The Equipment Insider

TaylorMade's Original One fails as a sequel

Last spring, there was ample hype for TaylorMade's new driver, which was a tribute to the original Pittsburgh Persimmon that was introduced in 1979. But, as TEI correspondent Gary Van Sickle found out, it is sometimes better to leave well enough alone

Sequels are usually dogs. They rarely match up to the originals.

I’m thinking of you Caddyshack 2. And the second Indiana Jones movie was so disliked that director Steven Spielberg brought Indy back for another encore — with Sean Connery in The Last Crusade — as an apology for the woofing nightmare that was Temple of Doom.

There are exceptions, of course, but whether it’s movie-dom or the auto industry or golf manufacturing, sequels have tough acts to follow.

The 11th generation of the Ford Thunderbird, which returned with trendy retro styling from 2002 through 2005, may have been an artistic success but didn’t deliver on performance or price and was a total sales fiasco. Ford should have left one of its greatest nameplates alone.

Maybe TaylorMade should have done likewise. Last spring, the brand resurrected the club that the company was built upon, the classic Original One driver, the first icon of the metal-wood era.

It was big news that the Original One was being brought back. More than eight million of them had been sold by 1989. It was a beloved club. The Original One seemed like all sweet spot and it more or less was compared to the unforgiving persimmon-headed drivers we were still using at the time. Mis-hits with persimmon woods went way crooked and way short, anywhere from 15 to 35 yards short. Many of us old enough to fondly remember persimmon have conveniently forgotten this dreaded fact.

TaylorMade Original One Mini Driver Golf Club
TaylorMade's Original One Mini Driver that was introduced in spring 2019 held great promise. A tribute to the Pittsburgh Persimmon that debuted in 1979, the club has attributes — like a 275 cc clubhead and a relatively shorter shaft — that are smaller than today's typical drivers.

So the Original One delivered better overall distance, markedly so on off-center hits, which were most of the golfing public’s tee shots.

It also was small and rounded enough that it was the easiest driver to hit off the fairway that was ever made.

The club was great for its time in the mid-1980s. Those who bought it new and used it and made the quantum leap of faith to metal drivers — ultimately a pretty easy leap — are either senior citizens now or already getting AARP applications in the mail.

The Original One — also known as Pittsburgh Persimmon — left big shoes to fill. I jumped on the news and wrote an announcement of the Original One’s return last spring. My piece ran weeks before I purchased one and was able to field-test the driver.

The club was a bad buy for me, even though I got it for a discounted $240, down from the suggested retail price in the $390s.
TaylorMade knew it was trading on nostalgic memories of a club that golfers still speak of in wistful tones.

The new Original One Mini Driver seemed so full of promise and hit all the right notes. At a mere 275 cc, the new Original One was dramatically smaller than the horde of 460 cc drivers in today’s big-headed world. How different was the game in the late 1970s and early 1980s? The first Original One driver was a tiny house by comparison, 130 cc.

The new Original One came with a shorter shaft, 43.75 inches. A 43.5-inch driver used to be standard. Now, many drivers are 46 inches long (and that extra length, while delivering extra distance, makes them extra difficult to control) while a common 3-wood shaft length is 43.75 inches.

The Original One was going to be a real throwback. A TaylorMade official I talked with expected golfers to use it as either a backup driver or as a fairway wood, like the long-extinct 2-wood.

Once I got mine, it didn’t feel like much of a throwback. But the driver did make me want to throw it back. There were three main problems.

One, there wasn’t much of a sweet spot and what was there wasn’t very sweet. I made a lot of swings with the new Original One and just wasn’t able to connect. The times when I did, the ball didn’t jump off the clubface and fly long. It had a minimal “hot” feel and didn’t produce in the distance department.

There was no chance it was going to be my backup driver because it went 20-35 yards shorter than my driver, not the 10-15 yards my TaylorMade source told me to expect.

Two, it didn’t work as a fairway wood, either. It didn’t seem small, maybe because of its tall face, and I couldn’t launch a ball off a fairway lie with it at all. That may have been related to the first problem—that it had a small or ineffective sweet spot, in my opinion. Could I have been the problem? That’s always a possibility but I still carry a low single-digit handicap. I don’t think it was me.

Three, the original Original One had a small head and a clean, uncluttered look that inspired confidence you could hit it off the turf without a tee. The new Original One didn’t resemble it at all, looks-wise, so right away, forgetting the performance issues, it didn’t revive the Original one feel-good vibes at all.

I didn’t hate the look of the carbon black crown but I didn’t love it, either, with its indented sole, metal fenders and its cluttered underbelly appearance. Had the club performed, I would’ve overlooked all of that.

Even Ford made sure its revived T-Bird kinda-sorta looked like a ’57 version. How could TaylorMade get this so wrong?

Well, I won’t retrace TaylorMade’s recent missteps that include introducing too many new drivers too soon — even after the company said it would stop that practice, which was killing retailers and training customers to wait a year for the new stuff to get discounted — and pushing too many marketing stories that its clubs don’t back up.

I’ll just say the Original One was one of my most disappointing golf purchases in years. I checked with a friend who happens to manage a big-box golf store in another state and he told me his store sold eight new Original Ones in the first week they hit they shelves and two were returned within a few days.

Because the clubs had been hit by the customers, those clubs were considered used so the store bought them back for only $120 of the nearly $400 the golfers paid.

Lesson learned. Beware of sequels.

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