About two years ago, I put a club in my bag that was at first a curiosity and has now become a necessity. It’s the original SLDR Mini Driver from TaylorMade.
For those unfamiliar, the Mini is a 3-wood made for the tee, a driving 3-wood if you will. It has an oversized head and fairway-friendly lofts of 12, 14 and 16 degrees (I play the 14). At launch, the club was touted to have a greater accuracy off the tee at the sacrifice of a few from your driver – and that’s exactly what it does. Mine plays to about 260-280, which is about 20 yards less than my driver, and hits probably twice as many fairways.
After two years of playing this club, I’m still finding uses for it, as I was reminded this week when I played the quirky par 4 7th at Encinitas Ranch. Those who play it know the tee shot is blind and played to a funky landing area to set up your approach. You need about 220-250 yards to get a clear look at the enormous green, which is usually a hybrid or long iron play off the tee. Taking anything longer (3-wood or driver) involves a more accurate tee shot that normally just invites trouble (canyon on the left, hillside rough or OB on the right).
On Thursday, I pulled the Mini and striped it down the right side into Position A. That notches another hole where I’ll play this club off the tee forever.
I’m prompted to write this post by a series of experiences I’ve had with this club over the past month and a couple conversations that made me realize how few people are playing it, or have even heard of it, that probably should be.
My club is the original version. TaylorMade has since updated it in the Aeroburner line and Callaway has its own, which I’m told has some real pop. So the club has obviously caught on or they wouldn’t be making more, but strangely I’ve never encountered another on the course. I always feel like I’m holding demo day when I play and always get questions about it.
Every time I have success with the club, I recall the early skepticism from a local pro – “Just what everybody wants – a shorter driver.”
And that’s just it. Maybe they should. As long as they gain accuracy.
At my peak, I could hit my driver 310-320, and while I miss those extra yards on occasion, the Mini proves adequate more often than not used as my main driver. That said, I’m not trying to play the long par 4s at Torrey with it.
I ended up playing all five Oregon courses with the Mini because my regular driver, the Cobra Fly-Z is an inch over standard, which I discovered is an inch too long for my travel bag. D’oh!
I thought about finding it as a rental, but opted to play the Mini and my Rocketballz 3-wood, which is driver long, instead. Both proved plenty adequate, though playing at elevation didn’t hurt for picking up a few more yards off the tee.
Before I left, I played a warm-up nine at Maderas – and again found another ideal Mini hole. For the unfamiliar, the hole is a par 4 with a creek carry. People take everything from driver to long iron here. I pulled the Mini and hit the perfect tee shot. The fairway runs out at about 280-290. My ball was sitting perfectly at the end, my longest tee shot ever on the hole, and made for an easy opening par. I’ll never play the hole any other way now.
I mentioned my shot and club choice on Twitter and it prompted a curious reply and how I play it and why, calling it an “unusual” club choice. That made me mentally connect to a round I played in Washington the week of the U.S. Open. None of my playing partners had even heard of the club much less hit it.
That made me realize what a low profile this club has after two years on the market. I can’t recall ever seeing a commercial for it and I may have never heard of it if I didn’t cover the equipment industry.
Among other things, it’s a great club for beginners. I had a novice player hit it during a round in Laguna and find immediate comfort with it, so much so that she bought one the next week. Anymore, that’s an easy purchase. You can find one used for $50-$75, far less than your average driver.
My original post about the Mini mentioned the opening holes at Twin Oaks, a tight stretch, being a perfect shot scenario for the club. And, indeed, hitting the Mini is the only time I’ve ever hit every fairway and green in regulation over that stretch.
In Oregon, I was pin-high on a drivable 280-yard par 4 and got up and down for a birdie. Threes are rare with the Mini, but so are 5s and 6s. It keeps me playable more often than not.
I’ve often called the Mini my “safety driver,” meaning I default to it when I’m hitting my main driver poorly, as I was a year ago. But I think that sells the club short now. I continue to find strategic uses for it, as I did Thursday.
So before you buy your next driver in the search for more yards, you might consider a Mini and opt for more fairways. I have, and it has changed my game for the better.