Pros: It's Long and Feel is Okay
Cons: Balance is middling, No sense of cling at impact, and forgiveness is lacking.
More Than Just A Little History
It’s not that I am actually biased against TaylorMade products, but I failed to see the justification to the hype that this driver seems to be getting. I bagged a Spider Vicino Putter for years, and back in the day—I was the number one fan of all time for the original Titanium Faced R7XD Irons. TaylorMade has made some pretty good stuff over the years, but they have made their fair share of dogs as well. I think the biggest fault TaylorMade has going against it is the amount of influence the corporate bean counters seem to have over the product line.
The original R7 XD Irons were a freakin’ bargain back in the day, but corporate figured that the profit margin was too small and decided that they would reintroduce the Burner Line of irons (which were okay, if slightly unbalanced) , and start making the R7 Draw ( a really doggy underperforming set of insta-hook irons ) as a replacement for the R7XD’s. The theory was that these two overpriced mediocre sets of irons would make more dough for the company than one fairly priced good set. It actually took another 3 generations for the Burners to catch up with the R7XD’s in performance and quality, and the R7 Draw Irons were eventually turned into a cheap box set labeled R7 XD in order to help clear out the excess inventory of both the rather poor selling R7 Draw irons, and the huge stockpile of R-5 Wood Shafts which were left over from a wood that proved so successful beyond TaylorMades’ initial sales preparations that it forced a second, though ill-timed round of shaft production. Please don’t ever confuse the boxed set of re-packaged R7 Draw Irons with the original titanium faced R7 XD Irons. They are completely different animals.
So what does all that have to do with the RocketBallz Stage 2 Driver you may ask? ---Well, basically—everything. You see, the original RocketBallz Driver was really pretty good. Unfortunately, TaylorMade’s new found penchant for running two premium lines of clubs simultaneously, which we previously dissected, often leads to clubs of dubious improvement, or ambiguous match ups between club head and shaft. After all, running two parallel sets of quality clubs is extremely expensive, and that gives the bean counters a lot more say in the matter of what components can be priced into the final off the rack product. Such is the case with The RocketBallz Stage 2 Driver. It is a driver head with so much potential, but similar to the old R 540 XD Driver, it’s an incredibly good driver head mated to a very ambiguous shaft.
The Rocket Fuel Driver Shaft, similar to the old M.A.S. shaft of the 540 XD, is definitely not from the same DNA as the shafts being slapped on the versions issued to the Tour Staff. The Butt is definitely stiff enough, and the tip is firm without feeling like a piece of Rebar attached to a graphite fishing pole, but the midsection of the shaft feels almost mismatched between butt and tip. I tried it in several flexes, and with several loft combinations in an attempt to shake this feeling of ambiguity, but to no avail. It seemed to suffer the same fate as its 50 gram predecessor “Superfast” shaft from the “Burner” series of clubs.
The attempt to make the tip feel middle of the road, meets with a mid-kick point, and a firm butt, but that seems to be the problem. You have a very good driver head, obviously built for distance, matched to a very middling shaft. This driver’s head is very good, and that’s what makes it even more of a shame that the bean counters got to them on this one. In a year when they had a real shot at driver dominance in the recreational market in addition to the dominance they enjoy on tour they picked a bad shaft for the job that was delegated to it, and that’s a real shame. It’s not a bad shaft either—it just doesn’t match the head. The Fuji Rocket Fuel Shaft shares DNA with the Fuji “Diesel” shaft engineered for The Long Drivers’ Tour. So what went wrong?
The attempt to make the tip feel middle of the road, is matched with a mid-kick point, and a mid-firm butt, but therein lies the problem. In an attempt to aim everything at the middle, and have a shaft that pleases all swings, they have ended up matching a very nice head with a middling shaft. The original “Diesel” shaft has a firm tip, and a firm butt, but the slightly firm mid-section of The Diesel still manages to add a lot of “Whip” that is regulated by the frequency matching of the materials up and down the length of the shaft of the original Long Driver’s Version. The new—made for OEM versions, and there are several of them by the way, are called “Fuel”, “Rocket Fuel”, and other such like-minded names depending upon the OEM who submitted the bid. The “Fuel”version on The Cobra Amp Cell Driver is no less guilty of the cheapening of a boutique shaft in order to meet OEM bid requirements. Fortunately for Cobra, their particular “cheaper Version” is a much better fit to the head of their Amp Cell driver than is the Rocket Fuel version to the TaylorMade RocketBallz Stage 2 Driver Head.
For what it is, the Rocket Fuel Shaft by Fuji is a decent shaft; it’s simply not an optimal match for that particular driver head.
TaylorMade isn’t the only maker to make this mistake. The Adams Woods were guilty of this same fact the very year before TaylorMade bought them out. The Speedline F11’s had beautiful Aldila VS Proto Shafts, and Matrix Oziks as well, but a year later, in a bid to save money, Adams shafted the F12’s with a line of adequate, but far from stellar Grafalloy Shafts that obviously cost the company quite a bit less money to use. They also cost the Speedline F-12 a lot of performance. Last but not least, as stated with the old ambiguous M.A.S. shafts, TaylorMade has a habit of going with “the low bidder wins” philosophy, and it doesn’t always translate into optimal performance. At least the “Rocket Fuel” shaft has good specs on paper, and at least TaylorMade has stopped using their infamous “throwaway” grips. There was a time, all the way up through the R7 series anyway, when the very first thing you did to a TaylorMade Driver after buying it was to have it regripped before ever taking it out to the course or the range.
Well I’m not going to turn this into a flaming rant against TaylorMade, because I really do like a lot of their clubs. I even like this club a lot, but similar to the old “Burner SuperFast” edition, the potential is there, but the failure to optimize the components into a cohesive philosophy falls a little flat. The R11 Irons, The Original Ghost Spider Putters before they went to a mushier insert, a couple of versions of The old Burner Driver, the original R7 XD Irons, all of these were no less than amazing clubs. I truly believe it’s the unrealized potential of this club that I find so frustrating. I do want to make myself clear on this point. It is a very good driver. In fact, it is “Well Above Average.” The problem here is that I have to explain why I am only giving it 4 Stars when so many reviewers in Magazines, and other reviewers on the web are slapping 5 stars on this club as if it were the greatest thing since sliced bread.
I am trying to be objective here, and this driver does have a lot of “POP” to it to be sure. TaylorMade has a habit of pumping out some very long drivers, with exceptionally hot faces. That is one reason why they are so popular on tour. This driver is indeed a rocket launcher, but then again, so is The Nike Covert. A lot of drivers are putting distance above all else these days, and a lot of today’s newbies tend to think that the adjustability most of these drivers offer will be their personal answer to forgiveness. Hey, this thing is hot, and if I could afford to buy one, and re-shaft it with a quality shaft, I would be all over it like a cheap suit. Sadly, this driver isn’t cheap, so be honest with yourself. This driver is up your alley if you value raw distance above all else, and if for some reason, the OEM Shaft actually fits your swing. Stranger things have happened. My Mizuno Driver has their OEM Version of a Fubuki Shaft on it, and though most of my golf buddies hate that shaft, it fits my swing like a Cabretta Leather Glove.
This driver smacks it a long way. But it isn’t the most forgiving member of its category by any stretch of the imagination. It reminds me a lot of a few of the Burner Driver iterations that it replaces. It’s very easy to hit, and it’s very easy to hit it a long way. The big “however” on this one is that it is just as easy to hit it “The Wrong Way A Long Way”. I don’t think this particular head and shaft combination compensate for the fact that the longer shaft can turn this into a Ronco Slice-O-Matic that can slice and dice your scorecard, and even cut it into hundreds of julienne fries. I tried just a few slight to moderate over the top moves that are common to high cappers, and wowzers---the ball flew almost dead right. It’s important to note that none of these miss hits lost much of anything in the distance department, but directionally---we’re talking pretty ugly.
Now a purposeful over the top move is bound to cause the ball to go right to some degree. But that’s my point. Over 90% of all golfers come at the ball from varying degrees of “over-the-top.” It’s what keeps swing coaches in business. My particular faults are now the opposite. If anything I come so far in from the inside, that I can block a shot, or hit a duck hook that makes Hogan spin in his grave. It took a lot of work to get there, and my swing coach is till impressed that I can mimic all the different degrees of over-the-top moves we managed to get out of my swing, and immediately transition back to the inside moves he has worked so hard to get me to achieve. Because I have lived it, and because I can work through it, I use that knowledge to rate the actual forgiveness of clubs based on the most common swing plane faults. With that in mind, if you are a 15 capper or better, this is a fairly forgiving club, but if you are a high capper who serves up more slices than Tony’s Pizza Parlour----don’t expect this club to help you cure your tee box ills. You might actually be better served by The Wilson D-100 or Cleveland Ultra-Lights which will make it easier for you to get yourself through the ball.
Feel and Balance-4 Stars
Feel is admittedly a very subjective category, but aside from that, there are a few objective observations that can be made. For openers, the face on this is driver’s head is a straight up “5 Stars” for “POP”. That’s where all the distance comes from, and this driver has prodigious amounts of “POP.” That, however, is the highpoint for feel and balance, and the rest kind of goes downhill from there. “Cling” at impact isn’t even a factor on this club, and that tends to be a very important factor for many golfers—myself included. But, as with “Forgiveness”, I am not taking away a full star because it lacks any sense of buttery cling at impact as much as I am for the lack of an overall consistent sense of balance throughout the swing.
There are actually a few minor segments of the swing where club head awareness is more than just a little vague. Similar to the old TeylorMade Burner Superfast, the vagueness doesn’t happen in a critical swing point, such as either of the two transition points between backswing and downswing, but there is a definite sense of vagueness as one nears the top of the backswing, as well as when one comes in on the downswing from roughly 9 o’clock towards the impact zone. Now word up out there to die hard TaylorMade Fans. These observations were made using absolute stock RocketBallz Stage 2 Drivers. I have a playing partner ) a diehard TaylorMade Fan) whose wallet has the wherewithal to have allowed him to buy the RocketBallz Stage 2 and Re-shaft it with a Mitsubishi Shaft which he had cut so that the driver’s overall length is 44 ¾” (Average Tour Length). Not only is his shorter driver just as long as the Stock Version, but it is much more forgiving, much better balanced, and it actually feels better at impact as well.
Overall-- 4 Stars
This is an above average driver, with decent feel, and amazing distance. It reminds me of my old TaylorMade SuperFast, which I bought on the cheap, and had re-shafted with a quality shaft. This is definitely a try it before you buy it driver. There’s a chance that the stock off-the-rack OEM Shaft just might fit your swing. If that’s the case, and you don’t end up spraying balls left and right with this thing, then it just might be worth the full asking price. My swing had strong disagreements with the shaft, but then again, most of my golf buddies hate my shafts of choice—so who’s to say? I think that there will be enough spray jobs at demo days to force TaylorMade to put this thing on sale by July. If you really love the poppy face and you can get this thing for $199 or less, than by it, and re-shaft it with a quality shaft that you already know fits your swing. Otherwise, this thing is awfully expensive for what it really has to offer. It’s not a bad driver, but it is more a RocketBallz update than an actual improvement. I’m not sure how they tweaked the numbers to get the supposed yardage improvement, because I’m just not seeing it myself. Remember—your mileage could vary.