Whilst they are better known for their metal woods, TaylorMade also make pretty good golf balls and the 2014 Tour Preferred was probably the best alternative premium ball to the all conquering Titleist Pro V1.
Two years on and the next generation Tour Preferred 2016 balls are here and like most other brands, the changes are tweaks to refine the performance of the two models in the range starting with the standard Tour Preferred.
TaylorMade Tour Preferred 2016 Golf Ball Review
Visually there is little difference with the new Tour Preferred and you have to be eagle eyed to spot the extra chevron on the side stamp that denotes the 2016 version.
As before this is always aligned on the slightly wavy seam that you can see on the ball. I like this as the seam can be easily aligned where you want it every time at address if that is important to you.
The Tour Preferred has the same four piece construction as before, but the compression of the inner SpeedMantle layer has been reduced to 80, which is 65% softer than before and the lowest for a TaylorMade premium ball.
As I found out when I met with Director of Golf Ball R&D Eric Loper, TaylorMade has managed to reduce the compression without losing any ball speed off the tee, as my driver stats on SkyTrak show below.
What this does is reduce the spin by around 100rpm with a slightly higher launch, particularly with the irons and this is what makes it different to the Tour Preferred X, which I will come on to later.
The softer construction is more noticeable in the sound than the feel on chips and putts, which was very similar to the 2014 model and also the current Pro V1.
The 322 dimple pattern has good coverage over the surface and looks almost hexagonal which continues the very good performance of the Tour Preferred in the wind.
The cover durability was up there with the best in this category and combines with a very good level of all round performance to offer better players an excellent alternative in the premium ball sector.
TaylorMade Tour Preferred X 2016 Golf Ball Review
As before the Tour Preferred X is a five layer construction in order to give it a slightly lower flight off the longer irons for players who put more spin on the ball by trapping their iron shots rather than sweeping them away.
The compression is down a whole 1 point to 87 so is effectively the same as before and there is little change in feel to the 2014 X model. The Soft Tech cast urethane cover is slightly thicker than before and also features the same number of 322 dimples as the standard ball.
On and around the green the Tour Preferred X sounded and felt a little firmer than the standard Tour Preferred and similar in a lot of ways to a Pro V1x.
Whilst high spin or higher swing speed players will probably get more performance benefit from the X, if you base your ball decision on feel around the greens, then this difference between the two Tour Preferred models is what will help you make your choice.
Aside from the greenside feel, the performance numbers showed where the differences are between the two balls. The Tour Preferred X spins more with a wedge, which is not surprising given the higher compression, but the feel is harder.
With the longer irons the higher launch and increased spin of the Tour Preferred is evident as it stops quicker with less roll.
The driver performance at my swing speed was pretty similar, albeit the Tour Preferred probably has the edge as it gave the same distance from a marginally lower average swing speed.
As with all ball numbers, this is just part of the story and they say you should fit the ball to your iron performance and your feel preference around the green, then fit the driver set up to the ball. On this basis I would lean towards the Tour Preferred, but for you it could be different and a launch monitor session or even just play testing should reveal the best one for you.
Like the black numbers on the standard version, the red numbers on the X in a dozen box feature 1, 2, 3 and 5 to reflect the 5-piece design of the X, so this will only be an issue if 4 is your lucky number.
Overall the Tour Preferred golf balls from TaylorMade are still the unofficial challenger to the heavyweight crown worn by the Pro V1 so it will be up to you whether they can sneak it on points.