The inside scoop on TaylorMade “tour heads”
There’s three TaylorMade R1 drivers.
Yes, you heard that right. The driver that TaylorMade touts as being able to “tune to any loft, any look and any flight” is currently on the USGA’s list of conforming driver heads in three different versions — “R1 Version 1,” “R1 Version 2″ and “R1 Version 3″ — all of which are noticeably different shapes and sizes.
So how do golfers know which one of the TaylorMade R1 drivers is best for them? Well, they don’t have to worry about it. That’s because when they go to buy an R1 driver off the shelf, they only have one option — the R1 Version 1.
So why does TaylorMade produce three different drivers when they only sell one of them to the public?
It’s a question golf equipment gear heads have gone back and forth about in our forums for years. The discussion has been further fueled by the fact that viewers who have looked through our 2013 Tour photos have yet to see a single R1 Version 1 driver in any of the photos, just the R1 Version 2.
This creates an awkward situation for TaylorMade, which prides itself on the usage of its drivers on tour — a key element in the company’s business plan that has helped it dominate the golf equipment industry — because TaylorMade is selling one driver to the public and giving its tour players a different driver to use.
Before you pick up your pitchforks and storm TaylorMade headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif., consider this — TaylorMade has been making different heads for tour players for a long time. According to the USGA Conforming Club List, TaylorMade created multiple versions of its drivers as early as 2000, when it released a Version 1 and Version 2 of its 300 Tour drivers in both left- and right-handed models.
We had a chance to sit down with the top brass at TaylorMade to clear the air about “tour heads.” We asked why they’re made, what they do and more importantly what they don’t do.
What do tour heads look like?
The only way to tell a “tour head” from a retail head is to look at the driver’s serial number (pictured above). They always start with the letter “T,” which denotes that they were made especially for tour players.
In the case of TaylorMade’s R1, the tour heads are different sizes than the retail head. The R1 Version 2 is 440 cubic centimeters, 20 CCs smaller than the retail version. This gives the driver a different shape — it’s noticeably more compact in just about every respect when compared to the R1 Version 1.
Why are tour heads different?
Notice the skinnier toe section on the tour head (left). The weight saved from the toe section and other places makes the tour head lighter than the retail version.
According to Tom Olsavsky, senior director of product creation at TaylorMade, the reason for the change is simple. One of the reasons is that smaller heads can be made lighter, which gives tour players the option of playing a driver with a lower swing weight.
Olsavsky says the target weight for a tour head is 195 grams, 10 grams lighter than the target weight of a retail head, which is 205 grams. For every two grams of weight lost in a driver head, the swing weight is reduced by one point. So if a golfer takes the retail head off his or her R1 driver and replaces it with a tour head, the swing weight will go from around D4 to around C9, a five point drop.
The shafts that comes in the retail versons of the R1 driver are 45.5 inches, however, which are about 0.5-inches longer than the standard length of driver played on tour. So if a half inch was cut off, the swing weight would plummet three points to C6, which is way too light for most tour players. So what gives? Is Olsavsky pulling our leg about this swing weight thing? Spoiler alert — he’s not.
Tweaking the Center of Gravity
When weight is removed from one part of a driver head, it can be put back in another. In the case of the R1 Version 2, the smaller head removes weight from the entire structure. But the R1 has a trick up its sleeve for putting it back — thanks to the R1′s “Shot Shape weights,” golfers can tweak both swing weight and center of gravity by changing the amount of weight in the club’s two weight ports.
The retail version of the R1 driver is sold with two weights, a 10-gram and a 1-gram. Golfers can create a “draw bias” by putting the 10-gram weight in the heel and the 1-gram weight in the toe. They can create a “neutral bias” by swapping the weights, putting the 10-gram weight in the toe and the 1-gram weight in the heel. Those options are better than none, but they’re certainly not enough to fit TaylorMade’s huge tour staff.
According to Olsavsky, the tour heads have almost the exact same center of gravity position as the retail heads. But since the tour heads are 10 grams lighter, tour players have 10 more grams of tweaking power at their discretion, allowing them to create a slight draw bias, a slight fade bias or just about any other bias that they want.
The trade off of this technology is that making the heads smaller decreases MOI, which makes a driver less forgiving. Loading up the front of the driver with heavier weights further decreases MOI. But for some tour players, a lower MOI is actually a good thing, because it allows them to work the ball more easily.
Also, the farther forward the center of gravity is located in a head, the less spin a driver creates. So when a tour player loads up a tour head’s front-positioned weight ports with heavy weights, the drivers become even lower spinning, which can help players with tour-like swing speeds hit the ball even farther.
Tour heads are more exact
Notice how much smaller the face is on the tour head (pictured above), another symptom of creating a lighter-weight driver.
According to Olsavsky, Tour heads are made in one of TaylorMade’s three metal wood factories overseas. So while they’re made with different tooling to create their smaller shape, they are not made in a special place. Are they made out of special materials? Without testing the metal, we don’t know, but we doubt it.
What we do know is that every R1 tour head gets COR tested, which according to TaylorMade is done to make sure that tour players do not receive non-conforming equipment, that is, heads with a coefficient of restitution greater than the allowable limit of 0.830.
We have been told by several TaylorMade fitters over the years that this testing is all the more reason to buy a non-tour head, because untested heads have the possibility of being over the limit. We’re not going to get into the ethical dilemma of playing illegal equipment, but we will say this: If the lesser tolerances of non-tour heads can make those heads measure over the limit by a point or two, they can certainly measure under the limit by a point or two as well.
Before sending its tour heads out to the tour, TaylorMade records every possible variable — actual loft, head weight and face angle — which are usually slightly different than the target. According to Olsavsky, few heads out of a batch of 20 that are supposed to be 9 degrees with a 2-degree open face angle will actually measure that. They’ll be close, but most vary by a few tenths of a degree each way.
The club builders on TaylorMade’s tour truck know exactly what players want and cherry pick the appropriate heads based on TaylorMade’s measurements. That’s why the tour heads do not use the 4-degree loft sleeves that are being sold on the shafts of the retail R1 drivers. Tour players don’t need to adjust the heads very much, because their face angles and lofts are already cherry picked, so a 3-degree loft sleeve is more than enough.
Just as loft and face angle vary, so do COR differences. And it’s doubtful that TaylorMade is ever going to give one of its players anything but a driver that is right on the edge of the 0.830 limit. Every drive hit with a TaylorMade driver is an endorsement for the company, and TaylorMade wants that endorsement to be hit as far down the fairway as possible.
Are tour heads better?
So are tour heads better? Maybe, and maybe not. For golfers with tour-like swing speeds who need a lower launch and less spin, a tour head might in fact give them give the few extra yards they’re looking for. It also might give them more workability, which is good for some as well. But for the general population, a tour head is not going to make a difference in distance. For many, its smaller shape might even make a tour heads shorter and more crooked than the retail version.
So what about the R1 Version 3 driver we mentioned earlier in the story? It’s an even smaller version of the R1 Version 2, which is preferred by certain TaylorMade tour players like Sergio Garcia. Why? The case could be made that it has an even lower MOI, so it’s even more workable and lower spinning, but that’s probably not the reason Sergio uses it. Like most golfers, Sergio has developed visual preferences for his equipment, and he likes the looks of a small driver head.
We can talk about MOI and CG until we’re blue in the face, but what the tour head discussion basically comes down to is visual preference. Again and again over the years, feedback from the tour has told equipment companies that most prefer the look of a head that’s smaller than 460 CCs.
That’s evident in the driver releases of other manufacturers such as Callaway and Nike, which just like TaylorMade have smaller “tour only heads” that are used by certain staff players. Right now on tour, Phil Mickelson is using a special “deep face” Callaway X Hot Pro 3 wood, and Nike has a Version 3 and Version 4 model of its Covert Tour driver listed on the USGA’s Conforming Club List that we expect to see on tour soon. Titleist provides some of its professional golfers with tour only putters made of custom metals, and many of the company’s Vokey wedges are created with special grinds that aren’t available at retail either.
While TaylorMade is not the only company making “tour only” equipment, we wish that TaylorMade and other companies would be more forthcoming about the difference between its retail and tour product, because there’s plenty of golfers out there that think their R1 is the same driver being played by Dustin Johnson.
It’s obvious that TaylorMade has decided that players who aren’t on tour are going to be better served by the largest and best performing driver head that the company can make, and TaylorMade’s sale of drivers in recent years have proved that. For most golfers, it’s probably a good thing that they’re hitting a retail version and not a tour head.
But it’s a shame that golfers are led to believe otherwise, because “our R1″ is certainly not “their R1.” Regardless of whether or not the retail version is better for the general public, we think golfers have the right to know.