You can feel and see the performance difference between golf balls. Honest

Golf balls at the 2018 U.S. Open David Dusek/Golfweek

You can feel and see the performance difference between golf balls. Honest

Equipment

You can feel and see the performance difference between golf balls. Honest

Maybe it was the wine, or perhaps it was the relaxed atmosphere after a good meal, but last week I heard a knowledgeable, experienced golfer express an idea that breaks my heart.

“I’ve gotta tell you, the guys in my Saturday morning group and I have talked about it, and we can’t really tell the difference from one golf ball to another,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

Unfortunately, even among many good players such as this person, the sentiment is far too common. Today’s balls feature two-, three-, four- and even five-layer constructions, with some having Surlyn covers and others sporting urethane covers. Some balls have low compressions and others have high compressions, and nearly every ball has a unique dimple pattern.

Yet many golfers cling to the cliché that golf balls are just white, round and found on the ground. It’s not true, but most players don’t test golf balls and compare performance from different models, so they don’t know.

Wilson Staff Duo Professional golf balls

Wilson Staff Duo Professional golf balls (Wilson)

Several new balls recently arrived in pro shops, including the Wilson Staff Duo Professional, the Srixon Q-Star Tour and Titleist AVX. If history repeats itself, we can expect updates to Titleist’s Pro V1 and Pro V1x in late January, as well as updates to TaylorMade’s TP5 and TP5x.

Srixon Q-Star Tour ball

Srixon’s Q-Star Tour ball has a three-piece design and and a core that gradually gets firmer. (Srixon)

The only way to learn which ball provides you with the perfect combination of distance off the tee, performance from the fairway and greenside spin at a price that fits your budget is to test them.

Three things to consider before you start testing:

1. Create a system. Michael Mahoney, Titleist’s vice president of golf ball marketing, told me once that most recreational players struggle when comparing four or five balls at the same time, but comparing two balls to each other is a lot easier. So instead of trying several balls in a single test, create a bracket-style tournament of all the balls you are considering. Pit Ball A against Ball B, Ball C against Ball D, then test the winners against each other.

Titleist balls

Titleist balls made at a plant in Fairhaven, Mass. (Tracy Wilcox/Golfweek)

2. Test from the green first, then back to the tees. Differences between balls most typically are revealed on chips, pitches and shortgame shots, because different cover materials and designs produce different rates of spin. For this reason, you should start ball testing with putts to see how the balls sound with your putter, then hit a series of shots around the green to see if one ball provides you improved control and feel.

Moving into the fairway, hit a series of short irons, then long irons. Differences in dimple patterns and core compositions can make some balls more aerodynamic and work through wind more efficiently.

The last area of your game to test is performance off the tee. Some balls help create a lower launch angle with less spin off your driver, while others offer more lift and carry.

3. Simulators are great for testing in cold climates. If local courses are closed for the season, consider heading to an indoor facility and testing in a simulator. You won’t be able to hit out of rough with your wedges, but the driving range mode available in nearly all simulators provides launch angle, spin rate, ball speed and other valuable information on every shot. You can discover things such as which ball creates the most spin with a full-swing wedge, the most height with your irons and the lowest spin off the tee.

In mid-November, Justin Thomas took to Instagram to thank Titleist PGA Tour reps for coming to Jupiter, Fla., and helping his test golf balls for seven hours.

You may not have J.T.’s sensitivity or his membership at The Bear’s Club, but you can feel and see the difference between two golf balls and discover which will help your game most.

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