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Just 15 Days Until Spring
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Just Arrived – 2015 Bridgestone J715 460 Driver
Written By: Tony Covey
Earlier this week, Bridgestone Golf’s J715 460 Driver became a reality in the USA. As you may recall, we covered most of the 2015 lineup when details emerged on Bridgestone Golf’s Japanese website several months ago.
Before we get to the meat of why you might want to give the J715 a look, I’ll spare you any suspense and confirm that the J715 will be included in MyGolfSpy’s 2015 Most Wanted Driver test. Testing, by the way, begins next Monday (1/12/2015).
As much as we like to praise Bridgestone for its controlled release cycles (it’s been 4 years since the J40), like anyone else, the company still relies on some clever marketing to describe its technologies.
In this case, Bridgestone says there are 4 Key Technologies, and what I find most interesting about at least 3 of them is they’re designed to promote additional distance within the confines of the USGA’s COR limitations.
I know…some of you believe a singular restriction based on a static measurement of what in the real world is a dynamic force (the USGA’s pendulum test) amounts to a hard cap on distance. It doesn’t. In reality, the USGA’s measurement is at best a limitation on center or near center face ball speed. It gives no consideration to aerodynamics, nor does it account for evolutions in driver designs that create higher launch with less spin (more distance at the same speed).
So at least keep that in mind as we consider whether or not Bridgestone’s latest innovations can actually boost performance compared to the previous model.
Bridgestone describes a crown design that is thinner near the face and progressively thickens as you move towards the rear. The idea is that the crown itself flexes at impact, which Bridgestone says produces higher launch and “increased repulsion”.
It’s reasonable to assume that Bridgestone chose that particular phrase because the USGA frowns upon any marketing that directly suggest a spring-like or rebound effect. Language can be fun…right?
The most visually intriguing of Bridgestone’s new technologies is the Power Milled Face. Aesthetically is resembles the micro grooves found on some of today’s wedges, and the idea is that the milling helps the ball adhere to the driver face, which ultimately leads to better compression and reduced spin (Bridgestone’s robot tests say 200-300RPM compared to non-power milled faces).
Basically, we’re talking about reducing spin without reducing loft. For the overwhelming majority of golfers, this a good thing.
Some of the more analytical among you many find yourselves wondering why milling would reduce spin on a driver when we all know it adds spin in wedges.
Good question (that you may or may not have actually asked). It’s probably not worth digging into the ab solute details from a physics perspective, but it has to do with loft and the way the ball responds to it.
The short of it is that at lower lofts, face textures reduce spin. As loft increases the impact of texture slowly decreases and then, at a certain point, grooves, texture, etc. begin to add rather than reduce spin.
Really short version; it’s related to loft, and I promise you we’ll be seeing more of this face texture stuff from other companies in the very near future.
Back to those Key Technologies…
Bridgestone’s take on moveable weight technology. Basically, the J715 460 is CG adjustable. The default system consists of 2 weights (10 grams and 4 grams) that can be swapped between a front/center and rear/heel positions.
Bridgestone isn’t giving any specific number, but basic math tells us that we’re dealing with 6 grams of actual weight movement. We can’t yet give you exact numbers, but we do know that with the heavier weight in the front, CG will lower and more forward. This is your higher ball speed, low launch, low spin setting.
Moving the weight to the rear will increase launch and spin, while raising MOI. It’s your forgiveness and consistency setting. Based on the location of the weight port, it’s possible it could also introduce a very slight draw bias as well.
Everyone, let’s welcome Bridgestone to the adjustable hosel club. The J715 is Bridgestone’s first adjustable hosel driver. Like TaylorMade, Cobra, and a few others, Bridgestone’s implementation is a single cog design that allows for a 1° change in face angle (either open or closed). Settings also allow for the club to be set either upright or flat.
Given how well the J40 performed for us, we’re obviously excited to see how the J715 will perform in our 2015 Most Wanted Driver Test. We know some of you are always on the lookout for high-performance alternatives to the bigger manufacturers.
We’re as curious as you are to find out if the J715 is just that.
The J715 Driver is available in lofts of 8.5°, 9.5°, 10.5°, and 12°. The most popular lofts (9.5° and 10.5°) will be available in left-handed as well (Finally! Am I right, lefties?).
*Left-handed models won’t be available until April 1.
The stock shaft is the Mitsubishi Fubuki ZT. The stock grip is a custom yellow Golf Pride Tour Velvet.
The Bridgestone J715 Driver will be available at retail starting February 1st, 2015. Street price is $399.
For now, Bridgestone is only releasing one (the 460cc model) J15 Driver. For those who really want something in a smaller footprint, it very well could be worth waiting a few months to see if an alternative emerges.
Spring Is Just 28 Days Away
Photo from Bay Harbor, Michigan
PGA TOUR Raises $1 Billion For Charity In Just Eight Years
The PGA TOUR this weekend passes the $2 billion mark in charitable giving, according to letter from PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem. The TOUR’s first charitable contribution was a $10,000…
Shocking News! TaylorMadeGolf SLDR Driver Isn’t Just a Tour Prototype
Written By: Tony Covey
3 weeks to the date after the first pictures showed up, the mostly poorly acted charade of the golf season has come to its predictable conclusion. Not that there was much doubt this day would come…and quickly, but TaylorMade just killed whatever suspense there was with the announcement that the “Tour Prototype” SLDR Driver would be available for retail purchase on August 9th.
Did anybody not see this coming?
From Tour Prototype to scheduled release in 3 short weeks?
This SLDR thing must really be something.
Before I talk about what SLDR is, I have to tell you what SLDR isn’t.
SLDR isn’t like when Callaway released an ultra-lightweight, semi-niche driver where they can argue they’re not flooding the market; they’re just trying to round out the lineup.
Nope. SLDR ain’t that.
SLDR is TaylorMade setting sail with a new flagship driver right in the middle of the damn golf season.
In case any of this is the least bit unclear to you, let me spell it out.
The TaylorMade SLDR is the direct replacement for the TaylorMade R1 (released 6 months ago)…and by extension the R1 Black (released 2 months ago).
Wow…just wow. In fact, holy shit!
It’s one thing to release a larger head, a smaller head, a head with upgraded adjustability, a head with a glued hosel, a head with a new paint job…TaylorMade has done that sort of stuff in the past, but a mid-season, new line replacement for their flagship model?
It’s weird. Frankly, I’m not entirely sure what to make of it.
I’ve spent the last several days banging away at my keyboard trying to tell you the story of the SLDR driver. No exaggeration, I’ve written nearly 10,000 words on the subject, and haven’t found 2000 that I’m happy with.
Here’s the issue; apart from the most hardcore TaylorMade fanboy, I can’t find anyone who is legitimately excited about this driver. The wow factor, for a multitude of reasons is almost zero.
I love a new driver, as much as…hell, more than anybody, and even I’m struggling to muster any excitement.
That’s a big problem for me.
I know what you’re thinking…This is just TaylorMade being TaylorMade and releasing 10 drivers in a season. This is just more of the same.
Factually, if we’re counting Tour, and Tour Issue, and new paint jobs, it’s really only the 6th, which is still a lot (some would say too many).
The only emotion SLDR seems to be stirring is anger. That’s no audience for a new driver.
I’ve heard plenty of theories as to why TaylorMade would release the SLDR now instead of waiting until next February. To one degree or another, most of them make sense.
Metalwoods market share is down. Callaway took a chunk. Nike got one too.
Revenue is down.
Some would say TaylorMade is desperate.
TaylorMade has an answer for all of it.
The market share drop was expected, and TaylorMade’s cut is still more than 2 times that of their nearest competitor.
Revenues are down, but percentage-wise it’s just a couple of ticks, which isn’t bad when you consider the brutal winter that hurt everyone’s bottom line.
Desperation is a stretch when you have the number one selling driver in golf.
TaylorMade would say they’re releasing SLDR now because innovation can’t wait – not because Callaway just released a new driver too.
As with most stories where viewpoints diverge, the real story of the apparently early release of the SLDR driver almost certainly lies in the middle.
Absolutely, competition is stronger than it has been in years. TaylorMade is being pushed, and when you take an objective look at their post R11 driver releases; it’s hard to argue they’ve released anything of real consequence. It’s all been solid, but none of it revolutionary.
Absolutely Callaway has gained momentum, and it stands to reason that even if we’re only talking about a couple of percentage points, TaylorMade would rather not finish behind last year’s numbers.
But despite a multitude of factors that suggest that SLDR is as much about putting new product on the shelves as anything else, I’ve come to believe that TaylorMade actually believes SLDR is a special driver.
Ask anybody at any golf company and they’ll say the same thing:
And yet, despite the stench of perpetual awesomeness, deep down these guys know that some products are actually better than others – and it comes across when they talk about them.
When the MyGolfSpy staff was at Callaway last winter, they stepped us through their entire product line. It was all really (really, really) good – best ever kind of stuff (even the RAZR Fit Xtreme fairway wood), but the XHot fairway was special. They didn’t just tell us they had there answer for RocketBallz, they believed it.
Look…maybe I’m gullible, even stupid, but certain releases just come across differently. R11s, R1 that was business as usual. In fact, it’s been business as usual for every TaylorMade driver release I’ve covered since R11.
SLDR is different. I can’t tell you why I believe that, because I don’t fully understand it myself, but my gut is telling me that behind all the hype, and fluff, and the “this is the longest driver we’ve ever created” stuff; inside of TaylorMade, they absolutely believe that SLDR is their best work in the driver category in years. I think they think it’s the kind of driver you build a franchise around.
And that’s a problem for TaylorMade because I think when golfers see SLDR they aren’t seeing anything special. It doesn’t look the part of a flagship TaylorMade driver, and that means golfers aren’t nearly as likely to take it off the rack to find out how good it really is.
Right about now is where the clever crowd starts chiming in with, “Of course it doesn’t look like a TaylorMade driver. They stole it from Mizuno”.
We’ve covered it before, but in the interest of helping you not go through life all ignorant and whatnot, let’s get a few things sorted out right quick.
Any resemblance to Mizuno’s FastTrack system which first appeared on the MP-600 is superficial at best. Mizuno’s system was designed with the goal of moving weight around the rear perimeter of the golf club.
TaylorMade’s SLDR weight system is forwardly placed, and the weight is relocated parallel (as opposed to around) to the face. That may sound like a small detail, but as far as the performance implications are concerned they’re worlds apart.
The other key thing to consider and this is the part you’re really going to want to pay close attention to; we did some extensive research on patents pertaining to sliding, rail-based weighting systems. As it happens, TaylorMade’s patent pre-dates Mizuno’s by over a year.
Your Mizuno argument is invalid and uniformed…please move along.
TaylorMades’ marketing team would almost certainly tell me that this SLDR thing is just getting started and that I should sit back (probably shut up), and watch them do what they do. Before they’re done, the golfer is going to believe what they believe (SLDR is really, really, really good).
I don’t see it happening.
The excitement level feels low. And what’s worse, this isn’t about converting the “I’d never put that in my bag crowd”, it’s a battle against early indifference – and that’s a problem for TaylorMade too.
Worse yet, I believe a lot of golfers are going to see SLDR as nothing more than something TaylorMade threw on the shelf to kill time until the spring.
If this is what TaylorMade says it is…the flagship driver for a new generation of TaylorMade product, they could find themselves in a difficult position this spring when their competitors are putting new product on the shelf next to TaylorMade’s six month old relative relic.
Then again…the can always release the next generation SLDR.
According to TaylorMade’s Tom Olsavsky; when it comes to the number of drivers TaylorMade can release, there is no limit. “The golfer is always looking to buy better performance”.
I’m not positive why, despite tour player tweets, and launch monitor photos, and all the other pre-release stuff TaylorMade did to build buzz, there isn’t the same level of eager anticipation there usually is for a new TaylorMade driver.
Absolutely the timing sucks. It’s not even August. There might even be a TaylorMade driver hangover of sorts, but more than anything else, the issue is that SLDR, I believe, simply doesn’t have any real wow factor.
Even if you hate all of it, what’s more interesting to you – all lofts in a single head, an adjustable sole plate that looks like a compass and a bold crown graphic or a shiny piece of blue anodized aluminum on an otherwise ordinary looking driver?
Now let me ask you this – What if Back in Black (or Back in Charcoal) was part of the SLDR story?
What if in addition to the re-invention of moveable weights, the SLDR was the first black driver TaylorMade released since the R9 series?
SLDR is a whole lot more interesting if R1 Black doesn’t exist. It might even look like the game-changer I think TaylorMade thinks it is.
From a performance perspective, TaylorMade is saying some pretty compelling things about SLDR. While they are calling SLDR the longest driver they’ve ever made, TaylorMade won’t be making any specific distance claims (contrary to the popular myth, TaylorMade hasn’t made a specific driver distance claim in years).
What they are telling me personally, however; is that compared to R1, most players will pick up 2-3MPH of ball speed, and decrease spin by up to 400RPM. According to TaylorMade Product Evangelist, Tom Kroll, TaylorMade staffers are picking up between 6 and 10 yards.
That’s pretty bold. R1 is no slouch.
While the numbers sound great, the story behind them is much less compelling.
For years every new release has included a blurb about how extra distance was achieved through a relocation of the center of gravity.
For the better part of the last decade it was all about moving the COG lower and further back. Now it’s about moving it low and forward. It’s different, and that should matter, but for most golfers, the center of gravity story, no matter how new, or how different from the one that came before it, is basically played out.
Like I keep saying, I think TaylorMade believes they have something special, but so far it hasn’t come across that way. I know…it’s early.
While the sliding rail system provides the eye-candy, and plays a substantial role in the previously mentioned center of gravity placement thing, functionally not much is new.
The new system features 20 grams of re-positional weight (compared to 9 grams (excluding additional weights) under the old system). The 30 yards of lateral change in ball flight TaylorMade claims it offers is actually only 2 yards more than the 28 yards offered with 2007’s R7 SuperQuad.
Nearly 6 years has netted us 2 yards. And that’s if you believe 20 grams is enough weight to shift the center of gravity and fundamentally alter trajectory.
That’s fine though. The sliding weight…that’s the eye-candy. It’s cool, but it’s not the real story.
Low and forward…that’s the real story.
As far as the updated adjustability goes, the real selling point for the SLDR weight system is that it’s easier for the average golfer to understand, and takes far less time to adjust the weights.
Nearly every golf company talks about doing a better job of enabling the golfer to adjust his own club. On paper SLDR does just that, but in the real-world, I don’t think it will change much of anything. Those who want to adjust already do, and those that don’t probably never will.
For fitters, and compulsive tinkerers, however; TaylorMade has cut the time it takes to reposition the weights down to about 10 seconds. That’s actually a huge improvement.
As is the case with most TaylorMade shafts, the stock non-TP shaft offerings are “designed for variants”, while the TP model is a “real” Fujikura Motore Speeder TourSpec 6.3.
For compulsive tweakers, there are some issues with tuning the weight to work with a variety of shafts. With the old system you could buy additional weights allowing you to basically hit your desired swing weight with any shaft.
While TaylorMade estimates those guys (guys like me) represent less than 10% of the market, because of some issues with the USGA, TaylorMade was forced to put a barely removable plug over the access hole for the weight cartridge. The USGA felt the opening could provide an aerodynamic benefits, and for whatever reason they haven’t yet allowed TaylorMade to use a screw to secure the cap (the opening is threaded, so maybe the USGA will come around).
The result is that while adjusting the weight is easy, swapping it isn’t. TaylorMade is looking into making aftermarket kits available, but as of right now, guys who constantly experiment with different shafts are going to have some issues.
I’m told it’s going to be a few weeks but as soon as we get a complete set of samples of the SLDR driver we’re going to be putting them to the test. Once again, here’s what TaylorMade is saying:
Compared to R1 SLDR offers:
As soon as we can, we’re going to bring back the 6 testers from our Most Wanted Driver test and have them hit SLDR vs. R1. head to head.
Just because TaylorMade thinks they have something special, it doesn’t mean that they actually do.
If SLDR is the real deal, we’ll tell you. If it can’t measurably outperform TaylorMade’s own R1, you can bet we’ll tell you that too.
In the meantime, would it kill you to show a little excitement?
I spoke with members of the TaylorMade team about the SLDR for nearly an hour. Not everything made it into the story, but I did want to share some of the more interesting notes from my conversation with Tom Kroll (TaylorMade Product Evangelist), and Tom Olsavsky (Senior Director of Product Creation for Metalwoods).
That’s obviously a comparatively small number on both accounts. If you have the opportunity to reach more golfers, why wait? Olsavsky pointed out that R1 is still a great driver. “If you’re happy and playing well”, said Olsavsky, keep doing it.
The Open – is Rose blooming just in time?
A guest post: The Open – is Rose blooming just in time? Just a few days after the ever-steady…
Tiger Woods Was Just Here …
Funny ad from Dick’s Sporting Goods
One Weird Trick To Lower Your Golf Scores? Nonsense. Just Play Smarter.
If you believe the marketers, you’re just “one weird trick” away from longer drives—and presumably lower golf scores. You’re also…
Callaway Golf XHot Pro 3Deep. Different Enough, or Just Different?
Callaway Golf has just (quietly) announced the impending retail availability of what’s being called the XHot 3Deep fairway wood; presumably because it will be the 3rd version of the XHot line offered to consumers, and because the biggest feature is the deeper face (10% higher than XHot Pro).
Given the online golf connoisseur’s penchant for whining about companies releasing too much gear every year, it’s possible that Callaway might ruffle some feathers by releasing another iteration of XHot. It’s an out of the box move for a company trying to fight its way back to the top, and out of the box is more or less the story of the new Callaway Golf…at least on the marketing side.
What remains to be seen is whether the consumer will see XHot Pro 3Deep as a unique performance proposition, or whether it’s destiny is to be just another club on the rack…almost totally indistinguishable from the one next to it. For a company that has recently championed the idea of clear marketing segmentation, 3Deep would seem to blur those lines just a bit.
As you may be aware, the XHot line was born largely from a mandate from new CEO Chip Brewer. Callaway engineers were tasked with creating a fairway wood that could match, and ideally outperform anything on the market right now. And so XHot was born.
Phil Mickelson (and probably everybody else) wanted a fairway wood that was more versatile, easier to shape, and of course, really long. To better service the needs of their tour staff (and to get that pesky competitor’s fairway wood out of Phil’s bag), XHot Pro was born too. Think of them as fraternal twins.
While the XHot and XHot Pro do a good job of covering the needs of a healthy percentage of the market, it turns out it’s not quite ideal for everyone. If one of those guys it doesn’t work perfectly for is you or me, chances are not much happens. If one of those guys happens to be Phil Mickelson…well some changes get made.
XHot Pro 3Deep is the result of those changes.
Phil’s tendency is to strike the ball a bit higher on the face than many. Essentially Phil hits the ball above the conventional “sweet spot”, or more simply put; Phil hits it high on the face. With XHot Pro above the sweet spot contact results in a decrease in ball speed, and an increase in spin rates. Neither is really what you’re going for with a 3 wood.
With the new XHot Pro 3Deep, Callaway designers were able to increase face height, and raise the center of gravity. The result is a head that maintains ball speed for above center contact, while improving spin robustness. Spin robustness, is the variance between high and low spin rates off a given head. The lower the variance, the narrower the gap between high and low spin. As much as anything else, spin robustness is an indicator of what happens when you don’t quite hit the sweet spot.
While the on-course impact of 3Deep remains to be seen, Mickelson’s caddie, Jim “Bones Mackay is calling 3Deep “The most meaningful club Phil has ever put in his bag”. Because of the added distance from 3Deep, Mickelson’s plan (always subject to immediately change) is to hit fairway off the tee in most situations, while turning his driver into a pure bomber for those situations when he wants every yard he can possibly get.
According to Callaway’s Randy Peterson, the versatility of XHot 3Deep will allow Phil to do some experimentation with the driver. Callaway is going to look at longer (46″) shafts, as well as possibly changing the weight configuration, and even the loft. It sounds like the goal is to focus exclusively on squeezing as much yardage as they can out of Phil’s driver, even if it means sacrificing some accuracy to do so.
When you consider Mickelson’s erratic tendencies with the driver…hold on fellas…this could get interesting.
What’s most interesting about 3Deep’s upcoming availability is that it marks one of the rare occasions when a golf club adapted to the specific needs of a PGA tour professional will find its way to retail. Most of us realize that a good bit of what’s in the bags of the tour guys isn’t exactly the same as what’s on the store shelves. There are some who are ignorant of the fact. Some accept it. Some whine about not being able to play exactly what the pros play, and some take to eBay and a couple of other Tour Issues dealers and spend ridiculous sums of money for products that in many case don’t fit them.
Most of us…we’re no Phil Mickelson.
While I’m not certain I buy into Callaway’s claims that consumers asked for this club (most consumers are just finding out about it today), I suppose I can appreciate what Callaway’s doing. Essentially, they’re getting the jump on the any potential consumer demand for a “tour” product with the very real benefit of keeping the Callaway name and products fresh on the minds, and ideally, the tongues of consumers.
When Chip Brewer ran the show at Adams it was anything but unusual for tour issue prototypes to pop up in the golf forums on an almost weekly basis. Those images not only guaranteed Adams almost equal time, they also helped provide a legitimate meter of consumer interest in the products.
Without spending a dollar Adams was able to stay in the news, do a little bit of market research, and distance themselves a bit from the reputation of being simply a hybrid and game-improvement company.
By bringing what legitimately qualifies as a Tour prototype to retail, Callaway, under Brewer’s influence, appears to be engaging in a similar strategy, even if the consumer demand piece feels a little more contrived. Unlike the Adams days, it’s not like pics of the 3Deep were being drooled over in every golf forum on the planet. Buzz is being built…retroactively.
Nevertheless, I’ll give Callaway plenty of credit for demystifying the product (toning down the Tour Issue mystique) and drawing some clear and easy to understand distinctions between the XHot Pro and the XHot Pro 3Deep.
It’s simple really. If your tendency is to hit the ball below the center of the clubface, XHot Pro is the better choice. If you’re like Phil…you like flashing thumbs up, and you strike the ball above the center of the face with your fairway woods, 3Deep will likely be the better choice.
The challenge comes in letting the consumer knows he has options, and doing it without causing confusion.
As is always the story with XHot, Callaway maintains that both the Pro and Pro 3Deep models are Longer from Everywhere.
XHot Pro 3Deep will be available in 13° and 14° (RH) and 13° (LH). Stock shaft is a 43.5″ Project X Velocity.
Look for the XHot 3 Deep to hit store shelves sometime next month. Retail price is $229.99.