In what surely must be the latest example of coincidence within the golf equipment world, on the same day that Callaway’s Epic Flash line of drivers landed on the USGA’s conforming clubs list, TaylorMade released a short teaser video for its upcoming 2019 drivers.
Promising that, on February 1st, #EverbodyGetsFaster (that’s the official hashtag), TaylorMade revealed the face of its new models. While you can be sure that Twist Face persists, 2019’s twist (I booed myself) is a pair of red screws positioned in the low heel and toe of the face. Isn’t that interesting?
— TaylorMade Golf (@TaylorMadeGolf) December 3, 2018
Racecar wheels, jet engines, and some sort of flaming reaction. Oh my, that is fast.
Let’s be real, far too often golfers behave like fish. That is to say; we’re easily distracted by shiny objects and sometimes bite on things we shouldn’t. TaylorMade knows this, and so it also knows that doing something that hasn’t been done since the days of persimmon – like putting big screws in the face of a driver – is sure to attract attention to its face technology in a year when face technology will be all the rage.
Behind the screws will be a story about faster, and more to the point, more consistent ball speed, across more of the face. That’s how you, me, and everybody else is going to get faster. TaylorMade will talk about how it made the face so fast, it needed the screws and other structures to help slow it down and bring it back under the USGA limit. Every brand has told a version of this story at one time or another, but in golf, everything old is perpetually new again. Along similar lines, TaylorMade will recycle a story from the Adams XTD driver and say that every face is individually inspected and measured to ensure that CT is at the USGA limit at multiple points.
Depending on your predilections, the screws might be cool, but I’d wager that what’s closer to reality is that whatever difference-making technology there is, it’s mostly out of sight. Inside the head, the face will feature variable thickness, goo-filled structures – pockets of sorts – which is how TaylorMade will say it can better control CT. The screws, not unlike Cobra’s Space Port, they’re the visible bits to raise awareness of what you can’t see. That’s my thinking on the subject anyway. I’m open to being proven wrong.
An updated track weighting system is also said to be part of the package.
The Next Big Thing or the Next Big Bust?
TaylorMade very well could be setting the trend with the next big thing, but I’m not without my concerns. Feedback from industry insiders and experts can be summed up in two words: Structural failure. What happens when a golfer hits the ball on the screws? No matter how far from center the screws may be, they’re going to get hit, and the thinking is that the screws may weaken the surrounding titanium and cause cracks. We’d wager TaylorMade has put the new design through its paces, but the same was probably said about the original M series drivers (crowns cracking), and several generations of face slot irons (slots splitting), so there is some legitimate quality control history with new TaylorMade technologies that should rightfully raise eyebrows.
It also remains to be seen what the weight penalty is for adding screws and goo to the face. It’s certainly possible that TaylorMade has made the technology weight-neutral, but at a time when everyone else is scrambling to remove weight from the face and push mass lower and deeper, it’s at least interesting that TaylorMade appears to be adding forward mass. Reality to be determined when we can get the new heads on our Auditor CG gauge, but one of the near-universal truths in golf equipment design is that structures bring with them mass penalties.
Finally, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has asked TaylorMade what they mean when they say at the limit. Technically that’s 239 microseconds, but with tolerances, it’s possible to push it a bit further. Even the most aggressive brands, however, tend to play in the low 240s. Much higher, even if you’re still below 257 microseconds, and the USGA is likely to issue warnings and start digging a bit deeper. Nobody wants that. Point being, while consistency across the face shouldn’t be downplayed, it needs to be made clear that you can’t measure your way to a ball speed breakthrough.
It should go without saying that it’s a little early in the game to say whether or not the #ScrewFace (that one’s not official) technology works. The early performance reports on the new drivers (reportedly M5 and M6) have been universally excellent, with the M6 being the more noteworthy of two. Those without the proverbial skin in the game that we’ve heard from rates the TaylorMade stuff a touch higher than Callaway’s Epic Flash, which I suppose is a good sign for TaylorMade. Caveat emptor; early reviews are almost always positive. Actual reality will be determined once consumers get involved.
If nothing else, the early comparisons illustrate how myopic the industry tends to be with respect to the marketplace. It’s a reasonable assumption that the new gear from Callaway and TaylorMade is going to be good, but to talk about this in binary terms is silly. It’s by no stretch one or the other. As we discussed in our recent podcast, 2019 is shaping up to be the best year for drivers ever, and if the conversation in your head doesn’t include PING, Cobra, Mizuno, Srixon, Wilson, Titleist, PXG (and a qualified fitter), you’re doing yourself a disservice.
As we inch closer to the start of the buying season, my advice is this: Don’t be a fish. Shiny things don’t matter. What matters are mass properties and ball speed. Everything else is just a distraction, and it can be far too easy to lose sight of that when 95% of what passes for innovation in golf equipment is just clever marketing.