When it comes to the tee ball, TaylorMade leads, it does not follow. The 300 series driver was #1 on tour in 2000 and 2001 and TaylorMade followed with the successful r500. More recently the r5 and the r7 quad have been found worldwide in the bags of Tour professionals and amateurs alike.
While it is rare to see a new driver accepted so quickly by tour players, the new r7 425 was in the bag of nine players at the season-opening Mercedes Championship. Even with the new Nike SasQuatch and the highly anticipated rollout of the Titleist 905R, the new r7 still seems to be the talk of the industry.
I've been using a Titleist 983K and then a 905S for years, and I've come to appreciate the traditional pear-shaped design and playability in the Titleist drivers. I've spent a few months with the r7 425 as well as the larger r7 460. For $399 a pop, one would expect a solid club with excellent performance. Read on to find out if that's what we found.
The TaylorMade r7 425 takes the r7 line from 400cc - the size of the 2005 r7 Quad - to 425cc. The 425cc clubhead puts the r7 425 right between the r7 Quad and the r5 Dual (450cc), both literally and in appearance.
While the size change from the r7 Quad to 425 is relatively minor, there are a few other changes that stand out in this revision. First are the changes to the Movable Weight Technology (MWT). While MWT is not an addition to the r7 line, TaylorMade has moved the TLC ports further apart in the 425, increasing not only stability but the forgiveness of the driver. If you are stepping up and playing the TP version (and ponying up the extra $400), it comes with 12 movable weights, providing even more flexibility and options. The r7 460 has two movable weights, one each towards the toe and heel of the head.
The next big change is the introduction of a Fujikura REAX shaft. To explain the new shaft, I'll defer to our resident industry expert Donald MacKenzie and a previous column when he scooped the info on the new r7s before everyone else. Don says about the REAX shaft:
There is an area of the midsection of the shaft that is reinforced by two high-grade woven graphite strands. Meanwhile, the r7 425 TP version will have a different REAX shaft with Fujikura's Rombax technology, which stretches the entire length of the shaft. Both versions of the REAX shaft are designed to help keep the shaft from deforming - and losing energy - during the swing.
Last, there is a change in the weight dispersion and thus the neutral center of gravity. TaylorMade employed the use of "Ultra-Thin Wall Technology," which allowed the walls of the clubhead to be reduced to 0.6 mm. This is a 25% decrease over the wall size in the r7 Quad and, according to TaylorMade, "saves critical weight." Not only did it lower the center of gravity, but it also allowed TaylorMade to increase the size of the head and build up the TLC ports while more traditional drivers can't spare the weight.
Look and Feel
TaylorMade did a great job in the design of the new r7. There is a yellow stripe along the back ridge of the club. The outer movable weight chambers are grooved into the bottom of the club like they were shot into it with a high-powered rifle. Again, the style is very similar to the old r7 Quad, but has a much more sleek and new-age look. While the Quad always struck me as a bit "bubbled" on top, TaylorMade got the 425 and 460 right. These are confidence-inspiring, sleek-looking clubs.
From the top, the driver has a nice, clean black look to it. Again, from this perspective you don't have the bubbly, odd-looking top of the r7 Quad. Though I typically prefer the pear-shaped drivers like the Titleist 905S, the TaylorMade r7 425 features more of a circular, rounded head shape. It took a little getting used to, but I can set up confidently now after a short adjustment period. If I had a word to describe the looks of these clubs it would be "sharp." From every angle the lines feel sleek, smooth, and true.
These drivers are closed to a greater degree than any other drivers I've hit in the past few years. This forces me to forward press with my hands more than I'm accustomed to in my normal setup. I'll discuss later what effect this had in my testing, but suffice to say it didn't help at first.
The other difference between the new r7 and my 905S is the weight. All TaylorMade drivers have felt extremely light to me in the past… especially the r500 and r7 Quad. The r7 425, and even 460, has a lighter feel to it, but it's not as severe as its predecessors. Most likely the difference in weight is in the new REAX shaft. My preference is for a heavier driver. I feel like I can control the club, specifically the head, throughout the swing. Even though and the new r7 is on the light side, it was heavy enough for my liking.
I'm currently playing with a 9.5° Titleist 905S with a stiff Fujikura Speeder shaft and have a swing speed in the 110-115 mph range. My normal shot is a low, boring draw with a low spin rate. I normally don't have a lot of carry (250-260 yards), but I get a ton of roll (out to 280-290). Both the r7 425 and 460 I reviewed came in 9.5° models with the stiff REAX Fujikura shaft. To get an initial feeling for the stiffness of the shaft, I'll usually take a couple of practice swings with both drivers. Other than the difference in weight mentioned previously, both the Titleist and TaylorMade shafts had a very similar feel. Obviously this isn't the most scientific test, but I've come to trust my instincts.
My first impressions of the r7 425 were not good. I hit a series of balls very low and very left. The weights were set up in a 2-12-12-2 arrangement (heel to toe) which, by TaylorMade's standards is optimal for a high ball flight and also neutral weighting as far as left/right. Out of about 20 balls, I only a couple that were playable. Everything else was left of John Kerry.
I decided to get back out on the range and take a few minutes to evaluate my setup and how the club felt. The one change I made - which was small - was to put my hands a bit more forward at setup. This seemed to resolve the issues I was having with the closed face sending the ball low and left. Once I made the adjustment the balls started flying much better.
While the ballflight was still a bit lower than my 905S, I was at least as long with the r7 425. My carry was probably in the 255-260 yard area where it is usually a bit above 260 with the Titleist. As for the directionality, it was a bit off at first. I couldn't keep the ball online with the 425 and had issues pulling and pushing it a bit even after I adjusted my setup. However, something started to click once I took it out on the course. I played a round with it and had a great round off of the tee, only missing four fairways and never getting into any serious trouble. Since that round, I've hit the 425 numerous times at the range and loved it. They do say they own the tee box, not the practice range, so perhaps that has something to do with it… <grin>
As for the 460, there where some differences and some similarities. The biggest difference to me was the launch angle. The ball came off the 460's face much higher than the 425's and was almost identical to my 905S. I hit a few drives with the 460 that were longer than the 425 or 905S. There was no noticeable difference in control or directionality, though I wasn't expecting one given the identical shaft in the 425 and the 460.
Movable Weights, Wrenches, and Extras
Both the r7 425 and the 460 come with wrenches to swap and move around the weights. If you'd like additional weights, they retail for around $15 (or less) apiece. If you lose your wrench, that's about $30. At no point did I have trouble moving the weights around, and once locked into place, the weights stayed where I put them without rattling. TaylorMade has perfected movable weights in at least this regard.
The headcover, while very stylish, is a bit tough to work with. It is nearly impossible to get it on with one hand. I usually have to pull the opening apart with both and stretch the sock over the clubhead. It should eventually loosen up over time. I'd rather have this problem than a headcover that repeadedly fell off.
The grip is a pretty standard one. All rubber, so if you like the corded grips or anything special, you'll have to replace it yourself.
I was admittedly ready to give up on the r7 425. I kept hitting the ball low and left. In the end, after a small adjustment in my setup, I'm glad I stuck with the driver. Once I settled in, the r7 425 was a solid driver. I believe that golfers currently using TaylorMade drivers would be well served to upgrade to the new line if they are looking for even more control. With an improved shaft and more forgiveness, I can finally say again that I really like a TaylorMade driver. It may not knock my Titleist out of the bag just yet, but I can't say I'd miss a beat if someone were to steal my 905S, either.
However, the r7 460 just might replace the 905S. I felt very comfortable swinging it and loved the ballflight. The other great thing about the r7 460 is that it didn't feel that big. Yes it is 460ccs, but before, during and after my swing I never thought about the size. I haven't joined the super-sized driver bandwagon yet, but if I do, the r7 460 will likely be the driver to get me there.
Please pardon the analogy, but I usually like to stay away from the first year a new car is released. There are always some bugs and kinks to work out. The r7 Quad was that first year car. The 425 and 460 shows a great improvement and two clubs that are worth taking out for a test drive. Don't be surprised if they park themselves in your bag.