Don’t let the timing fool you. We may be coming up on 2-years removed from the launch of the 917, but, for Titleist, the #TSProject is anything but just another driver released because the calendar mandates it. TS is an entirely new platform and to no small degree, an entirely new way of thinking.
Inside the walls of Titleist, the TS Project was a full-on NCAA bracket-style bracket competition where different combinations of shapes, materials, and constructions were pitted against each other, all while experimenting with a variety of head, grip, and shaft weights. The TS Project was an exercise that forced Titleist to tear previous thinking to the ground, step outside of comfort zones, look at things differently, and experiment with ideas well outside of the traditional Titleist wheelhouse.
The result is the most significant step-forward in Titleist metalwoods since at least the 910, though there’s a case to made it represents the company’s most significant leap forward since, well…maybe ever.
Despite Justin Thomas suggesting that TS stands for “the shit”, TS is actually short for Titleist Speed. The new name symbolizes a significant departure from business as usual at Titleist. The name is different because the product is different. The product is different because it has to be.
Contained within the Titleist Speed Project are 10-years worth of research, a renewed focus on the core Titleist golfer, and (for the market as a whole) one simple but uncharacteristically bold guarantee; Titleist will not lose on speed.
Over the last couple of product cycles, that hasn’t always been the case.
Steady, dependable, and not much for hyperbole, the Titleist marketing strategy has always relied on the traditional pyramid of influence. Leveraging the Tour and the club pro to drive sales has served Titleist well over the years, but recently things have changed. Golf sites and peer networks have become more influential. Today, reputations are built, or at least influenced, from outside Titleist’s comfortable structures and fair or not, that’s played a role in diminishing perceptions of Titleist driver performance.
It’s the reason why the last couple of Titleist drivers have been defined by two less than flattering words: Short and Spinny.
How Did Titleist Get Here?
Despite a contingent of diehard Titleist loyalists and an unwavering commitment to custom fitting, the company’s share of the metalwoods market has declined over the past few releases. Its sensible release cycles and reputation built on performance have been overshadowed by louder, flashier competitors. In a time when golfers expect glowing bars and twisty faces, tradition and the often nebulous concept of quality can sometimes make for a difficult sell. For its part in all of this, it’s fair to say that Titleist hasn’t evolved its products as rapidly as its competitors’.
For a time, Titleist drivers were among the most forgiving on the market. That may fly in the face of the better player reputation, but it’s nevertheless true. Maybe it was complacency, maybe it was a steadfast belief that it was exactly where it needed to be, but within the last few years, as its competitors released faster, more forgiving drivers, Titleist mostly held its ground. Innovations like Active Recoil Channel and StraightFlight CG Weighting boosted speed a bit and gave fitters more flexibility, but for the guy banging balls in a big box hitting bay, Titleist drivers didn’t always show well.
Even the elite golfers who once flocked to Titleist in droves were playing other brands. It’s no secret that pay for play dominates at the professional level. He who pays the most wins the count, but what opened eyes at Titleist was the significant decline in play at events like the NCAA and US Amateur Championship. Once the leader, Titleist found itself just a couple of drivers away from dropping to 4th in the count. The consumer market as a whole followed much the same trajectory. In recent years, Titleist has routinely trailed Callaway, TaylorMade, PING, and sometimes Cobra in driver market share. By Titleist’s admission, the 917 unperformed at retail.
Perception vs. Reality
While Titleist acknowledges the short and spinny labels exist, those inside the company reject the assessment. “The 917, when it was best fit,” says Stephanie Luttrell, Metalwoods Director for Titleist, “it was not shorter.”
Best fit. Hold that thought.
Tom Bennett, Titleist’s Principal Concept Development Engineer, is adamant to the point of agitation in his defense of the previous model.
“Off the rack, there was a build difference. When we test head-to-head, shaft to shaft, same length, we were at no disadvantage, but that myth [short and spinny] got promulgated everywhere. We are total performance. When we got beat off the rack, it wasn’t for total performance; it was for ball speed on a launch monitor. Outside the results were different.”
There’s plenty of truth in Bennett’s assessment. For the past several iterations, the stock Titleist build has been 45”. Most of the competition is at 45.5”, and some of those, when placed under the scrutiny of the ruler, consistently measure 46”. Spotting the competition ¾” or more in the best ball wins reality of the off-the-rack launch monitor demo world left Titleist at a significant disadvantage. The guy looking for one or two long balls doesn’t have any interest in standard deviations and dispersion patterns.
To sell more drivers, Titleist needs to do something differently.
“It doesn’t matter if we think we’re right…if we’re making a better product,” says Bennett, “If we don’t win that ball speed number on that launch monitor indoors, then they’re not going to give us a chance outside.”
Titleist is getting beat at retail in no small part because of its engineered-to-be-fit approach to driver design. It’s an uncomfortable notion for a company as heavily invested in custom fitting as Titleist is, but the numbers say the majority of golfers still aren’t interested in finding the best fit (or in many cases, any kind of fit). Most fitters would agree that a 45” shaft is more sensible than what’s on shelves, but in the typical off-the-rack scenario, spotting the competition length and by extension yards, all but guarantees failure.
In fitting environments, Titleist’s new reputation preceded it. Customers at top Titleist fitting accounts weren’t asking to try Titleist drivers. Titleist drivers may have performed when best fit, but they weren’t being given a chance to prove it.
“Because we believe so much in fitting that it was easy to us for us to say let’s build a club that’s perfect from a fitting aspect,” says Josh Talge, VP of Golf Club Marketing for Titleist. “Where I think we got in trouble is, if you look at the path to purchase, we were at the end point. That point in the middle, where guys grab 3 or 4 products and go into a hitting bay, we were not as competitive in some of those scenarios as we should have been, and so we got set to the side early.”
Fair or not, the short and spinny perception persists. Titleist won’t hide from that, but it believes TS is the product that will break that cycle, bring the elite golfers and Titleist brand fans back, and move the needle among golfers who maybe haven’t tried a Titleist driver in a while, if ever.
To understand how it plans to do that, you need to understand what makes TS different from any Titleist driver in recent memory.
Titleist TS Drivers
I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating and applying to every new golf club on the market. To borrow from Mizuno’s Chris Voshall, “with every new club there’s something that could be better.”
Again, emphasis on the word could. There are no guarantees, but in the case of the TS Drivers, I’m willing to take it a step further and say that it almost certainly will be better. The long list of improvements reflects Titleist’s commitment to not just making a new driver, but to making the kind of driver that can win on the launch monitor, even when it’s not properly fit. That’s a key piece in bringing golfers back to the Titleist brand.
“We need to make sure giving someone something that right out of the box feels like it’s a great product,” says Josh Talge. “When we fit you, we can make it an outstanding product, but it’s got to be competitive.”
Titleist’s R&D team was challenged to deliver a faster and longer driver without compromising on the looks, sound, and feel that a traditional Titleist player demands. My assessment is that they’ve done just that.
Before we look at what differentiates the TS2 and the TS3, let’s look at the list of features they have in common.
Titleist has significantly refined the shape of both models, resulting in a 20% improvement in aerodynamics. It’s worth mentioning that we’re not talking about anything radical here. I suspect most won’t notice much of anything, though the enhancements are readily apparent when comparing the TS to the 917. Side by side, the TS takes on a significantly more domed appearance.
Purists will appreciate that Titleist achieved the gains without adding any turbulator-like structures to the crown. Titleist did a fair amount of research and testing on crown features, but when the prototypes failed to show any sort of quantifiable advantage, it chose to leave them off.
Titleist says that even golfers who swing 85 MPH can gain up to 1MPH more clubhead speed, with faster swingers gaining even more.
As part of the refined shape, Titleist dropped the rear of the clubhead a bit closer to the ground plane, which helped it push the center of gravity farther down. We’ll get to that in a bit.
2 @ 460CC
Departing from the conventions of previous Titleist driver families, both the TS2 and TS3 are 460cc. This time around, differences are a matter of shape and performance characteristics, not size.
The TS2 is being billed as offering a modern shape, which means a shallower face, and more length face to rear. The TS3 is said to offer more of a traditional pear shape, which includes a deeper face.
Ultrathin Titanium Crown
Golfers hoping for a return of the D-Comp, prepare yourselves for disappointment. Like PING, Titleist will continue to play in the 100% titanium space. The crown boasts a constant thickness of only .4mm (down from .5mm). While R&D is immensely proud of that .1mm reduction, the marketing guys would prefer I tell you that it’s 20% thinner. We can split hairs over the right way to present that detail, but the key takeaway here is that Titleist is billing the TS crown as the thinnest titanium crown in the industry.
As it did with aerodynamic features, Titleist’s R&D department did plenty of experimentation with composites, but again, it didn’t find any advantages. What often gets lost in the discussion around weight savings and composite crowns is that the weight numbers provided don’t include the ledges necessary to support the crown and the adhesives required to keep everything in place. All that stuff adds-up and erodes weight-savings to the point where Titleist believes they get better performance and better acoustics from titanium.
While, as you’d expect, Titleist leveraged some of that mass savings in other places, it also took it as an opportunity to make the overall weight of the head a little bit lighter. That’s not to say lighter is better. Like other fitting variables, there’s no universal truth around proper weight, but Titleist’s research showed that golfers initially prefer lighter weight.
“It’s not necessarily better for them all the time,” says Stephanie Luttrell, “but when you’re getting your hands into who’s walking into the bay, and who’s picking up your golf club, you want them to have a positive initial experience with it where they like the way it feels, and then hopefully drive themselves towards being fit.”
Tweaking weight is one of many things Titleist has done to help ensure it doesn’t get pushed to the side early.
Thinner and, most importantly, faster face
Before Titleist started teasing photos of the TS Drivers, reports coming out of the Titleist sales meetings were that the company was confident it would not lose on speed. One of the reasons for that claim is a thinner face.
An unusual derivation from typical thin face stories, Titleist says its face is so thin it had to remove the milled scorelines, replacing them with laser etched alternatives.
Titleist remains committed to playing by USGA rules at every level, and while that means staying under the USGA limit, it is taking steps to ensure that the TS head everyday golfers buy packs the same level of performance that tour pros get.
To further increasing consistency, bulge and roll are CNC milled into TS’ forged face. Titleist designs its heads with a proprietary tab structure that aligns the face in a consistent position and keeps it there during welding and polishing.
It’s also worth mentioning that, fresh out of the mold, the hosel portion of Titleist driver heads is a bit bulkier than most. The extra material allows for a proprietary process that machines the final dimensions of the hosel relative to the face, precisely controlling the face/sole relationship. For discerning eyes, it yields more consistent visual results, but more importantly, it creates more consistent lofts from part to part.
These are the kinds of thing you’d likely never notice and may not even care about, but each plays a role in helping to ensure that the Titleist driver you buy is the same as the one in the demo cart, or even the one you hit in the bay at your local big box store.
We want to make sure we’re bringing the best product forward, not only for JT and Jordan, but also for every single golfer.” – Stephanie Luttrell
Optimized Weight Distribution
Admittedly this one is sort of a catch-all, and just about everyone who makes a driver claims some degree of optimization. I’ll discuss more specific numbers as they relate to each of the TS models, but the key takeaway is that first the first time in several generations of Titleist drivers, the CG location has shifted significantly.
The weight savings from the crown and face (10g total) have allowed Titleist to push the CG farther down and farther back. Titleist believes that TS has the lowest CG (relative to ground) in the market right now. The combination of low and back, as you should know by now, is the recipe for higher launch, and yes…hell yes, lower spin (up to 400 RPM lower than 917).
Titleist is bundling the shape, the face, and the weighting together in a package it calls the Speed Chassis. Apart from giving the marketing team something they can talk about, Speed Chassis gets you faster ball speed, higher launch, lower spin, and up to a 12% bump in MOI.
45.5” Real Deal Shafts
The change in CG location should take care of the spinny. The new 45.5” shaft should take care of the short. Increasing shaft length (from 45”) is perhaps the most un-Titleist aspect of the TS Design, but it’s something the company absolutely had to do.
The engineering argument – and it’s one I’ve heard before – is that the increased inertia of the clubhead allows golfers to miss the sweet spot by a little bit larger margin without losing speed or accuracy. Why not add a little length to create speed? That makes sense.
The sales reality is one we’ve already touched on. Titleist was losing launch monitor battles, in part, because its stock shafts were significantly shorter than Callaway, TaylorMade, and PING’s.
“We want people to be fit, but we know that only about 38% percent get fit,” says Stephanie Luttrell. By adding length and bringing the product closer to the competitive set, Titleist can unlock more speed, which is critically important in the demo environment. If you get fit and a 45” shaft is good for you, that’s cool, but for the first time in recent memory, Titleist appears willing to accept that many golfers, in fact, the majority of golfers, won’t.
Titleist is again using a 100% real-deal shafts. You won’t find any made-for, watered-down, doesn’t-exist-anywhere-but-the-OEM-lineup, crap here. Kudos.
As always, the stock lineup is robust. It features offerings from 4 of the 5 top brands on the PGA Tour and contains the kind of big-name shafts golfers actually want to play.
Kuro Kage Black (50g/55g) – The Kuro Kage black replaces the Diamana Red as Titleist’s high-launch/mid-spin offering. Titleist made the change primarily because of improved dispersion. The company liked what it saw in testing so much that it’s offering it in everything from ladies flex through x-flex.
Tensei AV Blue (55g/65g) – The replacement for the Diamana Blue in the Titleist lineup, the AV Blue is your prototypical mid/mid offering. The Blue is the first in the new AV (Aluminum Vapor) series. AV is a design feature that increases torsional stiffness in the butt section. Titleist expects the AV Blue will be the most popular shaft in the TS lineup.
Sidebar: StraightFlight Weighting
Both the Kuro Kage Black and the AV Blue feature a new technology called Straight Flight Weighting. The technology was developed by Titleist and licensed to MRC, so it very well could find its way into other lineups. What StraightFlight Weighting does is take the right-side bias out of ultralight shafts. Testing in pitch black conditions to remove the golfer’s natural impulse to correct for undesirable ball flight, Titleist found that ultralight shafts do, in fact, show a tendency to go right.
Placing a ring of tungsten pellets just below the hands was shown to help golfers get the face square going into impact. It worked so well, Mitsubishi wanted to use it in its lineup.
HZRDUS Smoke (60g/70g) – Proving to be popular with Titleist’s staff partners, the HZRDUS Smoke is a mid-launch/low spin offering that’s described as being friendlier than other HZRDUS offerings. It has a higher balance point, which supports longer builds. An 80-gram option is available at no upcharge.
EvenFlow T1100 White (65g/75g) – The replacement for the Diamana White, Titleist says the EvenFlow T1100 White offers better feel for the aggressive swinger. As you’d expect from anything with a T1100 reinforced tip, it’s classified as low launch and low spin. An 85-gram option is available at no upcharge.
Comparing the new stock shaft lineup to the previous one, Titleist is, on average, ½” longer and 5-grams lighter.
No Active Recoil Channel
While ARC persists in the fairway woods, Titleist has eliminated one of its signature technologies from the TS Drivers. Visible technology like ARC helps sell clubs, but the decision for Titleist was an easy one because removing it made for a better product.
“Our job is to always find the most efficient way to drive ball speed and performance,” says Josh Talge. “It worked better without it.” The mass properties of the TS drivers already dropped spin, and ditching Active Recoil Channel produced higher launch at the same spin rates. That allowed Titleist to tune the lofts to get the expected trajectory while saving 3-4g of mass.
TS2 & TS3 Drivers
Now that you know how much the TS Drivers have in common, let’s take a look at how they’re different.
The obvious point of distinction is that the TS2 doesn’t offer SureFit CG Weighting. It’s one weight is for swing weighting purposes only. Weights are available in 2g increments from +6g to -4g relative to stock.
As previously mentioned, the TS2 features the modern shape necessary to hit a big MOI number. The more forgiving of the TS Drivers, Titleist is claiming a heel/toe MOI of around 5250. It’s a big number the company hopes will help eliminate the perception – albeit demonstrably false – that Titleist drivers aren’t forgiving or that a given golfer might not be good enough to play one.
Factoring the top/bottom inertia, the total MOI of the TS2 is in the 9000 ballpark, which is in the upper echelon of drivers on the market today.
During its research, Titleist experimented with extreme MOI designs but found diminishing returns between 5300 and 5400 MOI. At that level, you’re protecting ball speed, but you’re not getting as much speed to protect. Titleist found that golfers often react to the higher inertia by not swinging as fast.
Having tried both TS models during my fitting, I found the TS2 to be the better feeling of the two models, though I was eventually fit into the TS3.
The TS2 is SureFit Hosel (independent loft and lie) adjustable and is available in lofts of 8.5°, 9.5°, 10.5°, and 11.5°.
Like the D3 before it, loft for loft, the TS3 is the lower launching and spinning offering in the TS catalog. It features SureFit CG weighting which allows for horizontal CG adjustment. What’s interesting about the Titleist implementation of adjustable mass is that the company doesn’t just talk about weight as a means to cure slices or hooks, or to alter the start direction of the shot. The Titleist philosophy is to use the SureFit hosel to adjust lie angle and use the CG weight to relocate mass behind the typical impact position.
It’s a subtle but critical piece of the fitting equation, especially when you consider that the majority of the drivers on the market are slightly heel weighted. Being able to shift the CG towards the toe, in conjunction with other adjustments, can improve dispersion and unlock additional ball speed.
I was fit into the TS3 because of the lower spin and that ability to push a bit of extra weight to the toe.
The CG weight itself has been redesigned to use a magnet to facilitate heel, neutral, and toe bias weighting while eliminating the need for multiple weights.
The MOI of the TS3 doesn’t match that of the TS2, but it’s every bit as forgiving as the 917D2. With TS3, you get a low spin driver that offers the playability and forgiveness of Titleist’s previous most-forgiving model.
The TS3 is also SureFit hosel adjustable and is available in lofts of 8.5°, 9.5°, and 10.5°.
Will You Try TS Drivers?
It goes without saying that if you’re not interested in trying a Titleist TS Driver, you’re probably not going to buy one. For TS to succeed in the market, the first thing Titleist needs to do is to pique your interest.
The Tour could play a role in that given that adoption at the professional level has been rapid to say the least. 17 TS Drivers went to into play at the US Open. That’s a substantial number considering you have to be either absolutely certain of the performance, or absolutely out of your mind to put something new in the bag for the first time at a major. An interesting fitting note form the Tour story; to date, Titleist has seen a 50/50 split between TS2 and TS3.
Titleist is also going to spend money, and my between the lines read is that it’s going to spend more money than usual, to build buzz and hopefully get you into shops specifically to try TS. Part of that effort will involve tackling the negative perceptions of Titleist drivers.
“If we’re known for a slow, spinning driver, we’re just going to go right at that,” says Josh Talge, Titleist VP of Golf Club Marketing. “We’re going to shed that slow and spinny label, and we’re going to give a lot of golfers performance that they haven’t seen from a Titleist driver before, and maybe weren’t expecting, but I think we’re going to turn a lot of heads.”
While the message is going to be speed, it will need to be delivered authentically in a way that doesn’t alienate the traditional Titleist player and will resonate with elite golfers. “Historically we want to be the driver of choice for the world’s best players,” says Talge. “If we can get the best players in the world playing our product, we believe that other people are going to do it as well.”
For Titleist, TS Project isn’t about being the biggest club company, but if you’re the type of golfer who cares enough about performance to choose the best, then you’re the type of golfer Titleist wants to sell to. It’s not about handicap; it’s about dedication. That’s a space where Titleist feels it can thrive. The nature of the demographic allows it to make the right type of product, focus on performance without getting too broad, and maintain release cycles long enough to allow for real innovation. That’s the Titleist way, and the #TSProject hasn’t changed it.
Here’s how Titleist’s Josh Talge sums it up.
Titleist doesn’t work if our product isn’t better than someone else’s, because we’re never going to spend 40 million dollars to create a mythical story. That’s not our approach. Our approach is, hey you should try this thing. It’s really good. Go try it.”
You can go try Titleist TS drivers beginning today. Full retail availability begins 9/29/18. Retail price for both models is $499.