Pros: The SLDR has a center of gravity that is lower and more forward than any driver TaylorMade has ever produced. That allows golfers to launch the ball higher and with less spin, which is the key to longer drivers. It also gives the it slightly faster ball speeds more forgiveness on shots hit low on the face. Instead of white, the SLDR has a handsome gray metallic crown that reminds us of TaylorMade’s popular 300 Series drivers from the past. Its 20-gram sliding weight is also faster and easier to adjust that TaylorMade’s moveable weight systems, and allows for much more precise tuning.
Cons: The SLDR doesn’t have a “face angle adjuster” like previous drivers from TaylorMade, which will force some golfers to manipulate the face angle to their desired position at address. It’s also not a “one size fits all” driver, which is good and bad. SLDR drivers have a 3-degree range of adjustability (1.5 degrees up or down) — 1 degree less than the R1. But the range of lofts offered by the four different heads (8, 9.5, 10.5 and 12 degrees) extends from 6.5 degrees to 13.5 degrees — three degrees greater than the R1. Aesthetically, those who liked TaylorMade’s matte white crowns or the cool factor of the R1’s racing stripe will be stuck with a more traditional, glossy gray crown.
Bottom Line: In recent years, TaylorMade has upgraded its premium drivers by adding more. The SLDR streamlines TaylorMade’s driver technologies into an easier-to-use, more powerful sliding mechanism that gives the driver an ultra low, forward CG.
That combination of performance, simplicity and good looks makes it “the best driver TaylorMade has ever produced,” according to company officials, and we don’t think that’s too far from the truth.
Our testing showed that the SLDR is one of the special drivers that comes around every few years that has the potential to win over an enormous amount of golfers. The combination of the SLDR’s faster ball speed, lower spin and foolproof adjustability makes it arguably the best driver that TaylorMade has ever produced.
The mechanisms that have become common place on today’s drivers are one of modern golf equipment’s most important breakthroughs. They allow golfers to customize a driver’s loft and face angle, and some drivers such as TaylorMade’s R1 and Callaway’s Razr Fit Xtreme have moveable weight systems that allow golfers to tweak a club’s center of gravity.
But there is a problem with these mechanisms; while they add adjustability, they also add weight.
That’s why TaylorMade’s company leadership is so excited about its new SLDR driver. It has TaylorMade’s new sliding weight track, which like all other driver mechanisms adds weight. But the sliding weight track is located in the exact location TaylorMade prefers to add weight in their driver — in the low, forward region of the head.
According to Tom Olsavsky, TaylorMade’s senior director of product creation, his company has been working on a system to replace the moveable weight technology it pioneered in 2004 on its R7 driver almost since the time the R7 was released. The reason, Olsavsky says, is because adjustable weight systems are time consuming to adjust, and offer far fewer center of gravity options than sliding systems.
For example, TaylorMade’s most recent driver, the R1 (released in January 2013), came with two adjustable weights — a 10-gram and 1-gram weight that fit in the driver’s two adjustable weight ports. If golfers wanted their R1 to have a draw bias, they placed the 10-gram weight in the heel, and the lighter 1-gram weight in the toe. If they wanted a neutral bias, all they had to do was switch the positions of the weights.
Above: TaylorMade’s R1 driver, which has a 7-degree adjustable sole plate and two adjustable weights.
The SLDR, on the other hand, has a sliding weight that tips the scales at 20 grams. That gives it more than double the influence on a driver’s center of gravity than the R1’s moveable weights. And instead of the R1’s two CG options, the SLDR offers 21 different CG locations that are mapped out on the driver’s sole between the driver’s heel and toe.
Many golf gearheads are quick to point out that TaylorMade’s sliding weight track is nothing new — very similar technology first appeared on Mizuno’s MP-600 drivers in 2007. But here’s what those TaylorMade detractors aren’t computing — the Mizuno MP-600 driver had its sliding weight system in the back of the driver. The SLDR has its sliding weight track in the front of the driver, which creates the high-launch/low-spin conditions that TaylorMade has been touting for years.
One thing that the SLDR is missing is TaylorMade’s “face angle adjuster,” a sole plate on TaylorMade’s R1, R11S and R11 drivers that allowed golfers to adjust the face angle to various levels of open, closed or square in the soled position. According to Olsavsky, the SLDR lacks a sole plate because of the small amount of weight it adds to the rear of the driver, which would cost the SLDR yards in laboratory testing.
Another perk of ditching the sole plate and other weight gobbling mechanisms, such as the two moveable weight ports, is that the lack of those mechanisms in a driver can give it a better sound and feel.
“Weights and sole plate systems – all those things change the resonance of the structure,” Olsavsky said. “We were able to give the SLDR exactly the sound we wanted … Powerful, but still explosive.”
The SLDR driver will hit shelves on Aug. 9 and cost $399. It will be available in four different lofts, 8, 9.5, 10.5 and 12 degrees, and will come stock with Fujikura’s Speeder 57 shaft (R,S and X flexes). A TP version of the driver will also be available for $499 with Fujikura’s Speeder Tour Spec 6.3 shaft (R,S and X flexes). Both clubs will be sold at a stock length of 45.5 inches.
According to Olsavsky, golfers can expect 1-to-2 mph faster ball speeds with the SLDR driver compared to TaylorMade’s R1, as well as about 300 rpms less spin. That doesn’t sound like another one of TaylorMade’s outrageous claims, i.e. 17 yards, 17+10, etc., because it’s not.
Our official tester, as well as an overwhelming majority of the 25 golfers who were fit for SLDR drivers at TaylorMade’s Performance Labs located around the country, achieved higher ball speeds and lower spin rates with the SLDR compared to their gamers.
Just like in our review of the R1, our tester found that he needed to increase loft 0.5 degrees from TaylorMade’s previous model to make up for the lower spin rate, which was easily done with the club’s adjustable loft sleeve
Note to R1 users: While the SLDR’s loft sleeve looks different, it fits the R1 adapter, so you can still use the premium shafts you have fitted with R1 sleeves.
The need for added loft makes sense, as lower-spinning drivers often need more loft than higher-spinning drivers to create optimal spin levels for maximum carry. But how does the SLDR have more ball speed, you might be asking? Well, it’s that low, forward CG thing.
According to Olsavsky, the reason drivers with lower, more forward CGs have faster ball speeds than drivers with more reward CGs is simple geometry. The center of gravity of a driver projects at a point perpendicular to a driver’s loft, so a driver with a center of gravity that is farther back in the head projects at a point that is higher on the face than a driver with a center of gravity that sits farther forward in the head. That’s why the SLDR is longer than the R1 — the center of the gravity of the head projects lower, and more in line with the area where golfers strike the ball, producing a more efficient energy transfer and thus more ball speed.
Our tester also found that the sliding weight track was surprisingly easy to use, and that it didn’t take him long to find his favorite of the club’s 21 settings. Most golfers will “set it and forget it” after their initial fitting, but gear heads will enjoy the ability to add left or right bias to their drives when they’re struggling with their games or making changes to their swing.
Looks and Feel
After three years of white drivers, we were a little shocked to pull the head cover off a TaylorMade club and not see the company’s trademark matte white crown. We never doubted the advantages of matte white paint as they related to reduced glare and alignment, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not happy to see a return to a more traditional paint job.
The SLDR’s 460-cubic-centimeter head inspires confidence behind the ball, with no painted racing stripe (like the R1) or bizarre triangle (like the RBZ Stage 2) to distract from the job at hand. The gray glossy crown also makes the club head look smaller at address than drivers with white crowns, which some golfers will like and others won’t.
One thing we could have done without on the SLDR is the lighter gray section on the back of the crown (TaylorMade calls it a “chrome button back”). We know why it’s there though — on TV, golfers will easily be able to spot the lighter-colored section, and know that “player X” is hitting a SLDR.
More important than the look of the SLDR at address is the feel of the driver, however. Low-spin drivers like the SLDR have a tendency to feel harsh at impact, but the SLDR feels buttery soft. Several testers commented that the ball seemed to “compress and then jump off the face.”
The R1 and previous drivers from TaylorMade have a louder, higher-pitched sound that many golfers said lacks the “pop” they felt with the SLDR. We anticipate that golfers who liked TaylorMade’s legendary R510TP driver will love the feel of the SLDR, because it feels very similar.
When a company is releasing as many new drivers as TaylorMade has in 2013 — the R1, RBZ Stage 2, RBZ Stage 2 Tour, R1 Black and now the SLDR — it’s hard to believe that golfers will see anything more than an incremental improvement in performance. In certain cases, golfers might get no improvement with new models — especially for drivers from TaylorMade, which year after year has produced some the best performing drivers in the industry.
But our testing showed that the SLDR is one of the special drivers that comes around every few years that has the potential to win over an enormous amount of golfers.
The combination of the SLDR’s faster ball speed, lower spin and foolproof adjustability makes it arguably the best driver that TaylorMade has ever produced.
And the shiny new paint job is sure to lure back some traditionalists who abandoned the TaylorMade brand when it went to white drivers.