Science of proper golf ball fitting starts with short game

A Titleist ball fitting. (Titleist) Titleist

Science of proper golf ball fitting starts with short game

Equipment

Science of proper golf ball fitting starts with short game

Golf balls look similar. Most are white, covered with dimples, stamped with a company’s name and a 1, 2, 3 or 4. But modern golf balls blend chemical engineering, advanced aerodynamics and the latest manufacturing techniques to produce differences in feel, performance and price.

The percentage of golfers who get custom fit for drivers and irons is inching higher, Meanwhile, few players take the time to fit themselves for golf balls. Though a debate rages if today’s ball flies too far when the pros strike it, at the consumer level, too many golfers still think a ball is just a ball.

“More often than not, golfers who say that they cannot feel the difference between golf balls have never tried to do a side-by-side comparison,” said Mike Rich, Titleist’s golf ball fitting manager. “They’ve never tried to hit a variety of shots with two different models.

“What we have seen is that, regardless of your handicap, during prototype testing golfers can pick up performance differences that we build into balls. It’s not about skilled players versus non-skilled players; even non-skilled players who take the time to compare balls can feel the differences.”

Corey Newman, Callaway’s manager of custom-fitting and training, agreed that golfers of different ability levels could feel differences among balls. Different types of players often want different things from a ball, he said.

“Better players who have a low handicap and who are solid ballstrikers tend to look for a ball that performs in all facets of the game,” Newman said. “As you get into higher handicaps and players with slow swings, players start to look for something that is going to help them hit it a little bit farther, but they may also want the benefits of a low spin ball because they can hit it a little bit straighter.”

It may be counterintuitive, but the worst place to compare golf balls is on the tee.

“First, you are only going to hit your driver, at most, 14 times in a round,” Rich said. “Second, golf balls are more similar than they are different off the driver. Where they really differentiate themselves is on shots into and around the green.”

The pros are well of aware of this, which is why at team competitions such as the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, it is common in Foursomes (alternate shot) matches for a player to tee off on a par 4 or par 5 using his partner’s golf ball. Teams want the golfer who will be hitting into the green to hit his own ball, and when the condition of competition commonly referred to as the One Ball Rule is not in effect, this is perfectly legal.

The best way to test golf balls is head-to-head and on the golf course, but differentiating between four or five different balls at once is tricky. Instead, buy a 3-pack sleeve of two models you want to compare, then have a bracket-style tournament between them.

As you play a round with your current ball, drop two of your golf balls and two balls you are considering next to a green and chip them. On the next hole, drop the balls at the 100-yard mark and hit approach shots. Repeat the exercise from different areas on the course, and at the end of your round one ball probably will outshine the other. If you keep repeating this exercise with all the golf balls in your consideration set, removing the losers and pitting the balls you prefer against each other, eventually you will find your perfect ball.  Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the Jan. 28, 2019 issue of Golfweek.)

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