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Review: TaylorMade SLDR fairway woods and hybrids

by   |   December 4, 2013
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Review: TaylorMade SLDR fairway woods and hybrids Chris Nickel
Performance
Looks and Feel

Summary: They're not the most forgiving models, but talented golfers looking to reduce spin will love these.

4.4

Spin killers


See It Amazon (SLDR FWY)
See It Amazon (SLDR FWY TP)
See It Amazon (SLDR HYB)
See It Amazon (SLDR HYB TP)

Pros: The SLDR fairway woods and hybrids offer a low-spinning trajectory in a clean and refreshingly understated package. The next generation of “speed slot” technology is marginally better, and the “real deal” TP shaft options are big selling point for better players.

Cons: These are not the most forgiving options available, even within their better-player categories. The SLDR moniker is also potentially misleading, as moveable weight technology isn’t a feature on this generation.

Bottom Line: If you’re looking for versatile, low-spin fairway woods or hybrids, SLDR should be at the top of your list to try. They’re fantastic off the tee, and their compact shapes make them very good from the fairway and rough, provided you have the swing speed and talent.

Overview 

TaylorMade’s SLDR fairway woods and hybrids use the company’s much touted low, forward center of gravity (CG) and the company’s Speed Pocket, a polymer-filled slot cut all the way through the head. The clubs carriy the same SLDR name as the driver, but unlike the bigger dog, this smaller sibling has no sliding anything, which if nothing else is confusing to the consumer.

Gone (for now) is the distinctive white paint of the R11 and RBZ lines, and in its place is a charcoal crown juxtaposed with a silver face. The slot technology is improved both in terms of aesthetics and performance. The Speed Slot, though smaller than it was in the RocketBallz and RBZ Stage 2 models, offers increased ball speed across a larger area of the club face. More ball speed means more distance, and the polymer filling means less to clean up after, which is a welcome change.

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Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 5.28.14 PM

Both standard and TP model fairway woods and hybrids have a 3-degree range of adjustability (1.5 degrees up or down from standard in 0.5-degree increments). The fairway woods come in lofts of 14, 15, 17, 19 and 21 degrees. The base models ($249) are equipped with a Fujikura 77 shaft (R, S and X flexes), while the TP models ($349) has a Fujikura 8.3 Tour Spec shaft. Both are available in R, S and X flexes.

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The hybrids are offered in lofts of 17, 19, 21 and 24 degrees. The base model hybrids ($219) comes with a Fujikura Speeder 82 shaft (R,S, and X flexes), while the TP model ($289) has a beefier Fujikura Motore Speeder 9.3 shaft (S and X flexes).

Performance

In testing, the SLDR fairway woods and hybrids launched slightly higher than previous models with lower comparative spin. The result was a longer carry and more total distance. Distance gains were largely a function of reduced spin, and with a slightly higher initial launch angle, the ball stayed in the air longer.

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In adjusting the loft, both up and down, ball flight changed as expected. Many players will likely find they can go up in loft at least 1 degree without losing any distance. I found that a 1-degree increase in loft actually allowed me to hit the ball higher without losing any distance. This is particularly helpful when trying to reach a par 5 in two or hold a firm green on longer par-3 holes.  In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to find players going up in loft and actually gaining distance.

The club wasn’t noticeably straighter than other models, but it wasn’t any more crooked either. I had no problem working the ball up, down, right and left, but I had to make a more conscious effort to hit a sweeping draw or big slice. That said, players who like to work the ball either direction might actually find it a bit more difficult to do so given the reduced spin.

With a more forward CG, one would think that the clubs would be less forgiving on shots hit on the heel or toe. My suspicions proved correct, as heel misses were punished fairly significantly and toe misses weren’t a lot better. Shots off the heel just never elevated and toe hits generally came out low and “hooky.” This is definitely a club for the player who can find the center of the club face routinely.

Perhaps the most redeeming quality of this club is its unyielding versatility. The relatively shallow face of the fairway woods makes them a monster off the fairway and tight lies. However, given the launch and spin characteristics (especially with the Fujikura TS 8.3 in the TP model), there is no ballooning on the tee ball. The hybrids are an equal opportunity performer. They’re like hitting mini fairway woods off the tee, and they elevate very easily off the deck. Playing from the rough is just as fun, but I had to be a bit careful as the ball generally came out hot and a bit lower that I expected.

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Above: Both the SLDR fairway woods (top) and hybrids have relatively shallow faces to give the club more playability from the fairway and rough. 

It’s important to keep in mind that performance is always a function of the player swinging the club. Clubs with a low, forward CG and low-spin launch conditions are going to perform best for players who tend to have a pretty active and late release. If you have an early release and moderate-to-little wrist hinge, you should probably look elsewhere. And if you do go with an SLDR product, don’t expect to see significant performance gains.

If you’re a medium tempo, mid launch, early-to-mid release player, the stock shaft offering will likely suit you well. For me, I found it to be loose and spinny. If you swing more than 100 mph, have a mid-to-late release and like your fairway woods to have an 80-gram or heavier shaft, the Tour Spec 8.3 will be phenomenal. I’m sure some will balk at the $349 price tag on the TP model, but when you consider the aftermarket cost of the Fujikura Tour Spec 8.3 shaft is around $350, it’s almost like getting the head for free.

Looks and Feel

The SLDR fairway woods have a nice small footprint and traditional pear shape. The hybrids are more wood-like in appearance than some others, but they certainly don’t appear bulky or cumbersome.

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Above: A SLDR fairway wood (top) and SLDR hybrid at address. 

The charcoal grey head with silver face produces a nice contrast at address and honestly, I think the return to a bit less caffeinated color scheme is a solid move. Anything that conjures up reminders of the legendary 200 Steel and hallowed V-Steel will certainly attract buyers.

The “chrome button back” and crown graphics were added to help golfers with their alignment, TaylorMade says. But I think their main purpose is to “pop” on the television screen and ensure golfers know that they’re buying a 2013-2014 fairway wood that will never be confused with the charcoal-colored Titleist models. Moreover, the TaylorMade enthusiast who bagged the RBZ and/or RBZ Stage 2 for purely performance reasons will love the SLDR, where they can get all of the performance (and then some) in a bit more traditional package.

That said, the graphics and “button back” were more distracting to me than anything else. If the entire scheme were louder, it might not appear as awkward. I’m honestly not certain if the chrome portion is trying to get me to line up the ball in the center of the face or if it is trying to get me to take an inside path towards the ball. Either way, it’s a minor blemish in what is otherwise a very refined and well-proportioned package. A large serving of classic with of a side dish of “techy.”

The stock Fujikura Speeder 77 shaft, a “made-for” model, is decent, but it’s nothing to write home about. It will likely fit a majority of consumers and is on par with other stock shaft offerings from other OEMs. On the other hand, the Fujikura Motore Speeder Tour Spec 8.3 (9.3 in the hybrid) that comes in the TP models is reason enough to buy the entire club. It is tight, explosive and smooth like a marble rolling down a greased stimp meter.

In so many cases, sound is feel and the SLDR is like an anvil crushing a pop can. It’s solid and significant without being hollow or “tingy.” Well struck shots simply feel awesome.

The Takeaway 

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What’s old is new. A classic-shaped TaylorMade wood paired with a high-end shaft (in the TP model) results in a premium offering for better players. The low spin the club creates is achieved by an extremely forward and low COG. The result is an extremely high-performing club that will offer a certain segment of talented players increased performance.

At a minimum, players will likely increase loft by at least a full degree without losing any yardage. If you go this route, you’ll want to tinker with the 3-degree range of adjustability to dial in your yardage gaps. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself hitting the ball a bit higher and a bit further that whatever you’re playing now. You may also have to rework the transition from hybrid/5 wood to your longest iron.

If you’re trying to decide between the TP and standard models, the shaft options in the TP line make it a no brainer, especially if you have a fairly high swing speed or place a lot of load on the shaft. If you’re simply looking for an uber-forgiving, distance-oriented fairway wood or hybrid, there are other options out there.

TaylorMade has dominated the metal-woods portion of the industry for the last decade and then some. With offerings such as the SLDR, that reign isn’t going to end anytime soon. The year of loft might just take a bit longer to complete.

About

I didn't grow up playing golf. I wasn't that lucky. But somehow the game found me and I've been smitten ever since. Like many of you, I'm a bit enthusiastic for all things golf and have a spouse which finds this "enthusiasm" borderline ridiculous. I've been told golf requires someone who strives for perfection, but realizes the futility of this approach. You have to love the journey more than the result and relish in frustration and imperfection. As a teacher and coach, I spend my days working with amazing middle school and high school student athletes teaching them to think, dream and hope. And just when they start to feel really good about themselves, I hand them a golf club!


4 Comments

  1. Mike

    December 6, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    I change my clubs every few years except my 3 and 5 woods … Taylormade vsteel, no one has ever made fairway woods this good again.!

    • Jeffrey Trigger

      December 7, 2013 at 8:42 am

      Fairway woods are like the teddy bear we had as children. Once you find one, you don’t let it go. I switched mine out last year. I too loved the V Steel. I know have an RBZ Stage 2 Tour HL and a 4 hybrid. Both are good off of the tee, and the fairway. I’d be nuts to look at something else.

  2. Keith

    December 5, 2013 at 11:19 am

    I’m a 2hdcp with an avg 3w swing speed of about 102mph. I bought the stock version of the 3w w/ the Fujikura 77. I’ve played 3rds and banged quite a few balls with it already. I’m not having any issues with the stock offering, no ballooning or excessive spin. Thus far, I’m in love with this club. It replaced a original RBZ 14.5 that had a Black Tie SM3 in it. I’ve found that a 15.5-16d setting is ideal for me, launching a little bit higher and getting more carry. Carrying it roughly 250 on the 16d setting…getting total distance at 14.5d of around 265 (245-ish carry).

    I will also second the reviewers statement that it’s difficult to steer it hard one way or another. I found it very easy to hit a little fade if I wanted to, a little more difficult to draw it, but very easy to hit it straight. Definitely a “players” head. If you’re looking for a lot of forgiveness, you won’t find it here.

    My advice is to at least try the stock offering before paying up, as the Fujikura 77 offering is very adequate.

  3. Carlos Danger

    December 4, 2013 at 9:56 am

    I have only hit these in the store into net simulators but they feel really good and look awesome at address…this coming from someone who doesnt get too excited about the new line of TM stuff that comes out every three months (still cant get the R9 Superdeep out of my bag). Simulator was saying the TP 17 hybrid was going 270, which is awesome…but I will take the net simulator results with a grain of salt

    I am pleasantly surprised by the shaft options. The “heavier” TP shafts (80g + Fwy, 90g+ Hybrid) is something I have always played and when ordering new clubs was something I often times had to piece together or custom order. I am surprised however by this being that lightweight clubs seem to be all the jazz right now. Most Fwy woods out there (non tour versions) have the 60-65 g or less. This might scare some people away.

    None of this matters because these will be in the discount pile in 3 months when the next rd of TM clubs come out

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