The golf equipment cognoscenti got their first eyeful of TaylorMade’s next generation driver at the PNC Championship at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in Orlando. 

You can’t really script a more auspicious golf club debut than Tiger Woods brandishing the new carbon-faced Stealth in his return to action. Ten months after a car wreck shattered his right tibia and fibula bones, Woods debuted TaylorMade’s newest release and striped sublime tee shots down the fairway with legions of sports fans paying rapt attention to his every swing.

The father-son duo of Tiger and Charlie Woods, wearing matching black slacks and red polos, electrified the golf world by knocking in 11 consecutive birdies, a tournament record. They would finish as the first runner ups, just two strokes back of John Daly and John Daly II, a freshman on the University of Arkansas golf team. According to NBC the event drew 2.3 million television viewers, a 53 percent increase over the prior year’s event.

“Tiger is one of the most particular and meticulous about his equipment and he doesn’t lightly put something new in his bag. He has never done that his entire career. He thoroughly tests everything. it’s got to be just right. Everything has to be perfectly dialed in, so the fact that he embraced it so quickly was amazing,” Tomo Bystedt, TaylorMade’s senior director of product creation, says.

The big stick’s face construction is comprised of 60 super thin sheets of carbon prepreg, meticulously and strategically stacked on top of each other to maximize energy transfer on impact. Working with carbon fiber composites is entirely different from the industrial process of pouring molten metal into a mold. 

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There is a lot more automation involved than what goes into making titanium faced clubs and a factory was purpose-built to accommodate the exacting cleanliness standards required to manufacture the Stealth line and future Carbonwood products.

“The composites industry has been slow to adopt automation due to typically low production volumes. TaylorMade had to develop brand new automated equipment and processes. These include automated layup and automated polyurethane casting and everything in between,”  Mark Greaney, a principal engineer at TaylorMade, explains.

The end result of the Stealth team’s efforts is a face 40 percent lighter than a titanium face of the same size. The weight savings allowed TaylorMade engineers to make the Stealth 11 percent larger than the SIM2 and SIM2 max drivers and deliver appreciable ball speed gains in testing. Cosmetically, the face is as red as a Terminator robot eyeball with a hexagonal line pattern framing the sweet spot to aid in alignment.

“I’ve seen an average ball speed gain of several miles per hour. I’ve seen guys who have picked up to 10 mph. I’m not saying that will be your typical result, but what we’re seeing is significant ball speed pickups for a lot of people and that’s what makes it exciting for me and part of the reason why tour adoption has been so big,” Bystedt says.

As for whether the bold color choice was emblematic of the Sunday wardrobe of their most famous tour staffer, TaylorMade claims that Tiger’s affection for red did not actually enter the calculus.

“We felt like red is a color of energy. It feels powerful and strong, so we liked that aspect of it, the visual cues it would bring. But, no it wasn’t with Tiger in mind specifically,” Bystedt says.

Historically TaylorMade doesn’t show their pros prototypes while new clubs are in development. They normally get their first crack at next generation clubs a few months before they’re released to the general public and by then they’re swinging a completed product. But with Stealth line TaylorMade wanted to get some earlier feedback, mainly because the move to carbon faces was such a big departure. 

“We wanted to make sure that we had thought of everything in terms of the look and the feel of the club to the point that when we were ready to launch, there would be a comfort level that exists with the players,” Bystedt explains

Instead of schooling them on the materials science leap, they simply handed the clubs to the pros and just told them they were testing out a new driver. There were some really curious looks on their faces when they first laid eyes on the Stealth. Bystedt particularly remembers Sergio Garcia’s quizzical gaze, thinking there must be a sticker on the club that he had to peel off before he started hitting.

“People were confused with what we were giving them but once they hit a few shots with it, the comments around how it felt and how it sounded and then also seeing the stronger ball flight than their current clubs were fantastic to see,” Bystedt says.

Taylormade is the first mover in what could become an industry sea change from titanium to carbon faced drivers with competitors following suit.

“I fully expect this to be something that other brands will be looking at, and finding ways of executing,” Bystedt says.

“It is a very difficult technology to master. We’ve spent twenty years working on it to get to this point so it’s obviously something that will require a lot of work, a lot of investment and R & D from another brand’s standpoint to get another product that works in carbon,” he adds.

The new drivers are available for pre-order today and will hit retail shelves on February 4th. The Stealth and Stealth HD models have an MSRP of $580 while the Stealth Plus (the big stick in Tiger’s bag) is $600.

Source: Forbes

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