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January 2019

You can feel and see the performance difference between golf balls. Honest!

By: David Dusek | Golfweek I December 4, 2018 12:07 pm

Once upon a time, there were simply… irons. We now refer to these vestiges of history as “blade” irons—forged from thin blocks of carbon steel that were shaped by hand and/or machine, then plated with chrome. If you did not hit the ball squarely with them, you felt a distinctly unpleasant vibration that was generally followed by a bad shot and, even worse, four-letter words. But irons have evolved, and the choices are multiplying.

Maybe it was the wine, or perhaps it was the relaxed atmosphere after a good meal, but last week I heard a knowledgeable, experienced golfer express an idea that breaks my heart.

“I’ve gotta tell you, the guys in my Saturday morning group and I have talked about it, and we can’t really tell the difference from one golf ball to another,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

Unfortunately, even among many good players such as this person, the sentiment is far too common. Today’s balls feature two-, three-, four- and even five-layer constructions, with some having Surlyn covers and others sporting urethane covers. Some balls have low compressions and others have high compressions, and nearly every ball has a unique dimple pattern.

Yet many golfers cling to the cliché that golf balls are just white, round and found on the ground. It’s not true, but most players don’t test golf balls and compare performance from different models, so they don’t know.The only way to learn which ball provides you with the perfect combination of distance off the tee, performance from the fairway and greenside spin at a price that fits your budget is to test them.

Three things to consider before you start testing:

  1. Create a system. Michael Mahoney, Titleist’s vice president of golf ball marketing, told me once that most recreational players struggle when comparing four or five balls at the same time, but comparing two balls to each other is a lot easier. So instead of trying several balls in a single test, create a bracket-style tournament of all the balls you are considering. Pit Ball A against Ball B, Ball C against Ball D, then test the winners against each other.

  2. Test from the green first, then back to the tees. Differences between balls most typically are revealed on chips, pitches and shortgame shots, because different cover materials and designs produce different rates of spin. For this reason, you should start ball testing with putts to see how the balls sound with your putter, then hit a series of shots around the green to see if one ball provides you improved control and feel.Moving into the fairway, hit a series of short irons, then long irons. Differences in dimple patterns and core compositions can make some balls more aerodynamic and work through wind more efficiently.The last area of your game to test is performance off the tee. Some balls help create a lower launch angle with less spin off your driver, while others offer more lift and carry.

  3. Simulators are great for testing in cold climates. If local courses are closed for the season, consider heading to an indoor facility and testing in a simulator. You won’t be able to hit out of rough with your wedges, but the driving range mode available in nearly all simulators provides launch angle, spin rate, ball speed and other valuable information on every shot. You can discover things such as which ball creates the most spin with a full-swing wedge, the most height with your irons and the lowest spin off the tee.

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