By Zak Kozuchowski
GolfWRX Staff Writer
What company has the best new driver? Ask the three players in your foursome, and you’ll probably get three different answers. But if you ask them which company has the most recognizable new driver, they’ll all probably say TaylorMade.
The arrival of TaylorMade’s new line of drivers last January created more buzz than any other line of drivers for one reason – they were painted white. Six players debuted white TaylorMade drivers in the PGA Tour’s first event, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. And it wasn’t players hoping that a change of scenery over the ball would spark their games, either. It was some of the best players in the world: Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and Camilo Villegas.
Then players started winning with white drivers. World No. 1 Luke Donald won the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship in February with an R11. Rory Sabbatini won with an R11 the next week at The Honda Classic. In all, 10 players won on the PGA Tour using a white TaylorMade driver, including Darren Clarke at the British Open, giving a white driver its first major championship win. The TaylorMade R11 became the No. 1 driver on the PGA Tour, and the No. 1 selling driver in the United States with a peak market share of 21.68 percent in February.
Like most successful products, development of a non-traditional colored driver began years ago. Sean Toulon, executive vice president of TaylorMade product creation, played rounds of golf with a fluorescent yellow driver as early as 2004, shortly after TaylorMade introduced another revolutionary driver, the R7. The R7 was the first driver that allowed golfers to quickly and easily make changes to the weighting of the club head. Golfers could move the weight forward, back, and toward the heel and toe to optimize their launch angle, spin rate and directional bias. Within weeks of its release, Sergio Garcia won twice with it. The R7 became the No. 1 driver on Tour and the number one selling driver in the United States with a 10 percent market share. It also became the first driver to be featured the cover of Golf Digest. Lead tape sales have suffered ever since.
As early as 2006, TaylorMade staff players were testing drivers with colors much different than the standard black and greys. There was red, orange, fluorescent yellow, and of course, white. But at that time, a color change was still not a priority at TaylorMade, according to Toulon. In 2009, TaylorMade released another No. 1 driver on Tour, the R9, which gave a golfer the ability to quickly change a club’s shaft, face angle, loft and lie. But this technology presented a new challenge for TaylorMade club designers.
With the R9, and many of the adjustable drivers that followed, changing one variable meant changing several others as well. For example, if a golfer changed the face angle of an R9 to the closed position, he or she would also add loft to the club. If a golfer changed the face angle to open, he or she would also decrease loft on the club.
“We had to solve the riddle,” Toulon said. “If we change one variable, we don’t want to have all these other variables change. We had to decouple these technologies.”
While the R9 became another top-selling driver for TaylorMade, Toulon and many others at TaylorMade felt that it underachieved. Despite the new technology, the sales of the R9 were essentially unchanged from those of the R7. By 2010, Toulon knew the R11 would be the best driver TaylorMade had ever produced. But it had to be different – it had to be anything but black.
Inspiration for the R11’s white color came from an unlikely source, a putter. Bill Price, senior director of Rossa, TaylorMade’s putter division, was working on a line of putters that would help golfers aim better. With the help of an eye doctor, Price figured out that putters with a matte white finish not only reduced glare, but because of the contrast between white paint and black alignment lines, they helped golfers aim better.
“There was real benefit on a putter for white, what an eye looks at and what the eye focuses on,” Toulon said.
The idea made even more sense for a driver. In putting, poor alignment might move a putt two to three inches off line. Because of the increased speed with a driver, poor alignment can send a ball 20 to 30 yards off line or more.
There’s quite a bit of science behind the white paint that goes on TaylorMade drivers, but with white Toulon also saw an opportunity for the company to differentiate itself from its competitors. TaylorMade wasn’t the first company to unveil a white driver (Ian Poulter used a white Cobra Limited Edition ZL driver in November 2010, two months before the release of TaylorMade’s white drivers), but it was the first company to build an entire marketing campaign around a white driver.
TaylorMade’s sales rely heavily in the pyramid of influence, the idea that golfers will follow the lead of the best players in the world when purchasing equipment. The company’s staff players told Toulon how much they loved the white drivers, so he knew white drivers would be in nearly all their bags when they were released. He also knew that for players like Justin Rose, the R11 offered adjustability that had never been possible before.
Rose told TaylorMade club fitters that he wanted a driver that had an opened face angle, but offered a left directional bias. Just a few years ago, the request would have boggled a club fitter. But with the R11, Rose’s request became a possibility. The R11 features an adjustable sole plate that allows golfers to change the face angle by two degrees. By rotating the sole plate to the open position, club fitters were able to give Rose the look he wanted. They could then adjust the face angle and head weighting until they got the left bias Rose wanted.
What to expect in 2012
White is here to stay for TaylorMade, and the company’s 2012 product line will prove that. TaylorMade will release new drivers, fairway woods and rescues in February that will only be available in white. Look for the new line to be used by PGA Tour players before that time. Toulon called the performance of the new line dramatically better, saying it “absolutely obliterates” the 2011 line.
At a TaylorMade photo shoot at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Ga., Toulon said that Dustin Johnson hit the company’s new three wood 317 yards off the ground. Sean O’Hair was averaging 300 yards with the club, and Natalie Gulbis picked up 20-22 yards. According to Toulon, the average distance added by TaylorMade staff players was more than 25 yards.
TaylorMade’s Ghost putters will also see an update, with more belly putters, more long putters and more mallet designs. Toulon said the company has fixed a problem that caused last year’s line of Ghost putters to appear slightly larger than the company intended. The white paint used for the Ghost line is relatively thick, which caused some of the shapes and lines of the putters to be hidden.According to Toulon, the 2012 models will look much more crisp and precise. TaylorMade will also cease production of its EST 1979 putter series, meaning that TaylorMade’s 2012 lineup will include only white putters.