Cutting to the core: should your next ball be two-piece or multilayer? We sort out the spin to help you find the right one
Done any sleeve-reading lately? One ball claims “Long Distance and Super Feel,” another touts “Longer Distance, More Spin and Control,” and a third shouts “Ultimate Distance and Control.” It’s enough to make you choose a ball based on the color of the box.
Categorizing golf balls is a sketchy business, a curious alchemy of science, marketing and a golfer’s particular desire to consistently get a 20-yard chip shot to check. Still, manufacturers categorize balls all the time, usually by price and type of construction (another way of saying “performance”). Manufacturers realize that finding the right ball is a challenge.
“Everybody is different,” says Bill Morgan, senior vice president of golf ball research and development at Titleist. “We have different swings, different areas in which we need help from our equipment, different areas in which we can take advantage of equipment nuances, different perceptions and different economic realities.”
Price is clearly a factor, but it’s also true that what you paid for a sleeve doesn’t mean diddly when you need to get up-and-down on 18 for all the money. To assist you in your golf ball purchase, we present a breakdown of the golf ball universe and three key questions to ask about yourself and your game. Finally, we reveal some testing that shows just how different (and similar) the various types of balls can perform. Process it all, and you just might find a ball that really is longer and softer. For you.
THE FOUR TYPES OF GOLF BALLS
The argument can be made that there are as many golf ball construction types as there are individual models of balls. But for the sake of simplicity, let’s break it down to four. Categories two and three below (two-piece low compression and what we’re calling “two-piece performance”) feature a variety of balls designed for average golfers. Your mission: Identify a category you like, and try the balls within that category
to find the one that addresses your different needs.
1 TWO-PIECE DISTANCE
Examples: Callaway Warbird; Pinnacle Gold; Slazenger Raw Distance Fusion; Top-Flite XL Pure Distance; Wilson Jack. Price range: $10-$20 a dozen.
Upside: They spin less, and that means less slice and hook. They also may launch higher because the firm polymer cover tends to slide up the clubface slightly at impact. Harder covers are less likely to show damage from abrasion, too. The biggest benefit: They’re cheap, not much more than a dollar a ball and sometimes less.
Downside: They spin less. That’s a problem around the greens, but it also could prevent slower swingers from generating enough lift (or carry). As for feel, generally, it’s going to be more croquet ball than feather pillow.
Expert advice: “The firm cover and high compression yields a ball with high velocity, high launch angle, low spin and firm feel. However, golfers are sacrificing the attributes of spin and feel.”–John Calabria, vice president of research and development for TaylorMade.
2 TWO-PIECE LOW COMPRESSION
Examples: Dunlop LoCo; Maxfli Noodle; Nike Power Distance Super Soft; Precept Lady and Laddie; Titleist DT SoLo. Price range: $15-$25 a dozen.
Upside: Because they’re easier to compress, low-compression balls can improve distance for moderate swing speeds. Some balls in this category offer low spin to improve accuracy and softer covers to improve feel.
Downside: Soft feel may not translate into more spin on short greenside shots.
Expert advice: “The cores are more resilient while keeping the compression soft.”–Dean Snell, senior director of research and development for TaylorMade.
3 TWO-PIECE PERFORMANCE
Examples: Callaway CB1 and HX 2-Piece; Maxfli A3; Slazenger Tour Platinum; Srixon Hi-Spin and Soft Feel; Titleist NXT and NXT Tour; Top-Flite Infinity; Wilson True Velocity. Price range: $20-$30 a dozen.
Upside: Some in this new genre tout large “springy” cores (A3, NXT Tour and Infinity, for example). Balls with large cores have thin covers, and that can make it easier for the core to compress when the ball meets the clubface. In theory, this leads to more distance.
Downside: Like the two-piece low compression balls, these balls may not offer the same spin advantages on short shots as the multilayer urethane ball.
Expert advice: “We are squeezing the last bits out of two-piece ball technology. This type of ball is definitely going to give most players enough performance. It probably provides 80 percent of all a ball can do.”–Tom Kennedy, vice president of research and development for Top-Flite Golf Company.
4 MULTILAYER CONSTRUCTION
Examples: Ben Hogan Apex Tour; Callaway HX and CTU 30; Maxfli M3; Nike TA2, Double C and One; Precept U-Tri and Tour Premium; Srixon Pro UR and UR-X; Strata series; Titleist Pro V1 and Pro V1x; Top-Flite Tour; Wilson True Tour V and Elite. Price range: $25-$50 a dozen.
Upside: Each layer enhances a performance aspect. The soft cover enhances feel, the firm inner mantle improves energy transfer to the core and the core itself promotes distance. Urethane-covered multilayer balls are softer than two-piece balls and can spin more on chip shots and bunker shots. Urethane is just as soft as balata but is more durable and consistent.
Downside: Not all multilayer balls have urethane covers or even the same type of urethane cover, and some are designed for tour-level swing speeds (105-120 mph). Furthermore, urethane actually slows the ball’s spin rate slightly, decreasing its distance potential for slower swingers.
Expert advice: “These balls behave like balata on the green and still have the distance of a hard two-piece ball. Of course, if you want it all, it’s going to cost more.”–Mike Yagley, vice president, product management for Callaway.
TOP-FLITE’s two-piece Infinity line features the largest cores found in two-piece balls. Models include the Awesome Distance and the Absolutely Straight (with a core diameter of 1.60 inches) and the Buttery Feel and Ideal Spin.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
The Titleist line (left to right) includes a lower-compression ball for average swing speeds (DT SoLo), performance two-piece balls (NXT Tour and NXT) and the urethane-covered multilayer balls that dominate the tour and retail market (Pro V1 and Pro V1x).
THE QUESTIONS YOU NEED TO ASK YOURSELF
WHO ARE YOU? Do you want a car with a speedometer that goes up to 140 miles per hour, even though you’ll never drive it faster than 70? That might be what you’re getting with the newest multilayer balls. Do you believe buying an inexpensive ball means you’re giving up performance? And what about price? Is an extra dollar a ball OK, but $11 for a sleeve too much? Weighing price and performance is tricky, but if you think you play better with expensive balls, the extra cost might be worth it.
HOW DO YOU PLAY? Are you a finesse player? Or do you just bomb it? Is your course manicured with tightly mown fairways, fast, firm greens and deep greenside bunkers? If so, you might like the playability options a soft urethane ball provides. If you play a muny with soft, slower greens, a two-piece model is less of a sacrifice. As for feel in putting, remember that urethane is generally softer, however some putters, especially those with soft inserts, may produce the desired feel even with a harder ball. If you miss a lot of greens, your ball choice might depend on that next shot you hit from around the green, so judge a ball by that shot, assuming scoring is important to you. Two other issues: Can you hit a half-wedge shot 10 feet from the hole nearly every time, or are you just trying to get it on the green? Do you make strategy decisions based on potential or tendency? The answer says a lot about your ball of choice.
WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM A BALL? The ball decision is really about only one thing: priorities. If all you’re looking for is distance, you will find all the distance you could want with a two-piece ball at about a third of the cost of some multilayer models. However, how much more distance are we talking about, and will it change your game? Golf Digest testing of four types of balls (two-piece distance, low compression, performance and multilayer urethane-covered) shows how significant or insignificant those distance differences can be (see next page). Of course, scoring is keyed by the short game, a performance area distance balls clearly lack by comparison.
THE FINAL PIECE IN THE PUZZLE Given the choice, most golfers want the multilayer ball the pros play. But unlike the pros, most golfers have to pay for their balls, so whether they think they deserve that ball is another matter. There’s no real technical reason they shouldn’t play those balls. Callaway’s Yagley says even an average player would notice the difference between a distance two-piece ball, a soft two-piece ball and a three-piece ball in “just a couple of minutes of chipping and putting.”
Says Golf Digest Chief Technical Advisor Frank Thomas: “The best ball for the best golfers is a multilayer ball. But there’s no reason the average golfer shouldn’t play these balls, although he or she might not hit the ball consistently enough to recognize all its benefits.”
Certainly, every two-piece ball (distance, low-compression, large core, etc.) is designed with the so-called average golfer in mind, not a tour player. Conversely, most multilayer balls, particularly those with urethane covers, have attributes only elite players can appreciate. (Tiger Woods, for example, was attracted to his new ball because it let him be more aggressive when trying to hold a draw into a left-to-right crosswind. Most of us don’t have those sorts of issues.)
Is playing one particular short-game shot slightly more vital to your game? If you’re struggling to break 100, maybe not. If you’re always breaking 80, maybe it is. But that’s why finding the right ball remains a consummately personal search, says Titleist’s Morgan.
“Golf is a game of individual performance with individual implements: me and my stuff against the elements,” Morgan says. “I search for the perfect swing, and I search for the perfect gear. Only I know when I have found it.”
NIKE’s One ball, used by Tiger Woods, has a soft urethane outer cover and two inner mantles–one to promote accuracy and the other to improve energy transfer off the driver.
PRECEPT has extended its U-Tri line with the U-Tri Tour, an inexpensive urethane-covered multilayer ball ($30). SLAZENGER’s Tour Platinum is a two-piece ball with a urethane cover.
At the center of the core of SRIXON’s UR-X, the hardness rating is nearly half that of the outer surface of the core. Srixon’s mantle is made of firm rubber, unlike other multilayer balls with mantles of ionomers or plastics.
HOW DIFFERENT ARE GOLF BALLS?
That’s a loaded question, but a robot test conducted for Golf Digest by Technical Advisor Gene Parente at Golf Laboratories in San Diego suggests there are some subtle differences based on ball type. In our test a driver swung at an average swing speed (90 miles per hour) produced similar distances and spin (revolutions per minute) among four ball types. (Remember: Less spin with the driver can reduce slices and hooks. More spin with the irons may help shots stay on the green close to where they land.) An 8-iron swung at average speed (78 mph) revealed similar distances again, but produced more spin in the multilayer ball and the two-piece performance ball compared to the two-piece distance ball. The most telling difference came with half-wedge shots. In our test, the multilayer ball spun significantly more than two-piece models (and flew at a slightly lower trajectory), an indication the urethane cover and multilayer design may provide an extra element of precision. M.S.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Golf Digest Companies
COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning