Modern golf was born 40 years ago. That’s when TaylorMade Golf created the first metalwood, an invention that ultimately changed the game, for better or worse, more than anything else in golf history.
Metalwoods were golf’s greatest makeover. Three-hundred-yard drives were a dramatic rarity before metal. Now, the entire Web.com Tour averages 300 yards per drive.
That makes 1979 a significant point of demarcation. It was when golf changed forever because the United States Golf Association failed to envision the club’s impact when it could have drawn a line in the sand instead and asked, “What part of the word ‘wood’ don’t you understand?”
Metalwoods could’ve been stopped before they even began. If we were still playing persimmon woods, do you think everybody and their brother would fly the ball 320 yards on the PGA Tour now? Not a chance.
Would any golfers want to trade in their metal drivers now for persimmon? Also, not a chance. That ship sailed decades ago.
This look back into days of golfing yore is made relevant by TaylorMade, the folks who started it all.
Wednesday, TaylorMade’s newest-oldest metalwood returned to store shelves. The company resurrected the Original One driver, a name that gives the over-50 crowd like me fond memories and goose bumps while the under-40 golfers wonder, “The Original One? Never heard of it.”
The Original One was the ’57 Ford Thunderbird of metal drivers. It was sleek and unique, delivered more yardage and slightly narrowed the field of dispersion. It truly was the start of something big. The Original One was easy to hit, so easy I often hit mine off the fairway on par-5 holes instead of my 3-wood.
I didn’t buy the original Original One at first. Like the USGA, I failed to see the benefits of metal and probably harrumphed something about people having to pry my persimmon driver out of my cold, dead fingers. But I jumped on the bandwagon within a few years. My later Original One model had the awkwardly cool dimple pattern imprinted on the outside of the clubhead.
The Original One was hot. And it was beloved by a lot of golfers — TaylorMade sold eight million metalwoods by 1989. It was maybe the most favorite club I ever owned, and I’m sure I’m not the only golfer who feels that way.
So the return of the Original One name is a brilliant move by TaylorMade. Even though I haven’t gotten my hands on one yet to try it out, I’m already drooling. Ford resurrected the Thunderbird line in 2002 as a sexy two-seater to try to replicate its 1957 magic. The new T-Bird was pretty but overpriced, not very functional and drove like a cheap crap-box.
I’ll be shocked if the new Original One flops like the revived T-Bird. The Original One, priced at $399 suggested retail, should be a winner because it’s a throwback in all the right ways.
TaylorMade calls it a mini-driver, a category it entered in 2014 with a Slidr Mini and later with the AeroBurner Mini.
The new Original One’s head is shockingly small by today’s standards, but shockingly large when compared to the original Original One. In an era where driver heads max out at 460cc, the new Original One is 275cc. In 1979, the Original One was 130cc.
“This is a mini-driver but it’s still more than twice the volume of the Original One,” said Tomo Bystedt, TaylorMade’s senior director of product creation. “The dramatic increase in volume really highlights how much golf has changed.”
There’s more throwback action happening here. The new club is also shorter. The shaft length is 43.75 inches, half an inch longer than the current common 3-wood shaft length, yet 2 inches shorter than the current common driver shaft length. Of course, in the old days, 43.5 inches was the standard driver length. The smaller head and the shorter length will to make this mini-driver feel like swinging a 5-wood.
“It could be a big fairway wood or a small driver,” Bystedt said. “It’s really more of a 2-wood in the traditional sense of how that club was used. It goes long off the tee but you can hit it off the deck from a good lie.”
Bystedt tried the club out on a recent trip to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon. Everyone who saw it, he said, was intrigued not only by the size but by the iconic name.
“If you’ve never hit this kind of club before, and most people haven’t, it’s a different animal,” said Bystedt, who is a stick — he has a 1-handicap. “It’s eye-opening. It’s long off the tee, it’s going to be close to being as long as a driver for most people. For me, it’s only about 10 to 13 yards shorter than my driver. It launches high, comes out hot and really runs out. The shorter length feels like you can control the club better.”
Bystedt said he was surprised how easy the club was to hit off the fairway. Even though he’s a low handicapper, he tends to struggle with his fairway woods.
“For me, I think the Original One is easier to hit off the fairway than my 3-wood because the head is bigger,” he said. “Frankly, the dramatically smaller face on the 3-wood intimidates me a little bit. Contact becomes a real issue with fairway woods because the heads are small and you’ve got a relatively long shaft compared to an iron, yet the face isn’t any bigger than an iron.”
Bystedt expects more Original One buyers to put the club in their bags in place of their 3-wood, although he also expects a decent percentage to replace their drivers with this club because it’s easier to hit.
“There are still a lot of players who want the driver that goes the farthest, the 460cc models,” Bystedt said. “No one is going to stop making those clubs. But this club is much better for certain players. Like my dad, for example. He can’t hit his driver at all. He doesn’t make good contact, he can’t help but slice it, he doesn’t get it high enough to really get it properly airborne and it only goes 210 yards. His success rate with a club like this is going to be vastly better.”
Bystedt’s barometer on how popular a new TaylorMade club is going to be is based on how many texts he gets from colleagues who want him to get them the club. “I’ve had a longer list for the Original One than most clubs I’ve worked on,” he said. “I know there’s a pent-up demand out there for this.”
TaylorMade got the iconic touches right, too. It went with the same logo, a dated western font, as the original Original One. And on the sole plate, which is steel, it added the same “Pittsburgh persimmon” name as the original.
“Even if you didn’t remember the old club, you might remember the type face on the sole,” Bystedt said. “No self-respecting designer would come up with that logo today but it’s so unique. And the Pittsburgh persimmon name represented the new era of steel in golf clubs instead of wood.”
Forty years later, TaylorMade’s newest club is a nostalgic nod of acknowledgment to the era that changed golf. The club that started it all, the Original One, has returned. It may not challenge Tiger Woods as the comeback of the year but at the very least, it has got my attention.
Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal.