For many players, the lowest lofted fairway wood in the bag, usually one with 15 degrees of loft or less, has become at best a club of compromise, and at worst, somewhat useless.
Here's the problem: As fairway woods have gotten longer (their typical shaft lengths are near driver length compared to clubs of a generation ago), they've become much more difficult to hit off the ground for average golfers. In addition, as better players are hitting the driver increasingly farther, the need to hit a 3-wood off the deck is far and few between, if ever. So there are two resulting scenarios: Average players have a fairway wood they struggle to hit from the fairway, or better players have a 3-wood they don't need to hit off the fairway. In either case, the newest versions of these fairway woods boast the technology of thinner, hotter faces that promise more distance through lower spin and higher launch.
But the technology that would make these clubs an ideal choice as a secondary option for tee shots isn't as easy to use because many of these clubs have been designed for use primarily off the fairway. All the elements that make a club more useful off the fairway (shallower face, smaller overall size) are either unnecessary, counterproductive or even intimidating when you ask a player to hit that same club off a tee.
TaylorMade's new SLDR Mini Driver is the company's answer to the issue of making a fairway wood that acts more like a driver. SLDR Mini is among the largest fairway woods on the market, checking in at 260 cubic centimeters. That's larger than the titanium drivers of the mid-1990s. (Both Callaway and Ping also have introduced oversized fairway woods recently.
) The extra size is designed to make the club more stable on off-center hits compared to most average fairway woods, which typically are a third smaller in size or more. The larger face also makes it easier to achieve a larger area of maximum flexibility for the highest ballspeeds and more distance.
“Tour pros and better amateurs often hit their 3-wood off the tee more often than from the fairway,” said Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade’s senior director of metalwood creation, indicating the company's research says. “We embraced that fact to create a metalwood that’s sized between a 3-wood and driver and is designed to be easy to hit off a tee.”
While Phil Mickelson made headlines using his 3-wood and completely eschewing the driver last summer, including during his British Open victory, this week it appears Justin Rose will be the story, after reports have him adding the SLDR Mini Driver to his bag for the Masters.
SLDR Mini is made of high-strength steel and features the similar low-spin-producing center of gravity location found on the SLDR drivers. The idea with a low-forward CG is that shots launch higher with less spin, two keys to optimizing distance at any ballspeed. In addition, the low-forward CG is better aligned with the center of the face to produce better energy transfer. The higher loft of a fairway wood might even make it easier for average golfers to get shots launched more optimally than with a driver. The shorter shaft vs. the driver (43.5 inches on the SLDR Mini vs. 45.5 inches on the SLDR) might also help average golfers more consistently contact the center of the face and return the clubface to square at impact.
The club also features the now familiar slot in the sole near the leading edge that's designed to improve ballspeed on shots hit lower on the face.
SLDR Mini is available in three lofts (12, 14 and 16 degrees) and two versions. The standard version ($280) features the same Fujikura 57 shaft found in the SLDR, though two inches shorter. A TP version also is available ($380) and features a Fujikura Motore Speeder 7.3 shaft and is built to a heavier, D5 swing weight.