Question: After a great year with white-headed metalwoods in 2011, what’s ahead for TaylorMade in 2012?
TaylorMade is about to introduce a line of drivers, fairway woods, hybrids and irons called RocketBallz. These clubs will not be available at retail until Feb. 3, but retailers expect word of mouth to create interest before that date.
The creation of RocketBallz will give TaylorMade three distinct lines of clubs – R11 (which becomes R11S for 2012), RocketBallz and Burner. For the upcoming year, Burner will be positioned as TaylorMade’s value line ($199 driver), and RocketBallz will share centerstage with R11S.
R11S will remain TaylorMade’s most expensive club at retail. The R11S driver will sell for $399, and the TP version (same head, but with more than two dozen shaft choices) will be priced at $499. The RocketBallz driver, meanwhile, will cost $299 for the standard model and $349 for the Tour model.
All three lines will have white heads, as TaylorMade seeks to reinforce the identity it established in 2011 by switching from black heads to white heads in drivers, fairway woods and hybrids.
If the name RocketBallz creates mental images of rocket-like tee shots, that’s exactly what TaylorMade had in mind. Sean Toulon, TaylorMade’s executive vice president, admitted there was a certain risk in choosing such a contemporary, slang-like name, but he said TaylorMade was encouraged by major retailers who saw the clubs during the final stages of the development cycle.
“Golfers want performance,” said Pete Line, general manager of Carl’s Golfland in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. “They will pay for performance. I’m not sure the name has that much to do with it. I remember a little company that came out with a product with a very weird name – Big Bertha. I think Callaway proved that the name is secondary to performance.”
Dustin Johnson is credited as the first TaylorMade player to use the word rocket. After testing the early product, Johnson is said to have warbled, “It’s like a rocket.”
But it was TaylorMade’s engineers who etched the name RocketBallz into the computer model and the prototype clubhead.
“I never thought RocketBallz would actually show up on the prototype,” said Todd Beach, senior director of product engineering for metalwoods. “Typically it’s got an MW label and a number. When the prototype came back, I was like, ‘What are you guys doing? I can’t believe you put that on there.’ There was no way we were going to call the product that.”
However, the new clubs won’t actually have the name RocketBallz on them. In order to fit on all the clubheads, regardless of size, the name will be shortened to RBZ.
How important is RocketBallz to TaylorMade? Important enough that TaylorMade touring pros are expected to split equipment usage between R11S and RocketBallz. For example, Camilo Villegas, TaylorMade’s poster boy for Burner in 2011, will carry a RocketBallz bag and become one of the prominent faces behind the line.
In the process of introducing an entire line of clubs, TaylorMade will place particular emphasis on fairway woods. The RocketBallz fairway woods have a scooped-out area called a Speed Pocket directly behind the face. This channel is visible when looking at the sole of the fairway woods.
The effect of the Speed Pocket, according to TaylorMade, is to increase ball speed and yardage. TaylorMade is so confident that it will advertise a distance gain of “up to 17 yards” with a RocketBallz 3-wood. TaylorMade staff player Justin Rose confirmed a double-digit distance gain with the new 3-wood. “I expect to be hitting more par-5s in two,” he said.
Kerry Kabase, vice president of purchasing and inventory for retailer Edwin Watts Golf, analyzed the fairway wood phenomenon. “I think fairway woods are a category that’s been a miss for all the companies,” Kabase said. “Hybrids kind of moved the fairway woods out of the way. But I’m expecting this to be a comeback year for fairway woods, and I think a lot of golfers will look very, very hard at their fairway woods.”
It isn’t just TaylorMade that is focusing on fairway woods with a slot or channel behind the face. Adams uses the same concept with its Velocity Slot, already introduced in the company’s F11 fairway woods. Nike has a Compression Channel in its VR Pro fairway woods.
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• The new R11S driver has a bigger head than the R11, up from 440 CCs to 460. In addition, there are two ways to adjust face angle.
The R11S has a five-way adjustable sole plate, which allows a choice of face angle independent of loft or lie selection.
When adjusting loft, lie and face angle through TaylorMade’s sleeve system (located at the hosel), the loft and lie can be changed three degrees and the face angle six degrees.
All this adjustability can be a bit confusing, but it didn’t stop consumers from buying the R11. Surveys have shown that many golfers find comfortable loft, lie and face angle settings and leave them there for the life of the driver.
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ROCKETBALLZ FAIRWAY WOODS VS. R11S FAIRWAY WOODS
• RocketBallz fairway woods vs. R11S fairway woods: According to TaylorMade, the RBZ fairway woods have reached the United States Golf Association/R&A spring-like limit for metalwoods (previously achieved only by drivers).
RocketBallz fairway woods are lighter than R11S fairway woods, albeit with larger heads and deeper faces. On the other hand, the R11S fairway woods feature enhanced adjustability — three degrees for lie and loft, six degrees for face angle.
The center of gravity has been moved forward on all R11S metalwoods. This is designed to decrease dynamic loft and increase ball speed.
R11S fairway woods, with a stock Aldila RIP Phenom 70 shaft, cost $249. The TP version, with additional shaft choices, is $349.
RocketBallz fairway woods come in three models — standard, Tour and TP. The Matrix Ozik XCON 5 shaft is standard in the regular and Tour models ($229), and the Matrix Ozik XCON RUL 70 shaft is used in the TP model ($329).
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ROCKETBALLZ DRIVERS VS. R11S DRIVERS
• RocketBallz drivers vs. R11S drivers: RocketBallz drivers come in standard and Tour models. The standard driver is larger at 460 CCs, while the Tour model is somewhat smaller but has a deeper face. The cost is $299 for the standard RBZ driver (Matrix Ozik XCON 5 shaft) and $349 for the Tour version (Matrix Ozik XCON 6 shaft).
The R11S drivers have the same flight adjustability range as the R11S fairway woods. Furthermore, they have two weight ports for weight adjustability. The stock shaft for the standard driver ($399) is the Aldila RIP Phenom 60. More than two dozen shafts are available in the TP version ($499).
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ROCKETBALLZ HYBRIDS AND IRONS
• RocketBallz hybrids and irons (two models each) are intended to achieve maximum distance with a higher trajectory.
The Max iron body is hollow, and the construction is like that of a metalwood. The standard RocketBallz iron comes in a progressive set. The 3-iron through 5-iron have hollow bodies, while the mid irons and short irons do not.
RocketBallz hybrids (Rescue) are available in standard and Tour models. The RocketBallz Tour Rescue has a smaller head with a slightly open face. With a toe-weighted center of gravity, the Tour model is built to avoid shots that are pulled or hooked.
Each RocketBallz Rescue costs $179 with a 65-gram graphite shaft. The price increases to $229 with a TP shaft upgrade.
The RocketBallz irons cost $699 with steel shafts and $899 with graphite shafts. The RocketBallz Max irons are more expensive, although the exact street price is not known at this time (MSRP is $1,299 with graphite-shafted long irons and steel shafts in the remainder of the irons, or $1,399 with graphite throughout the set).