The driving iron hasn't replaced the hybrid as the long-iron replacement of choice on the PGA TOUR, but there's no questioning its rise in popularity over the past year. The hollow-bodied club has been the preferred option for a number of TOUR winners this season, including 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose.
In preparation for this year's Open Championship, Rose added TaylorMade's Ultimate Driving Iron (UDI) at the Quicken Loans National and won with it the first week it was available on TOUR.
With the fairways expected to be firm and fast at Royal Liverpool, Rose said he was able to control the ball with more consistency and a low, penetrating ball flight than a hybrid or metalwood off the tee.
Rose likely won't be the only TaylorMade staffer opting for the company's new driving iron at Royal Liverpool. Launched at Quicken Loans National, UDI was designed with feedback from TaylorMade staffers who wanted the distance and playability of a hybrid with the shot shaping capabilities and accuracy of an iron.
"Our intention initially was to see if this was going to be an interesting option for our TOUR guys," said Tomo Bystedt, TaylorMade's director of iron creation. "We weren't really thinking of bringing it to retail initially. It was more let's see how it does on TOUR, and in the early meetings we saw there was a lot of interest from them.
"Our goal was to get UDI ready by The Open Championship at Hoylake, because we knew the conditions would likely be firm and fast, and we believe our guys -- like Justin Rose and Jason Day who've tested and used this club -- could have a competitive benefit by having a club like this in their bag."
TaylorMade designers came up with UDI, a club that features hollow body construction with a 450 stainless steel body and 455 Carpenter steel face that was made thinner to increase balls speeds.
While making the face thinner was important, Bystedt said it was especially important to get the face right on the driving iron for sound and feel purposes.
"Because it has a controlled chamber, you can control sound a bit better than with an open cavity," Bystedt said. "One of the challenges with TOUR player irons is if you go really thin with the faces, it's not going to feel and sound really good. But in this case, we were able to go really thin because we know how to work with dampers inside the hollow body and structure it -- almost like a metalwood."
Along with thinning out the face and adding a sound dampening system to the upper portion of the head, TaylorMade designers were able to shift the center of gravity (CG) lower in the clubhead due to the hollow body construction that freed up extra weight. The lower CG allows UDI to have additional forgiveness and a higher launch angle.
"The hollow body construction opens things up a bit and allows you to do certain things you normally couldn't do with your standard long iron," Bystedt said "You can move the CG really low because you can hollow out the top of the club because you don't need a lot of material there to keep the club stiff and stable.
The Ultimate Driving Iron also has the company's Speed Pocket technology in the sole of the club that allows the lower portion of the face to flex more effectively at impact while also stretching the sweet spot lower on the face to help golfers hit the ball about the same distance on off-center shots.
Bystedt noted that TaylorMade tested out different iterations of the Speed Pocket in the driving iron before deciding on the 3 millimeter Speed Pocket that's currently in the SpeedBlade iron.
"The face profile is a little bit lower on UDI, so when you get really shallow, like with the UDI 1-iron, you typically lose a little bit of ball speed because you're not able to get the max COR on the face. The Speed Pocket actually allows us to get back to the max COR without having to do anything goofy with the face."
Although the club has a similar look to TaylorMade's Tour Preferred MC model, the Ultimate Driving Iron has a thicker topline -- due to the hollow body construction -- and lower profile than the standard Tour Preferred MC long iron. The badging in the back was also tweaked to give it a slightly different look from the current Tour Preferred lineup.
TaylorMade's Ultimate Driving Iron comes in three lofts (16, 18 and 20 degrees) with KBS's C-Taper Lite shaft and retails for $200.
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