November 13, 2018 was like any other normal work day, until I received this Twitter DM from @Ryan at TaylorMade:
“Hey Jesse, how's it going? Quick question...how do you fancy a trip to Carlsbad on 11/28-11/30 to see all the 2019 equipment on our dime?…”
Say what?! After taking a couple minutes to compose myself, I replied back that I was interested. I had a phone call with Ryan later in the day where he revealed that I was being invited out to the 2019 internal product launch. This consisted of a keynote event on the evening of 11/28, followed by a full day of product deep dives and an opportunity to test the product at The Kingdom. In other words, a dream trip for any TaylorMade fan.
In exchange for this access, I was asked only to share my experience of the trip and the 2019 equipment (good or bad) on the TaylorMade Community. Ryan also invited my friend Tony (@TK3309) to the event. He’s a fellow TaylorMade brand loyalist and it was great to have someone else along with whom to share the experience.
There are far too many details for me to share everything that was discussed during the trip, so I’m going to focus on the areas I felt were the ones with the biggest impact, and also the equipment with which I spent the most time. We were unlucky and received a lot of rain on the day of The Kingdom experience, so we didn’t get as much time to hit all the gear as we would have liked. Thankfully, the weather did break in the afternoon which allowed us to do a fitting with the driver and experience some of the other product.
If you’ve ever seen an Apple product launch event, this was like that. A large event room at the La Costa Resort had been turned into a small theater setting for the Keynote, complete with a big stage and three large screens backing the stage. I took a sit in the front row and was captivated by the energy and passion of everyone who presented. It’s clear TaylorMade believes they have some game changing technology being released in 2019.
Speed Injected Twist Face
Spend enough time discussing golf equipment online and you’re bound to read the common narrative that yearly product release cycles are mostly marketing driven with no actual advancements in performance. The evidence used to support such claims are often statements claiming it is impossible to gain speed because driver performance has been maxed out for years due to the COR limit. I’ll admit, even I believed center of face performance was close to maximum due to manufacturing tolerances preventing companies from pushing closer to the limit. I assumed future driver advancements would come mostly from increasing speed on off-center strikes. But I was wrong.
With the M5 and M6 drivers, TaylorMade figured out a way to bring drivers right up to the limit, not by tightening production tolerances, but rather by building them over the legal limit and then bringing them back below the limit via a post construction tuning process. The idea is simple conceptually, but one that presented many engineering challenges.
The first part, building a hotter driver, required the face to be made 20% thinner, a redesign of the Inverted Cone Technology (ICT), and a reengineering of the Hammerhead slot from the M3/M4 so that it was more flexible. The second part, bringing the heads back into conformance, is done by individually testing each the head after construction, feeding that data into a proprietary algorithm that determines exactly how much resin to inject behind the face to slow it down to the limit (no more than 1-2g per head). Finally, each head is then tested again to ensure it is conforming.
This is all seems so obvious in hindsight, but it’s a brilliant leap of ingenuity. Of course you’d do it this way. Rather than spend millions of dollars to chase tighter manufacturing tolerances, just accept them as they are and modify each head to account for the variations at the end of the process.
In addition to the obvious benefit of having a head that’s right up to the max limit of driver performance for center strikes, a side-effect of this technology is that ball speed on off-center hits has increased due to the changes required to make the face hotter. The net effect is a larger sweet spot and higher performance across all the face. Everybody gets faster.
The average consumer may be asking what the benefit of this is to them. For the past fifteen years, the heads that make their way to retail are a bit of a grab bag. You might get one thats average, might get one that’s a little hotter than average, or you may get one that’s even slower than average. There’s no way of knowing. All you knew was that your head was going to be conforming, but it was almost certainly not going to be right up at the limit of performance.
Those who are plugged into the equipment scene know that Tour heads are spec sorted and only the hotter legal heads end up in the hands of Rory, DJ, Tiger, etc. With the Speed Injected Twist Face system, now you know that the driver you’re buying off the rack is going to be just as hot as the heads that make their way to the Tour. When Tiger signed with TaylorMade, he found a 2016 M2 that he loved and called his “snowflake”. With this new face tuning system, now everyone can have a snowflake.
Does it work?
So all of the the tech behind the new drivers is fascinating, but the important question is did I gain ball speed? Are TaylorMade’s claims legit? Did I get faster? I had some issues during my fitting, but the data shows I got faster.
For some background, my gamer is a TaylorMade M3 9.5, with a Graphite Design Tour AD GP-6s shaft, playing at 44.5”. My swing speed is 105 mph and my ball speed is consistently between 154-155 mph on center strikes, with the occasional 156-157 mph on pure strikes. For the testing, I selected an M5 460 9.0 head with a GP-6s shaft, hoping to do as close to an apples-to-apples test with my gamer as possible. Unfortunately, the only GP-6s shaft available played at 45.5”, which is too long for me.
I started the testing by hitting the 2019 TP5x (more on that later) with the M5 GP-6s combo at its full length. This didn’t go so well. Nearly every shot was struck low on the heel side due to the longer shaft. I expected the numbers to be awful, but after five balls TrackMan reported an average swing speed of 105.5 mph and average ball speed of 154.7 mph. Those are center strike numbers for my M3, so I was a little surprised.
Next I tried choking up an inch on the club, but that was even worse than full length because I lose my sense of feel when choking up (the extra shaft behind the hand feels like a counterbalance). The five shots we recorded were all centered, but struck low on the face. Here again, however, the numbers were surprising: 105.3 mph average swing speed, 154.5 mph average ball speed. Essentially, they were also numbers I see with center strikes on my M3.
At this point, I’ll admit to being a little frustrated because I wasn’t able to get a great sense of the club’s performance due to the shaft being too long. Another fitter with whom I’d spoken to earlier must have sensed my frustration because he stopped over and asked how everything was going. When I explained the shaft length situation he said to hold tight and he soon returned with an Atmos Blue 7S that played 44.5”. The change was immediate on the first ball struck with that shaft.
My strike location with the Atmos instantly reverted back to my normal spot: ever so slightly toward the high toe side of center. On the five recorded shots, my swing speed averaged 105.1 mph and the average ball speed jumped to 156.9. The Atmos wasn’t a great fit due to it being a 70g shaft, but it did its job and the shaft length centered the strike location.
So what’s the verdict? My mis-hits with the GP-6s would not have had that much ball speed with my gamer, so it’s clear that off-center hits have increased ball speed. On the center strikes with the Atmos Blue, I gained a solid 2-3 mph in ball speed. This may not seem like much, but 3 mph more ball speed would translate to approximately 6 yards carry distance on the course. When you’re on the margins and well optimized already, 6 yards a small but not insignificant addition. I’d pay a lot of money for a legit 5-10 yard increase and M5 seems to have delivered that on the low end.
I saw enough of an increase to believe the hype and I’m looking forward to testing the M5 head-to-head against my gamer.
Even though I didn’t hit the M6 due to time constraints caused by the weather, I feel like this is going to be a smash hit. The Inertia Generator on the sole allows for the CG to be placed very low and way back in the head. Combine that with Speed Injected Twist Face and you have a recipe for an extremely long, extremely forgiving driver.
As anticipated, both the M5 and M6 fairway woods now feature Twist Face. The geometry of the twist had to change to account for the difference between fairway woods and drivers, but the performance aspects are similar to the drivers. During testing, M3 fairway woods had an 18 yard left-to-right dispersion, while M5 with Twist Face had a 3 yard left-to-right dispersion for the same test.
The other major feature of the M5 is the change to a titanium body construction, which allows for a massive 65g moveable weight on the sole. That weight accounts for 30% of the body weight of the head, so you are able to significantly change the CG of the head in ways that were not possible before. In my brief time testing the M5 FW, moving this weight affected ball flight by a good amount, something I hadn’t seen with other moveable weight systems on fairway woods.
Last, but not least, we get a strong 3-wood back this year! Both the M5 and M6 will have a 14-degree model called a Rocket. I’m a fan of strong 3-woods, so I’ll be putting this in the bag for the 2019 season.
“TaylorMade is a ball company.”
This is the message that was made clear from the opening of the Keynote through the fitting at the Kingdom. If anyone had questions about TaylorMade’s commitment to the golf ball industry, worry no more. TaylorMade is thrilled with the on course performance and retail success of the TP5/TP5x, and they’re not slowing down in 2019.
So, how do you improve what is arguably the best ball in golf? Coming into the event I expected we’d see improved TP5x feel around the greens, hopefully a little more green side spin, and possibly improved cover durability. We’re getting all that, plus more. More distance. The current version of the ball is already long, so I was not expecting more distance.
In 2019, TaylorMade is introducing a new material they’re calling High-Flex Material (HFM). This material is new to the golf ball industry and is something they’ve been working on for the past four years. Don’t let the name fool you, as this material is actually less flexible than what was previously used. The material has a higher flex modulus, or in layman’s terms, a higher resistance to bending. Essentially it acts like a stiffer spring, allowing the outer layers of the ball to store more energy. This allows TaylorMade to utilize a soft core system and reduce spin on driver and iron shots, but still have high rebound velocity off the club face. HFM is 30% stiffer than the material they were using in the previous ball, so more of the energy from impact is converted to ball speed.
Finally, a new paint system has been developed that significantly improves scuff and shear resistance. The ball engineers developed a cart path test that allowed them to simulate the effects of a ball bouncing on a cart path and the difference in scuffing between the old TP5/TP5x and 2019 TP5/TP5x was dramatic.
Claims over Gains
There was a slide at the end of the ball presentation that stated, “Gains over Claims. No Ballsh*t.” It’s a catchy and clever bit of marketing, but it’s also accurate. The days of making big claims are over. In 2019, if your product doesn’t live up to the hype, the word will get out quickly.
To show the performance of the 2019 TP5/TP5x, TaylorMade conducted field tests with consumers who considered themselves loyalists of the Pro V1 and Pro V1x. For the purposes of this test, a loyalist was someone who had been playing their ball for the past seven years without any desire to switch. When testing the 2019 TP5/TP5x, these consumers saw an increase of 5 yards off the driver and 7.9 yards off of irons. That’s no ballsh*t.
The TaylorMade ball engineers had a similar test set up in one of the Kingdom’s hitting bays for us to try. We were asked to hit 3 balls with a P760 6-iron using a Pro V1/V1x and then another 3 balls using a 2019 TP5/TP5x (both balls chosen based on user preference). All shots were measured using a GC Quad. I had just come inside from 40 minutes of hitting balls on the range, so I was loose and ready to go. For me, the 2019 TP5x had a conservative 4 mph ball speed gain over the Pro V1x, but it also stopped quicker due to the higher flight.
The performance of the TP5 and TP5x is measurable. To bring this consumers, TaylorMade has hired 55 ball fitters across the country for 2019 to conduct similar tests that will show how the TP5/TP5x is a better ball for most players.
I can’t thank TaylorMade enough for inviting me out to the launch. Having the opportunity to sit down with the people responsible for these amazing products was an experience I’ll never forget. Speed Injected Twist Face is a game changer. Having a driver that's at the legal limit for performance will now become table stakes and the rest of the industry will have to respond.
From a personal perspective, I enjoyed the opportunity to meet a number of folks from TaylorMade with whom I’ve interacted on social media over the years. Introducing myself as, “Jesse Larson, from Twitter” was a bit strange, but everyone reacted with the same enthusiasm to meet me as I had for meeting them. It was a surreal feeling, but very cool all the same.
Finally, if you have any questions, please drop me a comment. I’ll be happy to share anything I can regarding my experience with the 2019 equipment.
You must be a registered user to add a comment. If you've already registered, sign in. Otherwise, register and sign in.