1st, when you can actually try the product for yourself, grab some of your favorite take-out, pop open your favorite beer (unless it’s Bud Light, in which case, go buy better beer), and sit back and enjoy the spectacle. It starts today.

A Fairly Easy Sales Prediction

I haven’t forgotten that “serious golfers” were equally as outraged when TaylorMade released the R11. That white foolishness… it wasn't going to play either, but TaylorMade sold it…in record numbers.

2013 isn't much different. Despite how it may have looked just a couple short weeks ago, I’m positive (at least I think I am) that TaylorMade wouldn't release two graphically-suspect drivers (fairway woods, and rescues too) if they weren't positive they could sell them. Their recent success suggests they might be smarter than detractors are giving them credit for. Besides…those graphics, they’re not really so bad.

For all the talk of Callaway or Nike over-taking TaylorMade...it's not going to happen this year. In both cases, there's simply too much ground to make up in a season.

Don’t get me wrong, TaylorMade definitely got out-painted, out-staffed (assuming there's no Tiger-Bomb), and maybe even out-innovated by Nike. While TaylorMade drivers are as good as they've ever been, I suppose there’s even a chance they might even get outperformed by somebody too. But contrary to what you may have heard, nothing in TaylorMade’s 2013 lineup remotely qualifies as a misfire, a mistake, or even a misstep. Not even close.

The chance that you've just seen something other than the #1 Selling Driver of 2013...there isn't one.

For information on the newly announced TaylorMade Lethal Golf Ball, visit the MyGolfSpy Forum.

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The Entire 2013 Taylormade Line-Up Is Available For Pre-Order Today - CLICK HERE 

The Epically Ginormous TaylorMade R1 and RBZ Stage 2 Gallery - Snow Bound Edition