PGA Tour golfers wear the logo of the ball they play, and for good reason.
Manufacturers have loads of golf balls to sell, and the hats worn by the best players in the world make for fine billboards.
Look across the shelf of balls at any golf retailer and you see more variance in the color of boxes than in the items in Ian Poulter’s wardrobe closet. Dick’s Sporting Goods in Bend, for instance, sells 110 varieties of golf balls.
Trying to determine which is the best golf ball to play for an average golfer can be a mind-numbing chore. And hard as it is to believe, even this golf writer does not have all the answers. (Maybe that’s not THAT hard to believe.)
Some do have the answers, and even they can sympathize with a golfer’s plight when shopping for a ball.
“There is no question (it is confusing),” says Andy Heinly, co-owner of Pro Golf of Bend and a veteran golf professional. “If you really want to have (golf balls) make a difference, then definitely ask the right questions where you are buying golf balls.”
The best-selling golf ball in the U.S. for more than 10 years has been the Titleist Pro-V1. But it might not be the best golf ball for an everyday hacker.
Not that a Titleist Pro-V1 is not a great golf ball. It is. The Pro-V1 has revolutionized the sport’s most basic equipment.
But the advantages of hitting Pro-V1 are best utilized by elite golfers with swings like lightning bolts. Most recreational golfers do not come close to the nearly 113 miles per hour that was in 2011 the average PGA Tour swing speed. (According to the PGA of America, men’s swing speeds average about 85 mph. Women average about 65 mph.)
“It’s not a ball that’s designed for everybody,” says Todd Kruse, a PGA professional at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Bend. “The majority of people aren’t swinging fast enough to get that ball to actually compress and do what it is designed to do.”
Kruse puts golf balls in three categories: tour performance balls ($40 or higher), less-expensive sport balls ($20-$40), and least-expensive value balls (less than $20).
What’s the difference?
The tour performance balls (such as Pro-V1s, Callaway Hex Tours, Nike 20XI, and TaylorMade Pentas) generally are made with urethane covers and use more layers to increase the spin rates, Kruse says. Sport balls (such as Bridgestone E6s, Srixon Q-Star and Titleist NXTs) use a blended cover and are generally more durable, but will not spin as much. And value balls are often a two-piece ball with a harder feel and a Surlyn cover and cost less than $20 a dozen.
Many golfers buy the most expensive balls, such as Pro-V1s. Others go for the cheapest.
But Kruse says the majority of golfers might be best served by playing a sport ball somewhere in the middle.
“Those are balls that are designed for slower swing speeds that have a slower spin rate,” Kruse says.
And that helps the average golfer hit the ball a touch farther, and more important, it helps golfers control their shots a bit better. (A helpful hint: The more layers, such as a five-piece ball, the higher the spin rate of the ball.)
Shopping for the right fit takes some knowledge, Heinly says.
He says most pros will ask a golfer about their clubhead speed, how far they hit a certain shot, and whether they are searching for more feel around the green or more distance.
Golfers with faster clubhead speed will be better suited for a high-compression golf ball, Heinly says. A senior golfer might find a lower-compression ball more to his or her liking, he adds.
“It does make a difference,” Heinly says of finding the right ball. “They wouldn’t put all that engineering into it if it didn’t. You will see a different ball flight and you will feel it differently.”
Golfers often put too much emphasis on distance off the tee.
Instead, Kruse suggests thinking about play around the green when selecting a golf ball, and working back to the tee from there. Is a softer feel on the green preferred over a hard ball designed for distance?
If so, Kruse suggests opting for the softer feel regardless of how the ball plays off the tee.
“You are not going to see a huge variance in distance,” Kruse says. “Spin characteristics, that’s where you are going to see a huge difference. And feel.”
Most important is understanding your own golf swing. If you tend to slice, a high-spin ball is probably not going to help with that banana-shaped shot. And if a golfer can execute a high-arcing shot that stops dead on the green, a hard-as-a-rock distance ball likely won’t do.
Knowing your own tendencies is exponentially more important than a brand name.
“If you did a blind test over three or four balls that have all the same general properties, you would have a hard time telling the difference.” Heinly says.
Adds Kruse: “Whether it’s Titleist, Callaway, TaylorMade ... they’re all making a great ball.”
That insight probably does not make finding the perfect fit any easier. It is enough to make a golfer miss the days of choosing between a balata ball or a white, dimpled rock.
But like always, choosing a golf ball comes down to preference and feel garnered only by experience.
It is just that there is much more science involved, and a ton more options.