Game Improvement irons do two things – provide raw, naked distance and mega-forgiveness for the less than perfect ball striker. OEMs pull lots of different levers – and keep developing new ones – all in the name of helping you hit the ball farther, higher, and straighter.
The most obvious lever is stronger lofts – or loft-jacking if you prefer. But without really low, if not damn near subterranean CG and low spin, jacked lofts alone won’t git ‘er done.
“Every decent game improvement iron today has those two features to some degree,” TaylorMade Senior Irons Manager Matt Bovee tells MyGolfSpy. “If you don’t have them, thanks for playing. You don’t stand a chance when it comes to competing in the launch monitor.”
OEMs know this, and to them, the Holy Grail is victory in the 7-iron launch monitor war.
TaylorMade’s new-for-2020 SIM Max and SIM Max OS irons replace last year’s M5/M6 and – according to TaylorMade – are designed for launch monitor meltdowns and to kick the snot out the competition in the hitting bay.
Our own Most Wanted Testing, however, showed SIM predecessors M5 and M6 with rather un-TaylorMade like meh performance. Can the SIM Twins turn the tides? Let’s take a look.
SIM, as we learned last week, stands for Shape In Motion – TaylorMade’s efforts to reach new levels in metalwood aerodynamics. You really can’t optimize aerodynamics with an iron, but branding is branding, so SIM it is.
SIM Max is the direct replacement/obligatory upgrade to M6. You’d expect TaylorMade to also offer a slightly smaller profile, slightly less forgiving, more player-focused model of SIM Max to replace M5, but that’s not happening this year. Instead, we have SIM Max OS, an obvious Super Game Improvement stick. There’s a reason for that, as we’ll soon learn.
“From a performance perspective, blade length, the sole width interacting with the ground, offset – (SIM Max) is the same as M6,” says Bovee. The changes – as you’d expect from TaylorMade – focus on more distance and – as maybe you wouldn’t expect from TaylorMade – on sound and feel.
Levers and Bridges
Game Improvement irons are distance-geared for an obvious reason: most golfers in the GI demographic don’t, for a variety of reasons, hit the ball as far as a better player. Since that target demographic is really, really large, OEMs continue their annual quest for every yard possible.
Sure, loft-jacking is one lever they can pull, but without the right CG, launch, spin, and descent angle, all you’re getting is a low bullet. There’s more to distance than merely stamping a 7 on a 5-iron and calling it a day.
TaylorMade, of course, is unapologetic about distance and is pulling several additional levers – some old, some new – to pack more yards into SIM. Two of those levers were introduced last year: the polarizing Speed Bridge and its partner, the mouthful that is the Thru Slot Speed Pocket.
Yeah, Speed Bridge looks funky, and it is somewhat reminiscent – somewhat – of the old Nike Slingshot insomuch as a bar connects one part of the club to the other. But looks like isn’t same as or even copy of. Let’s settle on similar-looking and move on to what it does.
Speed Bridge is a literal bridge spanning the back cavity, connecting SIM’s topline to the sole to pull different speed/distance technology parts into one coherent whole.
The Flow-Thru Speed Pocket completely disconnects the leading edge from the sole, so if you pulled the polymer(the black strip) out of the sole and poured water into the cavity, it would come flowing out of the bottom of the club. That’s kinda cool, but does it help you?
“If something is completely disconnected and floating in space, it’s going to be more flexible,” says Bovee. “When you have the Speed Bridge and the Speed Pocket working together like this, you change the way the face deflects at impact.”
Ahh, the old face deflection trick. That’s been a common theme in GI irons for several years now, and low face deflection even more so this year. The Speed Bridge/Speed Pocket combo helps SIM’s face work more like a springboard and less like a trampoline at impact.
“When that happens, you get more flexibility in the face, and you’ve moved the maximum deflection point of the face down lower,” says Bovee. “That puts it more in line with impact position. That means you’ll get better energy transfer and more ball speed.”
The Speed Bridge/Speed Slot combo was first introduced in M5 and M6, which TaylorMade says showed significant ball speed gains compared to M3 and M4.
Like everyone else, TaylorMade is pushing the limits on face thickness or, more appropriately, face thinness. SIM Max features a 20% thinner face to further boost ball speed and make the sweet spot bigger.
“We define sweet spot as the area of the face at 800 COR points or higher,” says Bovee. “You’re getting substantial growth in sweet spot size in SIM Max compared to M6.”
Another distance lever TaylorMade is pulling is – for lack of a better term – a progressive Inverted Cone.
Inverted Cone Technology has been a TaylorMade staple for years, and every other OEM calls it Variable Face Thickness. The center of the face gets the most stress, so it has the most mass; areas away from the center get thinner because impact stress is less. Those thinner areas are also hotter, which also helps make the sweet spot bigger.
You’d think it’s logical to have the Inverted Cone centered in the clubface, but that’s not the best spot for Game Improvement irons.
“GI irons with a flexible, fast face, you get a natural right tendency,” says Bovee. “An iron face isn’t symmetric. You have more area in the toe, less in the heel, so you get more face movement on the toe side than on the heel side, so toe hits start the ball out further right.”
TaylorMade first moved the Inverted Cone off-center in the Rocketballz irons, which Bovee says shifted the right bias even more than CG or lie angle adjustments. With SIM Max, TaylorMade is giving you a progressive Inverted Cone, one that’s optimized for each iron.
“That means the 7-iron, while still off-center (GI players miss tends to be toward the toe), will be closer to the center face,” says Bovee. “A 4-iron, where you’ll see the biggest right misses, will have the Inverted Cone farthest toward the toe to minimize that miss as much as possible.”
The final distance levers – launch and spin – fall primarily under the realm of CG. SIM Max features two Taylormade patented technologies – the 360 Undercut (a cavity under the topline) and the fluted hosel (more of a smart idea than a technology) to shift mass from the highest points of the iron south to the lowest points.
“Those actually give us a better CG shift than if we were to put tungsten in the sole in place of steel,” says Bovee.
So yeah, it’s a long set of irons, and yeah, the lofts are jacked with a 28.5-degree 7-iron (same as M6). But while TaylorMade may be a lot of things, iron-stupid isn’t one of them.
“When you get into the loft-jacking conversation, you really have to look at launch, peak height, descent angle, and spin, too,” says Bovee. “Descent angle is a key one, but most golfers don’t even think about it.
Bovee says anything above a 40-degree descent angle with a decent amount of spin should be able to stop on normal greens, and SIM Max player testing shows an average descent angle of about 42.5-degrees.
“If you’re playing Royal Melbourne, yeah, you’re going to have a hard time,” he says. “At a local muni, you should be okay.”
The Feel Bridge
“A well-struck golf shot might be the best feeling in the world,” says Bovee. “Or it’s a close second, anyway.”
But can a cast game improvement iron feel as good as a forged iron? That’s a tough one, but TaylorMade insists SIM Max is pulling that particular rabbit out of its hat.
“It’s difficult making a good feeling game improvement iron,” says Bovee. “This category is all about distance, which means face flexibility. So with any solution to feel, you don’t want to slow down the face. If you do that, you’re contradicting the whole performance side of things.”
The other challenge is high handicap golfers tend to hit it all over the face, so mishits have to feel good, too. That’s not easy to do.
To soften the feel over a larger portion of the face, TaylorMade is giving you the Echo Damping System, a flexible material stretching from heel to toe with multiple contact points across the back of the face.
“If somebody rings a bell and you want to silence it, do you touch it with one finger, or do you use your whole hand?” says Bovee. “We intuitively know multiple contact points are better, and the same logic applies to the clubface.”
The Echo Damping System is a channeled piece of Hybar – a moldable, flexible material TaylorMade shaped in such a way that it will absorb vibration without slowing the face down.
Does it work? TaylorMade says its player testing, as well as sound amplitude signatures (sound = feel, remember), say absolutely. Audio recordings of SIM Max and the forged P790 show virtually identical amplitude signatures, but TaylorMade decided to put it to the test at its Tour-player video shoot.
They had Jason Day hit both his P760 gamers and SIM Max, while the rest of the Tour crew – Rory, Tiger, Jon Rahm, DJ, and others – were blindfolded and asked – based only on sound – if Day was hitting SIM Max or P760. According to Bovee, they couldn’t tell.
“The best ears in the world couldn’t identify which one was the SIM Max and which one was the forged P series. They would have been able to tell with M6 for sure.”
As always, we recommend hitting them yourself to see what’s real and what isn’t.
SIM Max OS
Traditionally, TaylorMade has always offered a smaller, Pro-type version of its GI irons: M1 to the M2, M3 to the M4, and so on. This time, however, there’s no SIM Max Pro, and for that, you can thank P790.
“We have everyone from a +4 to a 25 handicap in our database playing P790,” says Bovee. “If you want something slimmer and more traditional, P790 is the answer.”
TaylorMade says M5 and P790 were reasonably similar in playability and wound up cannibalizing one another. One clearly had to go, and good business says get rid of the less expensive one and bring something different to the show; hence the SIM Max OS – a larger, even more forgiving and stronger lofted big brother to SIM Max.
SIM Max OS features a wider sole than SIM Max, but with a rather aggressive chamfer to make it look a bit slimmer.
“That allows us to really drive the center of gravity down low in the head as if you had a super-wide sole,” says Bovee. “Except we maintain playability without looking chunky or playing like a shovel. It gives us high launch characteristics, but it doesn’t look like it’s got training wheels.”
As mentioned, the lofts on SIM Max OS are stronger, and TaylorMade says it’s the longest club in its arsenal. Bovee says the stronger lofts are meant to benefit high handicappers who tend to scoop at the ball to get it up in the air, which adds dynamic loft.
“From a fitting perspective, you have all kinds of players,” he says. “Some need less loft; some are in the middle, and some benefit from strong lofts. They’re not going to hit that low bullet because they’re adding all this dynamic loft at impact. SIM Max OS provides that option.”
Price, Availability and Final Thoughts
Several times during our conversation, Bovee stressed TaylorMade was committed to holding last year’s pricing levels. An 8-piece SIM Max or SIM Max OS set (TaylorMade says 4-AW or 5-SW are most common) will retail at $899.99 in steel and $999.99 in graphite, same as M6. Combo sets with a hybrid will run $100 more.
The stock shafts are the same for both SIMs: the KBS MAX 85 in steel and Fujikura Ventus* Blue in graphite for men, and in a departure for TaylorMade’s traditional made-for women’s shafts, the Aldila NV Ladies 45.
The stock grip for men is a 47-gram Lamkin Crossline 360, and for the women, it’s the 38-gram Lamkin Ladies Sonar.
Both sets are available for righties and lefties and will be in stores on February 7th.
Looks-wise TaylorMade’s GI/SGI irons – going back however many generations you wish – are, at best, an acquired taste, but the same can be said for most any GI/SGI iron. There’s no chrome on SIM – it’s all polished stainless steel to help hit the price point, and there’s sure to be a segment of golfer who’ll look at the Speed Bridge and giggle.
Performance-wise, considering how M5/M6 did in last year’s Most Wanted, there’s clearly room for improvement. Regardless, both M’s sold well, with M6 being TaylorMade’s best-selling iron in 2019 in terms of volume (P790 earned more dollars, but it’s a more expensive iron). We fully expect the SIMs to sell as well this year – it is, after all, TaylorMade – and the company itself expects the SIMs to make up 60-to-65% of its 2020 irons business.
We’re two-and-a-half years into TaylorMade’s new ownership, and we’re several years past that they’re-releasing-a-new-club-every-six-months nonsense. The team we spoke with says there’s been a massive shift in company culture under private ownership – specifically, it’s not all about chasing market share anymore.
“We’re a competitive company, we want to win,” says Bovee. “But what’s more important to us is being healthy. There’s stuff you can do to win market share, but it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do for the company in the long term.”
“It’s a bit of a fool’s game, the market share thing,” says Ryan Lauder, TaylorMade’s Director of Consumer Engagement. “It doesn’t really give you the health of the business or the company.”
If nothing else, that represents a seismic shift from the days of RocketBallz-IER.
For more information on SIM MAX and SIM MAX OS Irons, visit TaylorMadegolf.com.