Titleist preaches green-to-tee for ball selection
At last week's Shell Houston Open, Titleist says 101 players in the 156-man field – or 65 percent – used a Titleist Pro V1 or Pro V1x golf ball. Among the users were champion D.A. Points and runners-up Henrik Stenson and Billy Horschel, punctuating the level of usage on the PGA Tour that is replicated nearly every week.
But in some ways such success makes Fordie Pitts' job uniquely challenging. As Titleist's tour consultant for golf ball research and development, Pitts works with pros to help them find the perfect blend of distance off the tee and control around the greens. He addresses their needs either with a three-piece Pro V1 or the four-piece Pro V1x.
When it comes time to fit them into new golf balls, like the 2013 Titleist Pro V1 and Pro V1x, Pitts has a lot of experience and history to draw upon because of Titleist's relationship with so many Tour players.
"We know what their launch conditions are and we know the shots that the players like to hit," he says. "We know what they have been playing and what they like and don't like. When we fit guys for a new ball, we want to give them something that we know will be close to what they are looking for."
Preliminary prototype testing of the balls that became the 2013 Pro V1 and Pro V1x started at the 2011 Players Championship, but the process of working with players and fitting them into the new balls started last summer. While some golfers, like Geoff Ogilvy, prefer to test and fit themselves at home, Pitts played a role in nearly every player's decision-making process. He knows that there's a lot more to finding the ideal golf ball than hitting shots while using a launch monitor.
"Launch monitors are good when you are working with a young kid or someone you haven't worked with before because you can see tendencies, like whether or not a guy is a high-spin player or low-spin player," he says. "But ultimately we're going to go out on the golf course and hit shots under different conditions and see how the ball flies and reacts."
Pitts also says that players want to see a new ball create shots that they are used to seeing – and if it doesn't, they won't switch.
"Where the ball flies is huge with these guys," Pitts says. "If they hit a shot and look up and are used to seeing the ball in a certain spot, and it's not there, then there's a good chance they probably are not going to that ball."
It's such on-course feedback that Pitts values the most.
Though amateur players commonly select golf balls primarily based on driver performance, Pitts' philosophy focuses on working from the green back to the tee. He wants a golfer, for example, to evaluate: the way the ball sounds when it's putted, its reaction on chips; its spin rate on full-wedge shots. Only then does he start to consider full shots and drivers.
The pros may get dozens of free balls placed in their locker every week, but some are not eager to get fitted for newly released balls.
"A lot of these guys don't like to change, and product lifecycles are short these days," Pitts says.
Pitts acknowledges some players continue to use previous versions of the Pro V1 and Pro V1x for specific performance reasons. He says that when you are dealing with hundreds of golfers on the PGA Tour, European Tour, Web.com Tour and LPGA Tour, it's difficult to please everyone. Sometimes, timing is everything.
"There are many cases of guys not being ready mentally for the change or not wanting to switch away to something different because they're playing well," he says. "But at the same time, this is their livelihood and they're out here trying to win and improve and get better. How can you not look at a product and see if it's going to be better? While the product that you've got may be great, how do you know this new one isn't better if you don't do some due diligence."