(Written by: @GolfSpyT) Spending an afternoon at the Kingdom hitting balls alongside professional golfers and the #1 Teacher in America is an experience that both weekend duffers and competitive amateurs dream about. If you happen to be on the TaylorMade Tour Staff you get unfettered access. If you’ve got deep enough pockets The Kingdom will open its gates for you. Invitations, however, are rare, and while you might expect they’re offered exclusively to those who habitually provide the most favorable coverage of TaylorMade products, or sell them by the bag full, there clearly are exceptions and I happen to be one of them. I’m the guy who got invited to the Kingdom because I shot my mouth off one too many times.

History and the Past

There is recent history, and then there is the past. And while I’m happy to let the past be just that, without some recent history, there is no story. In this particular case, recent history dates back little more than a month ago when the team at TaylorMade decided to pre-announce (through a handful of media outlets) the release of their 2012 lineup a day before the actual announcement. Cheeky, right?

As we always do, we read through the info. While there was some mention of the new R11s driver, as we’ve been hearing for quite some time, the noise…the very loud noise, was about the new RocketBallz fairway wood. Though we weren’t quite sure of the number, we’d heard whispers that TaylorMade would be making some pretty bold claims about distance. And sure enough, when the info dropped, the big story was this:

RocketBallz fairway woods combine RocketBallz technology with increased face size, low CG location, advanced playability features and a lightweight shaft and grip. The combination of these elements promotes a remarkable increase in distance – better players will gain up to 17 yards.*

A quick look at the fine print provided a bit more detail:

* better player claim against Burner 11 Fairway, robot testing at 150 mph ball speed, total distance.

That’s ridiculous right? I quickly started combing through our data and discovered that the average MyGolfSpy tester doesn’t come close to generating 150 MPH ball speed with a 3-wood. In fact, the average golfer doesn’t generate that with his driver. And yet…here we go again, TaylorMade is using robots and Tour Pro launch conditions to sell golf clubs to unsuspecting golfers. Let the pre-orders begin (and boy have they ever).

I was outraged, and so I started banging away at my keyboard, ranting about the TM hype machine, and how the average golfer fawns over every new release, and how most in the media are content to regurgitate the marketing collateral letter for letter without giving it so much as a moment’s worth of critical eyeball between blinks and sips of coffee.

I took my shots at TaylorMade’s Movable Weight Technology, Adjustable Sole Plates, and even suggested that their new “Speed Pocket” was basically re-branded technology from another manufacturer. I wrote a lot of things that day; none more provocative than this:

“…if you’re honestly telling me that the average golfer is going to pick up anything close to 17 yards…well, I’m politely asking you to prove it. If I’m wrong I’ll shave a TaylorMade logo into my head and dye what little hair I have left green to match the revolutionary new accent color of the RBZ.” – GolfSpy T (while foaming at the mouth)

Poor Timing

The timing of the RocketBallz announcement wasn’t ideal for MyGolfSpy. I was actively working with TaylorMade on a MyGolfSpy Labs article on shaft length. As much as I viewed that article as a step forward in relations, I couldn’t let that stop me from tossing out an opinion. It was also true that I needed more information from TaylorMade for the article, so one way or another I was going to have to own my words. I wouldn’t have been shocked if I didn’t get a reply, or the reply included a request that we not use their drivers for our tests.

Instead, along with the info I had requested for my article, I got an offer of sorts:

We would… like to take you up on your offer to prove how far the 3-wood goes… Just make sure you tell your friends/family that you will be returning with a unique haircut! Let me know if you are interested”. –Dave Cordero, PR Manager

The trouble with the internet is the anonymity of the thing too often imbibes a man with more courage than 5 shots of cheap tequila. Look on any forum, golf or otherwise, and you’ll find an army of loudmouthed buffoons spewing nonsense because they think they’ll never be called to task. And while I’ve always said that I’d never write anything I wouldn’t say to someone’s face, I never actually expected to be called out either.

The spirit of MyGolfSpy is, in part, simply to take a stand, have an opinion, but to always remain open to possibility that the facts may prove otherwise. I had my opinion, TaylorMade had theirs, and now I was being offered the opportunity to sort out the facts. How could I say no to that (and not look like a coward)?

Destination Carlsbad

In the days, hours, and even minutes leading up to our arrival at the Kingdom, there was plenty of discussion about what TaylorMade might do to us once we got there. The golf industry can be a bizarre and curious place. Conversations are usually cordial, but discussions can turn on a dime, and well…when you’re going into what some might see as hostile territory, you just never know.

In reality my expectation was that we’d be treated well…like any decent person treats a guest in his home, but that didn’t stop Tim and I from joking about torture chambers and firing squads. On the Friday before I left, I sent an email to all of the MyGolfSpy club testers with a link to some recent test results. Just in case, I included the following:

I leave for the TaylorMade Kingdom on Monday morning, so if you never hear from me again assume they either killed me or locked me in the dungeon.

I could probably go on for hours with medieval metaphors. I could tell you how odd I found it that the Kingdom is not protected by a moat. I could keep running with the dungeon thing, or I could talk about how we were greeted inside the castle walls by 3 fair maidens, but the reality is that other than the scale of it, there’s nothing mystical or even exceptional about TaylorMade Headquarters. It’s a large building situated on the edge of a large corporate office park. From what I can tell, it’s vintage Carlsbad. The absence of that moat I mentioned allows for a sizable parking lot, which, by the looks of things, doesn’t provide nearly enough spaces for the building’s 1000 or so employees.

The lobby, where Tim and I had our pictures taken for our badges, is a showcase of TaylorMade’s latest equipment. Staff bags are filled with RocketBallz woods, and irons, ATV wedges, and ghost putters. Mannequins are outfitted head to toe in the latest Adidas apparel, and a glass display case shows off the R11 and the individual bits of technology that make up TaylorMade’s 3 dimensional fitting system.

Before heading across the street to the Kingdom, we ate lunch in the TaylorMade cafeteria. While as you might expect, a disproportionate number of Adidas logos adorn the employee’s backs, I didn’t get any sense of a corporate uniform, and scanning the room in all directions, I was unable to locate the giant vat of TaylorMade flavored Kool-Aid. There was no army of Stepford drones chanting corporate mantras (“RocketBallz, RocketBallz, RocketBallz”). In fact, with the lone exception of the Corporate Leaderboard which touts the top 10 recent TaylorMade accomplishments, I could have been in any cafeteria in America.

After lunch we took a quick tour of the facilities. Though I’m sure TaylorMade is no different than any other golf company in this regard, as a golf equipment junkie, it’s hard not to get caught up in the assembly line where shafts are  joined to heads, or the putting lab where Kia Ma works on new designs. Everything is very industrial. Even inside the walls of the tour department, where equipment is built for the very best players in the world, there is no excess. I’m not standing in the middle of some corporate showpiece. This is where the real work gets done.

At the Kingdom Gates

After our quick tour Tim and I were escorted across the street to The Kingdom itself. While the site of the large wooden doors that separate the Kingdom from the rest of Carlsbad once again tempts me to break out the medieval metaphors, electronic key card access immediately takes the shine off any of that “days of yore” stuff.

The indoor facilities of the Kingdom are smaller than one might expect. There is a reception desk, a locker room, a lounge, a putting studio and workshop. None is particularly large. In stark contrast to the factory atmosphere in the main building, everything in the Kingdom, while completely functional, is most certainly for show. The atmosphere is high end country club all the way. This is where the serious business gets conducted and where corporate fat cats come to play.

We make our way to the range where I’m given a R11 glove and a pair of new adicross golf shoes. It is while lacing up that I’m introduced to Tom Olsavsky, TaylorMade’s Senior Director of Product Creation. T.O as he’s referred to around these parts would be running my fitting.  And while my assumption is everyone at the Kingdom knows what I’ve written and why I’m here, if that is the case, T.O., like everyone else we’ve met so far, isn’t letting on.

Perry Dickey is one of the fitting specialists at the Kingdom. On this day he’ll be running the Trackman and assisting Tom with my fitting. Perry takes me off to the other side of the range and suggests I start getting loose. I grab a 52° ATV wedge from one of the bags of clubs, and as I stand over the ball for the first time, I am all at once, and probably for the first time completely aware of where I am and what I’m doing. I am terrified.

Though my head pro describes me as “streaky”, the reality is that I am an inconsistent golfer. I have really good days, I have bad days, and I have days where I’m simply useless. While TaylorMade PR Manager, Dave Cordero, would later tell me he had his own “what if this guy can’t hit a golf ball” moment, I’m sure it was nothing compared to the near terror I felt standing over the ball with what felt like all of TaylorMade-Adidas watching me. What if I have one of those days?

On my first swing I caught the ball a groove low. It was straight, it wasn’t good, but at least it wasn’t a sh*#k. The next two swings produced clean contact and pair of nice divots…it might not be my best day, but it wouldn’t be my worst either. A few more swings with the new RocketBallz 6 iron, and it was time to get started.

Here’s a fun fact about the driving range at The Kingdom; it plays slightly uphill, and almost always into a head wind. Benoit Vincent, TaylorMade’s Chief Technical Officer, would tell me that the placement didn’t happen by accident. Hitting downhill or with the wind will tell you very little about how a club performs. To get a true picture of performance, you need to see what happens when wind is a factor. Another benefit of playing with the wind in your face; though not 100% effective, the layout helps guys like Dustin Johnson keep the balls inside the walls of the Kingdom’s 330 yard driving range. The range itself is immaculately maintained, and despite being only a few dozen yards from the road, it’s easy to forget you’re hitting Pentas in an office park.

Getting Down to Business

With the introductions and warm-ups out of the way it’s time to get started. The first order of business was to collect some data with my 3-wood. The complete truth of the matter is that I haven’t carried an actual 3-wood in years. I’ve seldom been able to hit one straight, and so it just made more sense not to carry one at all. As it happens, however; the one I would carry is an older TaylorMade R580 with a 75 gram Diamana Fubuki shaft. I believed the titanium-faced R580 is as good a 3-wood as ever has been produced (which is why I still own it), and I couldn’t help but think that if a 10 year old R580 could come within 15 yards of the next big breakthrough in fairway wood technology, well, it would be a giant metaphorical kick to TaylorMade’s RocketBallz.

Under ideal conditions (like when we test indoors), I would expect to average roughly 240 yards with a 3 wood. I’d probably hit one or two 250+, but I’d miss a few as well. The thing is, even on a sunny 60-something day, conditions at the Kingdom aren’t ideal, and I was absolutely horrified to see what I’d probably play as a one-club wind was doing to the golf ball. With a moderate wind in my face, I averaged an embarrassing 188.5 yards of carry, and only another 4.2 yards of roll. Most days on the golf course 190 is a 5-iron for me. The explanation for the meager distance is pretty simple. Wind + Spin = bad joojoo, and with an average of 6100 RPM into the Kingdom winds, I never had a chance.

Next up was last year’s Burner. Armed with roughly 9 years’ worth of fairway wood evolution, my average carry increased to 206.1 yards with another 9.5 yards of roll (215.6 total distance). Once again, spin numbers were an issue. While 4474 is better than 6100, with a 3-wood, it’s still far from ideal. If you’re keeping track, despite my belief that my old 3 wood was as good as anything, with last year’s Burner I picked up an additional 22.9 yards. At this point I’m fairly certain the guys behind the Trackman were starting to figure out that mine would be an unusual fitting.

17 More Yards?

Next I took a couple of swings with the RocketBallz (including a dribbler that barely went a total of 17 yards…we’re done here…see ya later guys). I caught a couple pretty well, and the numbers, I think, were better, but T.O. didn’t like what he was seeing. I’ve known for a while that my transition is quick, almost violent. I’ve assumed that I place a lot of load on the shaft. What I wasn’t completely aware of is how all of that, combined with a reasonably steep angle of attack,  leads to big spin numbers that ultimately cost me accuracy, and a whole lot of yards.

With the exception of my recent Miura fitting, what happened next was a radical departure from what I’ve experienced when I’ve hit clubs at big box stores and other demo day events. In the past this has been the part of the program where the befuddled fitter tells me that if I ever hope to control my spin, I’ll need to to slow things down at the top. Explaining that my swing isn’t too different from his own; Tom tells me that in order to mitigate the quick transition and quick arms, he needs to put me in a stiffer, or heavier shaft, and perhaps a different head too. Not to worry, all that stuff about heavier shafts slowing down the club, for guys who swing like he and I do, Tom says it doesn’t really hold up.

Maybe it’s because they guys at the Kingdom are accustomed to working with tour caliber players. The cynical among us might suggest it’s because he really wanted to see how I’d look with a TaylorMade logo shaved into my head, but regardless of the motives, Tom wasn’t interested in altering my swing. He and Perry set about the business of finding a combination of shaft and head that would fit it. It’s a simply idea…fit the equipment to the golfer, not the golfer to the equipment. Can we get more guys on board with this?

Quite frankly I lost track of how many incarnations of the RocketBallz 3-wood I tried. Standard model, tour model, this shaft, that shaft, each step of the way moving closer to a pairing that would bring the numbers down to where they should be. At one point I’m fairly convinced they handed me a RocketBallz head attached to a piece of Rebar. If nothing else we had proof of what I’ve suspected all along; off-the-rack is almost never going to work for me.

TaylorMade vs. The Competition

While Perry took off to build me something that he and Tom believed would solve my spin problem, Tom and I had a chance to talk about some of things I’d said about the RocketBallz. Now you’ll have to forgive me, but I didn’t take copious notes. I don’t have any money quotes. This was basically two guys on a driving range talking.

At one point I asked Tom Olsavsky what he would say to someone who suggests (as we have) that the RocketBallz, looks an awful lot like another company’s fairway wood. While I was expecting there would be some well-rehearsed answer straight out of the PR department, what Tom told me was blunt, and surprisingly honest.

Tom is unconcrned by the comparisons. He likens concepts like the speed pocket or velocity slot to an idea on a napkin. Anyone can have an idea, and those ideas can take years to develop. It’s not unusual for golf companies to develop parallel technologies. Smaller companies are often more agile, and have the advantage of being able to bring those technologies to market faster. Olsavsky willingly concedes that the other guys were first with what he calls “the story“.

While Tom would seem to enjoy a good story as much as the next guy, he’s quick to point out that his competitor’s fairways offer lower COR than last year’s Burner, and so ultimately, “the story” doesn’t matter nearly as much as the performance. Olsavsky believes TaylorMade makes the best fairway wood on the market today, and encourages all golfers to compare his company’s woods against his competetor’s. He’s confident TaylorMade will win on performance every time.

I also asked Tom why, assuming the new club really is longer for nearly everyone, why go public with numbers (150 MPH ball speeds) that most golfers will never achieve. Anybody who has ever been in a similar situation probably can’t help but laugh at the answer. T.O. told me that he believes that the RocketBallz fairway wood is going to be longer for everyone, and 17 yards may be on the low end of what the average golfers can expect to gain, but…TaylorMade has a legal department, and because legal departments tend to very cautious by nature, the PR guys used irrefutable numbers. Just because you don’t generate 150 MPH worth of ball speed with a 3-wood, doesn’t mean you won’t get that 17 more yards. The guys at TaylorMade think most golfers will get even more.

When Perry returned he did so with something straight out of the Tour Department. He handed me a RocketBallz strong 3-wood (13° – what TaylorMade calls the “Tour Spoon”) and a Fubuki α (alpha) shaft. Fitting me for a 3-wood proved to be a real challenge, even for the guys at the Kingdom, but with a lot of trial and error, they were finally able to build something that actually fit me.

As a quick aside, most of you have probably seen “Tour Issue” heads selling on eBay and other places for ridiculous sums of money. Like many of you, I was curious about the distinction, so I asked Tom to explain some of the differences between retail and tour issues heads. Generally speaking Tour Issue heads differ in the following ways:

  • Slightly smaller address area
  • Open face angle
  • Neutral (as opposed to draw-biased) weighting
  • Smaller internal hosel diameter (.335 for FWs, .355 for rescues)
  • Scorelines in the center of the face

Interestingly, and in direct contradiction to what some selling Tour Issue products will tell you, from a materials perspective, retail and tour issue heads are identical. There is no difference in the thickness, quality, or strength of the titanium or steel.

While Perry worked on getting the averages together, I spent some time hitting the new R11s driver. Dave Cordero went out of his way to remind T.O. about some things I had written about MWT and ASP, but just like when we started, if the plan was to make me eat my words, Tom still wasn’t letting on.

While my hands on experience with MWT (R7 SuperQuad) would suggest it doesn’t work, Tom reconfigured the weights in an R11s for me a few times, and while I can’t say we grabbed conclusive Trackman data, I saw enough to pique my curiosity. It’s definitely the one aspect of TaylorMade’s 3D fitting technology I’d like to spend more time tinkering with.

I’ve told you before that I don’t think much of ASP as ball flight altering technology. Even if you understand how it all works, an explanation of actual loft vs. effective loft can get a bit confusing. TaylorMade concedes that ASP is largely a visual aid, but Tom believes, whether in the pro shop, or on the course, at one time or another, everyone grounds the club, so aligning the head to suit the golfer’s eye absolutely matters. When he illustrated out how the slightest tapping of the driver can cause the club to open or close, and that ASP keeps the club alignment at setup from shifting he nearly made a believer out of me right then and there.

On the golf course I’m a mental dwarf. The slightest distraction in any part of my swing and I’m cooked. If I don’t back off (and I seldom do) horrible results nearly always follow. The driver head moving slightly out of alignment; that’s the kind of thing that wrecks me. If ASP stops that from happening that’s a plus. The mental stuff matters, but more compelling is that Olsavsky tells me that by simply adjusting the sole plate some TM Tour Staffers have increased ball speeds by 2- 3 MPH. ASP is a visual tool, but the physical benefits, according to TaylorMade, are real.

Crunching the Numbers

When the final numbers came back, the results were much improved. Carry yardage was up by just over 3 yards to 209.3, and total distance was +14 to 229.6. Now it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that 14 yards isn’t quite the 17 yards promised, so technically speaking I’d be pretty well covered if I told you that the RocketBallz didn’t deliver on the promise of being 17 yards longer.

One thing you should know about me is that I’m not a loophole guy. Loopholes are what douchebags use to justify being douchebags. I believe in the spirit of agreements, as much as the letter, and so when it comes to whether or not TaylorMade gets to shave their logo into my head, I had to consider all of the facts. The reality is that we never did a true apples to apples comparison of the Burner Fairway to the RocketBallz. The Burner I hit was basically an off the rack 15° model. The 13° “Tour S” RocketBallz head T.O. ultimately fit me into won’t be available at any retail outlet in the country. These facts alone might be enough for some to completely invalidate the tests.

There are, however, other factors that I had to consider. When I hit the Burner fairway, I was no more than 25 swings into my day. By the time we got the RocketBallz locked in, I’d venture to say my swing count was well into the 80s, and while not completely gassed, I was most definitely starting to get a little tired (and stiffen up). While the shots I hit with the Burner were crisp, at least 3 of the shots we counted with the RocketBallz weren’t perfect (2 slightly fat, one a bit out on the toe). Finally, remember that wind I mentioned before? Well, the one club wind that was blowing earlier was, by the time we had dialed in the RocketBallz, very easily a two club wind, and that can’t be completely discounted either.

Whether or not I’d won or lost was ultimately a judgment call, but when I weighed custom fit vs. off the rack, and then looked at all of the other factors, it was my opinion that in an apples to apples test conducted in identical conditions, the RocketBallz fairway would very likely prove to be 17 yards longer than the Burner, and that was enough for me to concede defeat. Besides if my custom TaylorMade haircut persuades just one reader that he should put down that off-the-rack club and go get custom fit, it will be worth it. My results prove it can make a significant difference.

Meeting Sergio…and I Don’t Mean Garcia

As it turns out the TaylorMade team wasn’t kidding about holding me to my promise to let them shave their logo into my head. Through a contact with the San Diego Chargers, TaylorMade hooked up with Sergio Millan, owner of Fresh Up Barber Shop in San Diego. While anyone who has seen Sergio’s work would find it difficult to argue that he’s not an artist, under ideal circumstances my head wouldn’t have been his canvas.

While the PR team was busy working with Sergio on the artwork design for my noggin, I was busy spending a little quality time getting acquainted with more of the #TM2012 lineup. Knowing that I don’t actually carry a fairway wood (the lowest lofted club in my bag besides my putter and driver is an 18° hybrid), the TaylorMade guys really wanted me to hit the RocketBallz hybrid.

This is all entirely subjective, but like the fairway wood, and it pains me to say this, ballz simply rocket off the face of the hybrid. The feel isn’t quite as good as what I’m gaming now, but the trajectory is fantastic. It cuts through the wind, and damn if I haven’t become a fan of white clubs. It’s all enough to make me consider swapping out my gamers. T.O. mentioned he’d build me a lower lofted hybrid to fit my swing, and I really hope he does because as good as the fairway wood is, the hybrid may be prove to be every bit its equal.

My Kingdom, My Kingdom for a Hat

Having a stranger take a straight razor to your head can be a bit disconcerting, and hair bleach burns like hell. For better or worse (probably worse), I might be the only guy to ever hang out on the range at the Kingdom while wearing a plastic shower cap.

While sitting on the range in that cap waiting for my RocketBallz green hair dye to dry, Tim and I were introduced to Benoit Vincent, TaylorMade’s Chief Technology Officer. Dr. Vincent (or “Doc” as some refer to him) oversees TaylorMade’s R&D and Engineering teams. His Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering offers perhaps the only clue to his area of expertise. While most engineers I’ve encountered over the years are quiet, reserved, even reticent, Dr. Vincent is none of the above. He is charismatic, almost charming. He pokes fun at his own French accent, and his unbridled enthusiasm for TaylorMade’s products, particularly the RocketBallz fairway wood is both compelling and contagious.

In the 15 minutes or so Tim and I spent with Dr. Vincent, nothing intrigued me more than when he explained that the RocketBallz fairway woods is essentially a first generation product. For the last ten years (nearly half of his tenure at TaylorMade), creating a revolutionary product in the fairway wood space has been on his to-do list. And while I’m sure the team at TaylorMade would tell you they’ve made some good ones over the years, this is the first time in a decade’s worth of work he’s been able to cross it off his list. Of course, none of that should suggest that TaylorMade’s R&D team is done with fairway woods.

Dr. Vincent told us that he believes that within the next 3 years, TaylorMade engineers will be able to squeeze an additional 20 yards out of the RocketBallz. If you’re doing the math, we’re talking about a club that would be 37 yards longer than last year’s Burner Fairway. Now of course I’m skeptical, but a lot can happen in 3 years. This time around I’m willing to keep my mouth shut and take a “wait and see” approach…at least until my hair grows back.

When the conversation veered from TaylorMade’s products to MyGolfSpy’s testing procedures, Dr. Vincent again became very enthusiastic. And while I wish I could tell you he was a huge fan of MyGolfSpy’s club tests, he was more excited to show us the ForeSight camera-based launch monitors TaylorMade has been using. While Trackman is still in use on the range at the Kingdom, TaylorMade has purchased several ForeSight systems. They’ve tested the units side by side with Trackman, and have absolutely zero reservations about the accuracy. Based on what we saw at the PGA show, I’m inclined to agree. Quite frankly, I’ve never seen anyone in the industry so excited about another company’s product.

After a quick chat with Mike Malaska, 2011 PGA Teacher of the Year, and a quick peek inside the Kingdom’s indoor putting lab, Tim and I headed off to a casual dinner with the TM PR Team. After hitting a hundred plus balls at the Kingdom only to be on the receiving end of what is arguably the 2nd worst haircut I’ve ever had, unwinding with a couple of beers and some casual conversation was a great way to end the trip.

During my 3 hour layover in Newark (thanks again TMAG!), GolfSpy X asked me what the takeaways were from the trip, and while they’re admittedly all over the place, here’s what I came up with:

  • The RocketBallz fairway wood lives up to the hype. While it’s too soon to say if it’s the absolute best new fairway wood on the market this year, I’d personally be shocked if it wasn’t at or near the top of the list.
  • As good as the fairway wood is, I’m telling you, the hybrid might be the bigger story.
  • While I’m still not 100% sold on MWT and ASP, the R11s is a very good driver. After finally hitting them side by side, I can tell you that I prefer it over both the original R11 and the new RocketBallz (though neither is half-bad).
  • Everyone I met at TaylorMade absolutely believes in their products, and are, to a man (and woman) exceptionally proud of their new lineup. While a company in TaylorMade’s position could easily coast by on brand recognition and marketing double-speak, there’s no snake oil here, they’re absolutely convinced they make the best product in golf. As a loosely related aside, I spoke with a source inside another well-known golf company who told me that he believes that off the rack, the R11 is just ok, but when it’s dialed in (properly fit), there aren’t many (if any) better.
  • For every club in the bag…custom fitting matters. When it comes to fitting golfers, there’s a bell curve of sorts, and according to the guys at TaylorMade, with my low launch and stupid high spin numbers, I’m barely on it. Almost no off-the-rack club is going to provide ideal results for me. Now most golfers aren’t going to fall to the extreme end that I do, but for the sake of repeating what’s been said a million times over; everyone should be custom fit for every club in his bag. It really does make a difference.
  • What I found in talking with TaylorMade employees was an unexpected and refreshing honesty. Whether discussing previous products that didn’t quite hit their mark, resemblances to other OEM products, or the relationship with MyGolfSpy, I never got a sense of anyone trying to spin anything. In each of my conversations I encountered a matter of fact, all-cards-on-the-table directness that was anything but expected, but was certainly appreciated.
  • Everybody who loves golf should be fortunate enough to spend 15 minutes chatting with Benoit Vincent. If he can’t get you excited about golf equipment, no one can.
  • I’m sure I’m forgetting something, so if you have any questions, use the comment form to ask away.

In my original response to the release of the RocketBallz, I wrote:

I’m confident that #TM2012 will prove to be as good as just about anything else on the market, but I don’t expect we’ll see anything truly spectacular either. If I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it, and the first to recommend you go try the new stuff for yourself. –GolfSpy T (still frothy)

And so here it goes…

I was wrong. –GolfSpy T (much less frothy)

The new RocketBallz fairway, and almost certainly the RocketBallz hybrid, will very likely prove to be two of the standout performers of 2012. While I can’t say it with quite the same degree of confidence, the R11s, and RocketBallz drivers both look to be outstanding as well. The bottom line is these are all clubs you should be trying for yourself. As for the rest of the #TM2012 lineup…TaylorMade’s irons rarely suit my eye, so while it’s unlikely I’d bag the new RocketBallz irons. The guys who have hit them tell us they offer much better feel than the Burner series. Finally, the jury is still very much out on the new ATV wedges. While they were almost universally panned when we posted the original pics, I think they look much better in person. Versatility and performance are still largely unknowns.

While many of you reading this would probably kill to spend an afternoon at the Kingdom, 2800 miles is a long way to travel just to have my nose rubbed in my own poo. To the people at TaylorMade’s credit, not once while I was there did I ever feel like making me to eat my words (along with a sizable helping of crow) was part of the agenda; and if it was, there still isn’t anybody at TaylorMade who is letting on.

Sure, I could tell you that I spent an afternoon at the Kingdom and that all I got was a lousy haircut…and a 3-wood…and a new pair of shoes, but I’d be lying  if I told you I didn’t enjoy the experience, and that I wasn’t holding on to some memories for the road. I had a good time beating balls on the range at the Kingdom, but the same can be said for the time spent getting to know the TaylorMade team a little bit better. And while I certainly never planned on becoming the face…or rather the scalp of the RocketBallz lineup, I’d be game to make the trip again when #TM2013 rolls around. Next time though, I’d prefer that Sergio stays home.

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