Review: TaylorMade SLDR fairway woods and hybrids
Summary: They're not the most forgiving models, but talented golfers looking to reduce spin will love these.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.