Like all of you, I’ve had my trails playing the tight four-hole opening stretch at Twin Oaks.
I’ve probably played them 20 times or so now, achieving mixed results. Dozens of lost balls have gradually coaxed me into a less aggressive strategy that doesn’t make for as many birdies, but it makes for a lot fewer bogies. I’ve taken a bit of a survivalist mentality about the opening combination of two short par-4s, a long par-5 and a mid-length par-3.
I had a bit of a breakthrough on this stretch, however, two weeks ago thanks for a breakthrough in TaylorMade’s R & D department.
I was carrying TaylorMade’s new SLDR Mini Driver for the first time. The Mini Driver is a club between a driver and a 3-wood. It’s a driver with a 260cc and a Speed Slot, designed to provide the accuracy of a 3-wood off the tee while providing the distance of a driver, or just shy of.
TaylorMade gave me an advance chance to experience the Mini Driver, and I took to it immediately. My first shots on the range were dead straight, and I found I was able to hit it about 260-280 yards, sacrificing only 20-40 yards from my driver.
With this new weapon stashed in my bag, I approached the first tee at Twin Oaks. The opening dogleg doesn’t play to my draw, but I’ve learned to basically get by punching a 3-wood out left, just past the tree. Well, two weeks ago, I pulled the Mini, which is ideal for shorter par-4s, especially tight ones.
In short, I hit my best drive ever on this hole. I took it 280 yards right up the middle, leaving me about 50 yards. Due to a two-putt, birdie eluded me, but I felt like I was onto something.
Unfortunately, I pulled my tee ball OB with the Mini on the difficult par-5 2nd, but I executed the drive on No. 4 to just shy of the two fairway traps to set me up for another par. I got around the opening holes in 2-over, which may or may not be my best, but it felt different. This felt like success I could repeat, and hopefully drop a few putts the next time.
The Mini Driver comes in lofts of 12, 14 and 16 degrees. The lofts are supposed to remove sidespin from the ball to produce straight shots and thus more balls in the fairway.
At a media event for the Mini on Monday at La Costa Resort and Spa, TaylorMade’s Brian Bazzel, Senior Director of Product Creation for Metalwoods, explained the performance benefits of increased loft.
“If you take a player who hits a 10-degree driver and has lots of side spin, look at what happens when they hit a 16-degree driver,” he said. “They square up the face more often and decrease the sidespin by almost half. When you do that, you’re speed goes up, you efficiency goes up and suddenly you’re hitting it farther and hitting more fairways.”
Bazzel says shorter hitters in particular can benefit from increased loft.
“What’s most obvious from the research is the biggest benefit of high launch, low spin is for slow-swing players,” he said. “They already have low spin. We just need to get them to loft up and hit it higher and the yardage gains are there. They’re actually the ones leaving the most yardage on the table right now.”
Putting the Mini in of course means taking a club out. Bazzel says that decision will be different for each player depending largely on what loft their driver is and then gapping appropriately after.
But Bazzel says the evolution of club combinations in golf bags has already begun.
“Throughout every swing speed, you’re going to see a new club combination and bag makeup that utilizes the technology to achieve more distance. The average driver loft on Tour has gone up one degree to 10.5 degrees and several 12 degrees are in play. Their bag has completely changed, just in one year. The longest iron in the bag now often will be a 5-iron. You’re going to see those changes being reflected in recreational players from what they see on Tour.”
Don’t be surprised if it shows up in a bag of one of your playing partners soon. The club went on sale in May and retails for $279. The club is designed for enhanced performance off the tee, but can be played from the fairway as well. Bazzel says he’s still discovering the shots that can be hit with it.
As for me, my driver is out and the Mini is in. I’ve been experiencing a bit of the driver doldrums recently and the Mini has proven an excellent remedy.
For more information about the Mini, contact your JC pro and see if it’s a club that fits into your golf bag of the future.
When reviewing golf courses from one golfer to another, we usually first default to brevity and try to capture the course in a word.
For instance, it’s common to describe a given course as “long,” “tough,” “hilly” or, best-case scenario, “fun.”
For Strawberry Farms in Irvine, that word is “tight,” which we all know is golf speak for narrow. That’s partly why I’ve shied away from this course when it has been presented as an option in the past.
Well, last week, there was no option. We had an online deal and this was the course we were playing. So I stocked up on golf balls and pointed my car north prepared to experience a little pain and frustration – & hopefully discover a great golf course along the way.
What I found is a beautiful course with a lot of scenic holes, many of which are, indeed, tight, especially on the back nine. In golf, this is what we call a shot-maker’s course, and you know it’s going to require strategy and to occasionally check your ego on the tee and hit iron.
One of the holes were you could, and probably should, do that is the short par-4 8th … but that’s not what I did. I went for it, and made it, thanks for a weapon in my bag that is more than the point of this post than the course.
As you can see from the photo, No. 8 is one of those diagonal fairways littered by bunkers. Playing it for the first time, it’s nearly impossible to pick the proper aim line because you don’t have any experience with the yardages and the landing area.
Well, the day we played I looked at the green sitting 292 yards out, noticed the wind behind me and decided there’d be no laying up. With that, I reached in my bag and pulled my 14-degree SLDR Mini Driver, the latest club breakthrough from TaylorMade. It’s a driver with a 260cc head that performs more like a 3-wood off the tee in terms of accuracy, but it’s got a Speed Slot so you still get distance. After two weeks of toying with this club, I hit it fairly straight and about 260-280 yards, about 20-40 less than my driver.
It’s ideal for a hole like No. 8, which is usually the type of hole that hands me my lunch because I hit a draw and struggle working the ball left to right. The Mini Driver turned this from a nervous tee shot into a confident one.
I hit a ball high in the wind, aimed at the front left of the green, and it carried the pot bunker in front and settled in some rough near the fringe. I’ve had a few success stories so far with this club, but this was by far the best.
My playing partner took his first swing with it and got similar success, though he was about 10 yards shorter and caught the pot bunker. Still, they were two impressive shots that ultimately produced pars.
You’ll be reading more about the Mini some pieces I’ve got coming up, but I wanted to share this experience because it’s one I’m not using elsewhere and is the example of the perfect shot scenario for this club.
If you try this club, you’ll notice you get a feel for it very quickly. The three people I’ve had try it have been immediately impressed.
With that quick trust in hand, you quickly start get a sense for when to pull this club. I’m using it as my driver right now and haven’t really tried hitting it out of the fairway, though I’m told it works well off the deck, too.
Anyway, if you happen to have a chance to experience this club, I’d appreciate you adding your two cents in the comments. I’m cataloging my Mini Moments as I continue to play with this club, and I’m sure you’ll see future posts here about it. Maybe I can include you.
Stay tuned to your local – heck, global – golf blog for more Mini news to come.
Tee shots on No. 8