We live in the golden age of the golf ball. Breakthroughs in design, materials and manufacturing have produced a bumper crop of balls. No matter what your body type, swing style or clubhead speed, there’s a ball specifically designed for you.
Unfortunately, far too many players give absolutely no thought to the ball they play. In a pro shop, they instinctively reach for the Pro V1 because that’s the ball that has won the marketing race. Everyone is convinced that it’s the best ball on the market—and it may be. But a ball that pros and top amateurs love with their 100+ mph swing speeds just might not (and likely isn’t) the best ball for you.
A critical factor in golf ball performance is compression. At impact, the golf ball is flattened against the face of the club, and then rebounds into its original shape. You can see this quite clearly in slow motion television analyses of tour players’ swings. To get the most distance (and accuracy) out of your ball, it needs to be just soft enough for you to achieve that compression. Compressing a ball too much or too little can be counterproductive. All things being equal, a player with a higher swing speed will be able to crush a higher compression ball more easily. It follows, then, that a ball favored by fast swinging pros and top amateurs may be a little too hard for slower swinging weekenders.
There are other factors, too. Design and composition of balls lead to varying spin rates. Spin and the dimples create loft and carry. So a slower-swinging golfer may need a higher spin rate for greater distance. But greater spin also can create hooks and slices. An erratic ball striker may need one with lower spin. The short game also factors into this. Players who are adept at high flying short games will require a different ball than those who prefer the pitch-and-run.
Feel with the putter is an other consideration. While improved manufacturing tolerances ensure that virtually every ball these days is “true,” their feel off the putter can be quite different. I’ve rejected a couple of otherwise good balls just because they didn’t “feel” right off the putter. All of this makes the choice of a golf ball a somewhat complex decision.
(To appreciate how far things have come, consider this: Through the 1970s, tour pros would carry a metal ring on their bag, sized perfectly for a golf ball. Before putting a new ball into play, they would pass it through the ring to ensure that it was correctly sized and shaped.)
A recent development in golf balls is the notion of a golf ball fitting. These are generally available at the national golf chain stores, high end local pro shops and at better equipped golf learning centers. The computerized equipment will track your swing speed, launch angle, ball spin rate and other factors and compare it to data on known balls to give you a “best fit.”
Barring a ball fitting, your best bet is to try a variety of balls based on what you know about your own swing and manufacturer’s claims. Balls advertised as “low compression” generally are best for those with slower swing speeds. Those that claim to reduce hooks and slices typically are lower spin models.
The biggest barrier to picking a ball without professional help is estimating your swing speed. You can get a rough estimate of your swing speed from your 150 yard club. If that Club is a 6 or a 7 iron, your swing is in the 80 – 90 mph range; if it’s between a 7 and an eight, 90 – 10; an 8 to a 9 iron would indicate a 100+ swing speed. Another rule of thumb is to divide the number of yards of carry with your driver by 2.3.
Finally, be aware—as I’m sure you are—that ball price has little to do with which one is best for your game. There are some absolutely superb balls at around $20 a dozen aimed precisely at slower swinging weekenders.
About this series:
In 1960, the average golf score was 100. Forty years later, in spite of all the innovations in clubs, balls and instruction, the average golf score is … still 100. In fact, only 20 percent of all golfers will ever break that mark.
Here’s the problem: Even with all the improvements, the one thing we haven’t been able to improve is the golf intelligence of the players. Most hackers—and more than a few better players—just play dumb golf. So here’s part one of a series on playing smarter golf. I’ve been collecting mental game golf tips for years in a series of notebooks, on my palm pilot and in various computer files. They’ve helped my game. I know they’ll help yours
This tip is an excerpt from The Five Inch Course: Thinking Your Way To Better Golf. The complete book is available in Kindle format at Amazon.com.