I got a text from a friend last week. He was looking for a new ball to play. He was worried that he’s not playing as much or as well as he did when he played his current ball and wondered if there was a better option for less money.
Believe it or not, this is a question I’ve heard a lot. And the more that I think about it, the manufacturers do a terrible job of explaining the how & why of golf balls. Sure, they all say they go farther, feel softer, stop faster. They just don’t say why.
It’s ALL about the Layers
Consider the image below of the five layer golf ball. This golf ball is designed to work on a variety of shots in your game – tee shots, long irons & woods, mid irons, pitch shots, chips and putts. It is important to know that each layer is designed to react for just the type of shot you are trying to play. The more layers a ball has the more “shots” you can play with it.
The core of the golf ball, the innermost layer, is the hardest to activate and takes higher club speeds to achieve. Because of this, the core is designed to spin less to allow for straighter, longer shots off of the tee. As we move out from the core we find layers that are progessively firmer, allowing for more spin and control off of higher lofted clubs.
As clubhead speed decreases, the “smash factor” decreases, as well. Meaning that the compression of the golf ball is also diminished. But the outer layers of the multi-piece golf ball are designed for just that – to react on the softer shots in the game.
The softer we swing at the ball, the less we will compress, or “smash” it – so a 30-yard wedge shot will not activate the core of the golf ball, but will compress the ball enough for the outer mantle layer to react. This layer is designed for higher spin rates, meaning your wedge shots will “drop and stop” or check up as they roll out.
To follow up on that theme, it is important not to confuse feel. Because a putted ball is not compressed much at all, the feel off of a putter is more about the cover. A softer cover offers a softer feel off the putter whereas the feel off of the driver is derived more from the core.
Here is an experiment – try this next time you’re on the putting green or at your local golf shop. Putt with a Titleist Pro V1 and a Titleist TruSoft ball. The TruSoft is Titleist’s softest compression feel golf ball but feels much harder than the Pro V1 when putting. The reason for this is the cover, not the core. The Pro V1 golf ball, and most premium Tour-caliber golf balls, uses a Urethane cover – a very soft material. The TruSoft has an ionomer cover that is not as soft.
So how do you choose? What factors do you consider for YOUR golf ball?
First – understand your game. If you are not a high spin player, then this decision is easier. You can play a wider variety of balls. If you play a low, running style of chips and pitches then a 2-piece golf ball will work for you – you can run it up without worrying about spin. If you play a higher wedge shot, hoping to get it to stop fast, then it is very important to get a 3-piece or more option.
I also think it is important to start at the green and work your way back. Calculating your style of play, pick a ball that will react right to your swing and preferences. Chip & putt with it first to decide if it will help you around the greens – the scoring zone. Once you narrow it down to several options, work your way back toward the tee to see how they work from there. Buy them by the sleeve at your course to help cut down on costs.
I think it is important to carry out this experiment on a course you are familiar with to determine if you’ve gained or lost distance with the ball based on your normal play. You know where your current drives end up on this course. Which iron you hit on the Par 3’s. Experimenting on this course will give you a better understanding of gains or losses.
Lastly, don’t just rely on TV or packaging to help you out. Like I said above, every ball is Softer, Straighter, and Farther if you believe everything you see & read. While trial and error can get expensive, I think it is an important process to help you better understand your game and how the golf ball effects it.
Good luck and hit ’em straight! They last longer that way.