OK, let’s cut through all the marketing talk about golf balls and get down to business. As all experienced golfers know, if you believe the ads or commercials for golf balls, every ball ever manufactured anywhere in the world at any time since WW II was, at the time of manufacture, the longest, straightest, most consistent golf ball ever made. That was true in the days of the balata ball (right through Tom Watson’s prime), and it was still true after the invention of the 2-piece, hard-cover ball in the 1980s.
Once the men figured out in the 1990s that those cute, pink, girly balls actually went farther (for them) than the masculine balls they were then playing, things got more complicated. Since then, people have become more attentive to carry vs. roll, driver-spin vs. wedge-spin, forgiveness vs. workability (degree to which you can slice it or hook it, etc.), and other nuances previously of interest only to the pros. But that just played into the hands of the marketing guys, who still want us to believe, for example, that a Titleist Pro V1 goes as far as a Titleist DT Solo when properly struck, even if you are someone whose driver swing speed is 90 mph or less (as compared to the 110mph range for the Big Boys). In fact, if you deconstruct the typical Titleist ad or an interview with one of their techie ball-guys, what they seem to be saying is that the only real differentiator is price – that the Pro V1 is the perfect ball for even a duffer, provided he can afford it, and that while he would lose backspin around the greens by moving down to the DT Solo, he would gain little or no distance. And that, of course, is errant nonsense – and in direct conflict with their claims for greater distance with their Solo and Velocity balls.
As a 7 handicap with a swing speed that has slowed down more than the Internet over the latest 10 years, I can guaranty you I could hit 20 drives right on the screws with a ProV1 (or PV1X) and not one of them would come within 10 yards of what I can normally get out of a Titleist NXT Tour, nor within 20 yards of what I can squeeze out of a DT Solo. No, Titleist, like everyone else, does have balls that are longer or shorter – for certain players. While it is probably true that Dustin Johnson hits a ProV1 as far as he could hit a DT Solo (maybe farther), the same is certainly not true of your humble scribe or others like me; I would never play the ProVs, at any price, unless I were playing from the ladies’ tees or on a par 3 course.
What Titleist is selling, all that it actually has to sell, is “performance,” which is an ambiguous word if I ever heard one, but one that Titleist uses again and again and by which it apparently means, consistency of reaction to being struck. In other words, all Pro V1s are virtually identical to one another; you could buy a dozen, or a hundred, and not find a single lemon. (And of course Titleist means to imply that all other brands, though some might more or less match up with the equivalent Titleist ball in matters of distance, spin, and ball flight, are not consistent – or at least, are less consistent than the equivalent Titleist.)
I particularly love the part where the Titleist guy, in an infomercial in last month’s Golf Digest, says that the only yardage difference between their “long ball” (which for Titleist would be the Velocity) and their “performance ball” (the PV1) is 1 to 4 yards! Of course, he never discusses whether he is referring to a ball struck by Dustin Johnson or one struck by Johnson’s girl friend or his grandfather, nor does he indicate whether the player is hitting a driver or a wedge, or whether he is discussing carry or total distance. For certain, if he is talking about Grandpa hitting the big stick, the statement is ridiculous.
So, what to do? Short of going through the whole expensive process of getting “fitted” (launch monitor and all) for the best possible set of clubs and balls for your own unique swing and game, what is one to do – especially if one has not set himself an unlimited budget for this already-expensive pastime? The correct answer, the cheap answer, is this:
- If you play enough golf to even care about “consistency” of the ball’s performance, consider buying Titleist. The anecdotal evidence (i.e., the testimony of a majority of tour pros) is that Titleists are in fact the most “consistent,” though the differences are probably so rare and so slight that it would be foolish not to go to a cheaper brand if it sells a ball that duplicates the characteristics of the Titleist best-suited for your game.
- Don’t even consider the ProVs, or any other tour-level ball, unless you usually hit your driver at least as far as Stacy Lewis or the other top lady pros – in other words, an honest carry of 245 or more. Meaning you normally hit it about 270 total. (Sorry, guys, almost none of you are as long as the little ladies.) The extra spin you get with a tour ball is never going to compensate for the yardage a tour ball will cost you off the tee, because there is a very good chance your short game stinks and you wouldn’t know how to exploit the extra spin.
- Buy the type of ball (Titleist or other brand) that best suits your game. In other words, buy a distance ball, not a ball that spins a lot. Consider buying your balls at Walmart, which stocks a lot of brands at excellent prices. For that matter, consider buying your balls at MG Golf, which sells excellent knockoffs of the name brand balls – not to mention some fabulous cabretta gloves – at sensational prices. If you don’t want to be seen playing an embarrassing discount brand, the 2nd longest Titleist (the DT Solo) is also pretty cheap and it still has the same Titleist logo.
- In deciding what kind of ball suits your game, ignore everything you have ever read or heard about balls, and understand that only two things matter: distance, and spin. OK, maybe also consider “feel,” meaning the softest ball that also gives you the best combination of distance and spin – feel is a good thing. Beyond distance, spin, and feel, everything else is hype. Forget about whether the ball is 2-piece, 3-piece, 5-piece, or 15-piece, and what the different pieces are made of – unless the cover is urethane (which equates to spin). Forget about dimple patterns and claims about trajectory, wind-resistance, “performance,” and which pro plays it.
- If you are like most golfers, meaning you have no short game at all, just buy the very longest ball that is legally (or if you prefer, illegally) on the market and get out there and bomb it and have a good time.
- If you have any kind of short game at all, if you have ever hit a pitch shot or chip shot that actually slowed down a little bit after the first bounce, buy the long ball with the greatest amount of spin. As of this writing, there is really only one ball on the American market that fills the bill: the Titleist NXT Tour S. (See, I am not anti-Titleist.) The NXT TS is the only distance ball that showed up in the most recent Golf Digest ratings of balls (believe it was in 2013) as having a spin rate for approach shots that made even the low end of the tour-ball cluster – the upper tier of balls that spin with irons and wedges. In other words, the NXT TS does not spin as much as the PV1, but its spin rate is much closer to that of the tour balls than it is to that of the distance balls. In my opinion, that alone makes the NXT TS the best ball on the American market for anyone who cannot hit it out there with the big boys (and the big girls).
I referred only to the American market, because there is a new ball on the European market, the Srixon AD 333 Tour, that might be even better than the NXT TS – because the 333 Tour is supposed to be a distance ball that has a urethane cover, which, as all insiders know, is the secret ingredient that causes the tour balls to spin way more than the distance balls. (Dave Pelz pointed this out several years ago, but until the 333 Tour, no one acted upon his observation.) Unfortunately, Cleveland/Srixon has indicated that it does not intend to offer the AD 333 Tour in the US – possibly because it thinks we ignorant Americans don’t know enough about golf balls to understand the difference.
In shopping for golf balls, you should pay zero attention to anything told you at your local pro shop or Golfsmith store. Many of these guys are excellent golfers, guys who can bomb it, but in my opinion they are uniformly clueless when it comes to the needs of the non-bomber class. Everything I have said in this post is something I have already said to a lot of club pros and a lot of Golf Galaxy and Golfsmith salespeople, and many find it interesting but it is clear that it represents stuff of which none of them had ever before heard or thought.