There's a driver arms race taking place between Callaway and TaylorMade. Whether either is verifiably the longest is always debatable. Competitors like PING, Cobra, Srixon, and nearly everyone else is making good drivers right now. Nevertheless, the majority perception remains that Callaway and TaylorMade make the best drivers. You may disagree, but it's an assertion backed up at the register, on Tour, in Internet forums, and on tee boxes around the world. TaylorMade has traditionally led the category, but last season there was a (Mongolian) reversal of sorts. Callaway gave TaylorMade an absolute spanking, overtaking it in both the driver and all-encompassing metalwoods categories.
Golfers bought into Epic’s Jailbreak story, which Callaway claimed provided 2mph faster ball speeds. The results of our 2017 Most Wanted test suggest that number is close to reality. Not surprising given the buzz and the performance, everywhere you looked golfers were playing Epic. M sold well-enough... a solid 2nd, but when your identity is tied to being The #1 Driver in Golf, 2nd place doesn’t cut it.
That was last season, but you can bet TaylorMade isn’t about to take another drubbing lying down. It’s going to hit back – and hard. The new M3 and M4 drivers are the counterpunch to Epic, and TaylorMade claims they bring a once in a decade jump in performance.
I know what you’re thinking...”let me guess, 10 more yards.” Nope, zero yards - at least zero yards promised, but you might hit a lot more fairways. M3 and M4 offer distance, but TaylorMade wants you to know it's Straight Distance.
How is that possible?
Twist Face. Seriously. Twist Face.
What is Twist Face?
In 1885 the Bulger driver set a new standard in driver face design. The Bulger introduced the golfing world to bulge and roll; face curvature engineered to mitigate the impact of the gear effect on ball flight. If the ball were struck with the toe, the curvature of the face, in theory, would start the ball farther right and draw it back towards the fairway. As you’re likely aware, every manufacturer implements a bulge and roll radius on its drivers, but according to TaylorMade, everyone has been doing it wrong this whole time.
“From the creation of the first metalwood in 1979, TaylorMade has established a legacy of breaking from tradition to reach new thresholds of performance. In 2018, we have once again uncovered a new frontier of driving potential with Twist Face Technology — a radical departure from traditional driver-face design, engineered to correct for inherent human swing tendencies in real-time, giving golfers a tangible competitive advantage.” —Brian Bazzel, Vice President, Product Creation
Twist Face is bulge and roll that’s been rotated, tilted, or otherwise twisted. It’s still bulge and roll, but with a literal twist that gave the oversized face inserts that TaylorMade passed around in its media presentations a shape that we'd liken to that of a Pringles potato crisp. TaylorMade’s story is that has analyzed 1000s of golfer shots and found that most miss-hits occur diagonally from low heel to high toe. This shouldn’t come as news to anyone. Basically everybody already knows this; it’s the foundation of long-existing technologies such as Cobra’s E9 Face Technology.
So what about TaylorMade's twist?
When a driver gets tested on a robot, shots struck along that toe to heel diagonal plane we just mentioned almost always arc back perfectly towards the center of the fairway. Here’s where the difference between robots and humans comes into play. Humans don’t swing like robots; when you set a robot up for toe and heel contact, it still puts the same swing on the ball. With humans, heel and toe contact often results from changes in other variables (path, face angle, attack angle, etc.). It's all about the dynamics of impact; golfers aren't robots, robots aren't golfers.
When a real golfer hits a shot from the toe, he often has swung from the inside out, and a common outcome is a low spinning pull hook. With Twist Face, instead of being more or less straight relative to the face, the bulge and roll is twisted from high toe to low heel. Nothing looks out of the ordinary at address, however, with Twist Face, the club face is effectively more open in the high toe area and will present more loft. In theory, this means a shot will start farther to the right of the target, launch higher, and curve its way back closer to the center of the fairway.
Conversely, the heel will play as effectively more closed with less loft. With Twist Face, low heel contact can be expected to produce a lower trajectory with less spin, which depending on your realities will either bring those balls to the center or mitigate the high fade/slice.
Twist Face sounds positively brilliant. It’s the sort of innovation that might benefit golfers – certainly, it has greater potential in that regard than a couple of more yards, but let’s get real for a moment in a way that TaylorMade most likely won’t.
The whole idea that TaylorMade discovered something about bulge and roll that nobody else in the golf industry had a clue about is borderline ridiculous. Just about everyone is perpetually experimenting with bulge and roll. Engineers know how this stuff works. With bulge and roll, it's about tuning, and taking your best shot at what will work for the largest segment of the market. Granted, nobody ever talks about the various ways they tweak bulge and roll from one season to the next, and that's precisely why TaylorMade will try to convince golfers they've never seen anything like it before.
While TaylorMade is billing its Twist Face as its greatest innovation in the last decade or so, what the company is describing is, in principle, no different than what you’ll find in Cobra’s new F8 driver. While Cobra chose to focus on its milled face story, buried within those details is the fact that the milled face also features a rotated (you might say twisted) bulge and roll design that effectively – and tell me if this suddenly sounds familiar – increases loft and spin towards the high toe, while decreasing loft and spin on low heel strikes. Not only has Cobra already rotated the bulge and roll to match its existing E9 face technology, but the fact is also that Cobra has been twisting its driver faces dating back to its original AMP line.
What we've been told suggests that TaylorMade's implementation may be more aggressive (Twisted-IER), and that means its impact on ball flight will likely be greater than existing implementations, but to put all of this in perspective; in order to present Twist Face in any sort of tactile and visibly tangible way, TaylorMade is relying on an illustration that is 2X the size of the actual M3/M4 driver face with a 40% magnification of the Twist Face effect. In its actual implementation, Twist Face is imperceptible, and while that's not to say it doesn't matter, let's not pretend that something like Twist Face hasn't been done a time or two before.
Every driver release needs a good story, this one happens to begins with Twist Face.
The Twist Face Caveat
Twist Face is a design consideration, and in golf that almost always means it comes with a tradeoff. Toe shots will start farther to the right and heel shots farther to the left than with conventional bulge and roll. That’s fine on the driving range, but if your fairways aren’t straight, or you’ve got trees or other trouble on the left or right, that little bit of extra push might do more harm than good. This isn't news to TaylorMade (or its competitors), it's part of the reason why it works, but it's something you should be aware of.
So take Twist Face for what it is – a compelling, though not exactly new, innovative, or even unique to TaylorMade technology, that may offer an accuracy benefit, but not without the potential for consequence.
Finally, don’t lose track of the fact that Twist Face is all about toe and heel mishits. It won’t help you on center or near center impact where the face just happens to be pointed in an undesirable direction.
In addition to Twist Face, the new M3 and M4 feature a Hammerhead slot. Slots are nothing new in TaylorMade drivers; however, M3 marks the first time the company has included one on its most adjustable model. Silly (or perhaps classically TaylorMade) name aside, the Hammerhead slot is intended to be the company’s answer to Jailbreak . Split into zones, the Speed Pocket is now longer, and more flexible in the center zone. The result is increased ball speed and lower backspin on low face strikes. The walls of the slot function as stiffening bars, which TaylorMade says allow for a thinner face and faster average ball speeds due to an enlarged sweet zone.
Silver is the New White
And then there's the crown. TaylorMade owns white, or at least it did. R11(s), R15, Aeroburner, M1, M2; all were either all white or featured plenty of it, and everyone knew they were TaylorMade drivers.
For 2018, everything is silver (because SLDR S did so well?). It's not ugly, in fact, coincidentally enough, it's similar to the old Adams Speedline drivers. But why change a distinctive and often winning formula? Taylormade says it hasn’t. Silver still offers good contrast, while sending the message that M3 and M4 are new models. Different. The latest. Maybe a must buy. Maybe enough to convince a segment of golfers that they need a new silver fairway wood to match.
And while we're talking about design and aesthetic, let’s not ignore the elephant in the room. As near countless readers have pointed out, the new M3 and M4 logos are painfully derivative of the BMW M logos with its flashes of blue and red. Perhaps TaylorMade is subtly suggesting that it has created the ultimate driving machines (for golf, of course). It's lazy, hackneyed branding, but if it works well for the company, none of that will matter.
While TaylorMade only mentions it in passing, the slightly raised crown design of the new Ms represents the TaylorMade answer to Turbulators and Speed Steps. The company claims that raising the crown keeps the air flow tight to the head throughout the swing, resulting in less drag and greater clubhead speed. The design changes are more or less hidden in the carbon fiber. The company says that’s significant for two reasons. Firstly, because the carbon material is so light, it doesn't raise the CG as the carbon crown is so light. Secondly, moving the aerodynamic features away from the front of the crown prevents the driver from looking a bit more upright than most Tour players prefer.
Now that we’ve discussed what M3 and M4 have in common, let’s discuss how they differ.
With M3, the signature T-Track design of the M1 has been replaced with a new Y-Track. What does this really do? It raises the MOI (forgiveness) of the draw and fade settings, and with that comes higher spin, which TaylorMade says will encourage more shot shaping. We’d wager that the new settings offer less left/right CG movement, which suggests you’ll lose a bit of draw/fade bias, but frankly, we think the higher MOI option makes more sense. With both tracks connected the 22 grams of total weight (two 11-gram weights) can be moved over a greater spread. TaylorMade says there are over 1000 possible CG configurations; more than double that of the M1. We’d like to encourage you to try each and every one of them and report back to us in detail.
As far as the numbers go, Center of Gravity movement front to back has been increased 83%, and M3’s CG is lower than M1’s in every setting. The full back setting is 36% back-IER while offering 10% higher MOI and still keeping the CG low
M3 packs a massive amount of adjustability, but is it necessary? Other brands (even PXG) have simplified their approach to adjustability and the M2 has been the more popular TaylorMade driver both on Tour and in stores. That said, TaylorMade has long staked a claim to offering the most adjustable driver on the market, and with M3, they have every legitimate reason to do just that.
TaylorMade will continue to offer 440cc to complement the standard 460 cc model. Like previous sub-460 models, the 440 offers a deeper face and will produce lower launch and spin, albeit at the expense of forgiveness.
Stock shafts for the M3 come from Mitsubishi’s Tensei series. Non ‘Pro’ versions of the Tensei Red, Blue and White are all options. Over two dozen additional no upcharge shaft options are also available. The stock grip is a Lamkin UTX. The 460 is available in an 8.5°, 9.5°, 10.5° and 12° options. The 440 is available in 9° and 10° degrees.
Both M3 models feature a 4-degree ultra-lightweight aluminum loft sleeve that's backward compatible with previous drivers.
Retail Price for the M3 and the M3 440 is $499.
The M4 is the bludgeon to the M3’s surgical blade. It's not for golfers looking to fine-tune their drives. It's a no-nonsense hammer for the guy who just wants to smack it.
Designed to sound better and be more forgiving than competitors drivers, the Geocoustic sole design lowers the center of gravity while presenting a larger profile at address. The curved sole gives off a higher frequency at impact for what TaylorMade describes as a more powerful sound and better feel. Along with the Geocoustic sole and the weight saved from the hammerhead slot design, the M4 has a 41g weight pad anchored at the back of the head. As it always does, the rear-placed weight raises the MOI to a point where TaylorMade says M4 offers “unparalleled forgiveness.” The company has played fast and loose with its MOI stories in the past, and while anything is possible, based on the last few years of drivers, it's fair to suggest the company has a long way to go to catch up to PING, Cobra, and PXG in the truly high MOI driver category. Given the carbon crown and emphasis on back-weighting, it's certainly possible. We’ll have actual MOI measurements for you as soon as we possibly can.
The stock shaft for the M4 is the non-Tour Spec version of Fujikura’s ATMOS Red. The M4 will be available in 8.5° for the first time, as well as 9.5°, 10.5°, and 12° degrees. The 8.5° option suggests that some stronger players like TaylorMade’s second driver every bit as much as its flagships, and its availability could boost sales of that model a bit.
A draw favoring D-Type M4 is also available. It’s slightly offset and heel weighted for golfers who struggle to get the clubface square at impact. Changes to the paint line on the crown make the D-Type appear square behind the ball, which should appeal to golfers who need the help, but don’t always like the way help looks. The stock shaft is a Matrix Platinum White Tie. The D-type will be available in 9.5°, 10.5°, and 12° degrees.
Retail Price for the M4 and M4 D-Type is $429.
Fairways and Hybrids
While there’s a case to be made that M3 and M4 drivers bring some new – or at least new to TaylorMade – technology to the party, it’s hard to make the same argument for the corresponding fairways and hybrids. Don't get us wrong, the fairways, in particular, look great, but if you're looking for another breakthrough technology story, I'm afraid we don't have anything for you.
The M3 fairway features a 5- layer carbon crown, a thin Ni-Co C300 face, and a longer speed pocket. The only notable addition is a carbon sole plate. Weight tracks have been moved forward to improve turf interaction, and you get an additional 4-grams worth of movable weight. These are certainly improvements, but the impact is likely subtle and unlikely to entice many to replace a fairway wood for reasons other than necessity or the desire for a silver crown.
The M3 fairway will be available in 15°, 17°, and 18° degrees, and will come stock with a Mitsubishi Tensei Blue Shaft.
Retail Price is $299
Billed as TaylorMade's ultimate distance fairway, the M4 fairway story follows that of the driver. It has a slightly larger address profile, a larger Hammerhead slot, and a Geocoustic sole. Like the M3, it leverages a Ni-Co C300 face with TaylorMade's Inverted Cone Technology to help maintain ball speed. A new split-weight mass pad pushes weight to the perimeter to increase forgiveness.
Complementing the standard M4 fairway is a Tour model. It's smaller (156cc vs. 175cc), has a deeper face, and as you would expect, offers lower launch and more workability (i.e., it's less forgiving).
The M4 is offered in 15°, 16.5°, 18°, 21° and 24°. The stock shaft is the Fujikura ATMOS Red 75 (non-Tour Spec).
The Tour Model is available in 15° and 18°. The stock shaft is the Mitsubishi Tensei Blue.
Retail Price for M4 Fairways is $249
History tells us TaylorMade makes good fairway woods, and we expect that will again prove the case, but we’re not seeing anything to suggest there's a market-buster in this crowd.
Because there has to be something new in every category; rounding out the new lineup are a pair of rescues (hybrids) designed to match the Driver and Fairways.
As with the fairways, the tech story is what you'd expect. The M3 rescue offers a moderate profile, a Tour-proven and preferred shape, and a whopping 3-grams of additional adjustable weight compared to last season's M1. TaylorMade's normally verbose press material on the subject is limited to a single paragraph, so two-tone crown and all, you can reasonably assume that what you see is what you get.
The M3 Rescue is offered in 17°, 19°, 21°, and 24°. The stock shaft is again the Mitsubishi Tensei Blue.
Retail Price is $249.
Rounding out the lineup is the M4 Rescue. Compared to the M3, the M4 Rescue has a lower profile and is bigger front to back. It offers a Geocoustic sole and a cut-through Speed Pocket for higher launch. Like the M4 Fairway, it offers a split-mass pad for increased forgiveness. Finally, it offers a bit of draw bias, which may not be desirable for everyone.
The M4 Rescue will be offered in 19°, 22°, 25°, and 28° degrees. Stock Shaft is the Fujikura ATMOS Red (non-Tour Spec).
Retail Price is $219.
TaylorMade believes it has a pair of game-changers with the M3 and M4 drivers. Submitted as proof are the genuine Tour pro reaction videos the company has been distributing on Social Media over the last week. Members of TaylorMade's Tour Staff have never seen anything like it. As with every driver in recent memory, to a man, they can’t wait to put in their bags. It’s a cute story, even if we’ve heard it a time or two before.
Once everyone stops being amazed, TaylorMade must acknowledge the reality that, after losing its grip on the #1 Driver and #1 Metalwood positions last season, it needs to bounce back bigly in the driver category. With a fresh round of Callaway drivers, along with some compelling stuff from its other competitors on the way, success is anything but a given. Overlooking for a moment the fact that technology not unlike its breakthrough Twist Face has existed in a competitors’ lineup for the better part of a decade, in tying its success in the market to an accuracy story, TaylorMade is making a bold play. It's the kind of gambit that the company made back in the days when R dominated the category.
It’s a risky move and we’ll be watching from the edges of our seats. To my recollection, nobody has ever succeeded selling a driver with an accuracy story. If it works, TaylorMade will have flipped the sales script, shifted the proverbial paradigm, and likely reestablished itself as the category leader and an innovative force.
If it doesn’t work... let’s not go there just yet.