WITB Oregon: Driver (TaylorMade R580 XD)

As I recounted in this blog’s inaugural post, I recently got back into golf after more than a decade of hardly playing. One of my biggest surprises in returning to the game was how much equipment had changed. I found myself overwhelmed by the variety, technological complexity, and sheer cost of new irons and wedges, and especially woods, hybrids, and putters.

After much painstaking research, I assembled a set of past-year model clubs that didn’t bankrupt me but still provided the benefits of up-to-date technology. In the meantime, I stowed away most of the equipment that I had used as a junior in the late 1990s and early 2000s, giving away only a Cleveland 588 DSG sand wedge (which I regret doing) and a Prince — yes, Prince — driver (which I do not regret doing).

A few weeks ago, as my family and I prepared to leave for Oregon to visit my parents for the holidays, a thought occurred to me: instead of lugging my current clubs back and forth, why not simply ship my old set up there and fill in the gaps with cheap second-hand purchases?

And so over the past couple of weeks I played 45 holes with my dad on soggy Oregon courses using some very outdated — but, as it turned out, very good — clubs.

Starting with this first in a series of four posts, I will give my subjective, unscientific impressions of how this equipment performed for me and, I hope, convey how much fun a golfer can have with clubs that cost a fraction of today’s technology. I’ll start at the top of the bag…

Driver: TaylorMade R580XD 9.5° (with a Grafalloy ProLaunch Blue stiff shaft)

Year of Release: 2003

PGA Value Guide Resale Value: $33.84

In internet discussions of the best drivers of all time, the TaylorMade R580XD always seems to come up. Some message board users out there claim to have it in their bag still — or to regret ever taking it out. Since I needed a driver for my Oregon set, I decided that I might as well pick up a second-hand R580XD for $30 and see for myself whether the hype was justified.

Sure enough, this thing is a bomber.

Compared to today’s 460cc monsters, the 440cc R580XD looks relatively compact at address, but it is tall enough to encourage you to tee your ball high. The sound at impact is a tremendous titanium crack, which I didn’t mind. Combined with the dense, stable feel of the ball off the face, the noise seemed to me less obnoxious and more an expression of the driver’s power. It’s a brawny club that makes a brawny sound.

I first hit the R580XD on the range. The flights were penetrating, low-spinning draws. As I sent rope after rope to the back fence, I began to wonder how much my wife would make fun of me if I shipped this driver back home and banished my Titleist 915 D2 to Oregon.

On the course, where my swing is always a bit tighter, I began to detect a loss of distance on slight mishits. Marginally toe-y or heel-y strikes carried, on average, about 10-15 yards shorter than my 915 D2 does. (Some of this difference can be attributed to loft: whereas my 580 has 9.5°, my 915 has 10.5°. I have never been properly fitted, but I suspect that 10.5° gives me optimal launch.) On flushed strikes, however, the R580XD went every bit as far as my Titleist, and with what appeared to be lower spin.

What surprised me most about this 14-year-old TaylorMade driver was its resistance to severe hooks and slices. The flat, low-spinning flight may have cost me distance on fractional misses, but it also kept those misses down and in play. During my last round of the trip, I used the R580XD from 11 tees and hit the fairway 10 times.

Too bad I could scarcely hit a green from 60 yards out. But that’s a topic for another WITB post.

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