News & Opinion

TaylorMade takes long view on accuracy

One in a weekly series of stories about golf gear to run each Wednesday.

Nobody says, “Chicks dig the straight ball.”

There is no World Straight Drivers Championship in golf, either.

Golf’s sexiest word is this: Long.

Golf’s other sexiest words: Longer and longest.

If you play golf, you get the idea. The one thing we golfers share is the desire/fantasy/primal urge to hit the ball farther than we do. We all want PGA Tour length, if not Happy Gilmore length.

So, it’s a surprise and maybe even a breath of fresh air that TaylorMade is taking a different tack with its new M3 and M4 drivers and its Twist Face technology. TaylorMade is stressing accuracy over distance.

Has any significant golf manufacturer ever done that before?

“That’s not the way most companies operate,” said James Achenbach, a long-time industry observer as a former writer for Golfweek magazine and now SeniorGolfInsider.com. “I don’t think accuracy matters to anybody. We all want to hit it longer.”

What we want is not, however, what we necessarily need. An extra 20 yards for the average male hacker (whose handicap index is over 16) often means 20 yards deeper into the trees. 

TaylorMade knows it. So does every other equipment manufacturer.

“We’re dealing with the rational mind and the emotional mind of the golfer,” said Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade’s vice president of product creation. “All of our market research shows that golfers say, Hey, I want to hit it straighter. But when they buy, they buy on emotion and go for distance. With Twist Face, we’re trying to attract both sides of the golfer’s brain.”

It didn’t hurt that Dustin Johnson used a driver with Twist Face technology in his runaway victory last week in the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Johnson already is long, anyway. In the past five seasons, he ranked first or second on measured drives, at 300-plus yards. Few, if any, Tour players would challenge him to a long-drive contest. 

We’re never going to get away from big blasters in golf. Fans are drawn to them. Part of the charisma of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman, Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy was that they hit it past their opponents – sometimes way past – and displayed the swagger that came with that ability.

I believe the rise of Jordan Spieth is good for golf because his genius is on and around the greens. He’s longer than average off the tee but not out there with Johnson and McIlroy and the rest. Spieth puts a needed focus back on what golf is really about: getting the ball in the hole. That’s not sexy enough to sell equipment to the masses, though.

I don’t mean to give TaylorMade too much credit. The marketing line about the M3 and M4 drivers is “Twist Face technology delivers straight distance …” Distance still gets a mention, but it’s just that straight gets top billing. 

Twist Face technology in a nutshell means the shape of the driver face helps balls struck away from the clubface’s center – high on the toe or low on the heel, where most high handicappers live – curve back toward the target line and supposedly reduce the dispersion pattern of a golfer’s drives. A TaylorMade research team got the idea from studying new-and-improved launch-monitor data that showed how real golfers mis-hit drives.

“We’re getting club data, ball data and final-landing data to a much better level of accuracy in the last five years,” Bazzel said. “We saw that with real golfers, their face angle versus their swing paths, changed depending upon where they hit the ball on the face. We put that info into the robot, and that led us to the technology for Twist Face.”

On a recent visit to Streamsong Resort’s Black Course in central Florida, Bazzel hit a shot with his M3 driver on one of the early holes. “I hit a toe shot, and it was pretty windy that day,” he said. “The ball didn’t knuckle. It stayed in the air longer and landed in the fairway. For me it was, There it is. That’s the difference of Twist Face.”

The marketplace will help decide whether this technology is successful. TaylorMade brought us movable weights in drivers and was among the early converts to use adjustable lofts. It also has given us speed pockets, speed foam, and drivers with names such as r11, JetSpeed, Burner SuperFast and RocketBallz in a short period of years.

Is Twist Face the beginning of a new industry-wide race to emphasize accuracy over distance? Is this the start of a new, more enlightened era of driver-making?

Nah. Long never goes out of style.

Ask Adams Golf founder Barney Adams, who no longer is in the equipment business.

“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of golfers will go for distance over accuracy,” Adams said. “If you tell them they can get two extra yards, they will try that club. That’s reality. Nobody out there believes that straighter is better.”

Well, it’s worth a shot. 

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle