15 years after introduction, Pro V1 still going strong

By Al TaysOctober 22, 2015, 4:12 pm

The 2000 PGA Tour season was winding down in October. Tiger Woods was the story of the year, with wins in the U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship. Whether Woods could make it four majors in a row was a question that wouldn’t be answered until the following April at Augusta.

As the leaves turned color, the Tour’s traveling show pulled into Las Vegas for the Invensys Classic. Only eight events paid more than the Invensys’ $4,250,000 total purse and $765,000 first-place money: the three U.S.-based majors, three World Golf Championship events, The Players Championship and the Tour Championship. But the five-round Invensys’ mid-October dates put it up against postseason baseball, plus regular-season NASCAR, college football and the NFL, so national interest in golf was on its annual wane.

On the practice ranges and fairways of the three courses used for the Invensys, it was a different story. A new golf ball was about to be put into play by Titleist. Players and company representatives knew this ball was different, but they couldn’t have known how profoundly the Pro V1 would change the game.

Bill Morgan, senior vice president for Titleist golf ball research and development, remembers being impressed by how many players switched to the new model. “Forty-seven players, or over half of all the Titleist players in the field, immediately put the new Pro V1 in play,” he said.

One of those players was Billy Andrade, who shot all five rounds in the 60s to win by one shot over Phil Mickelson, who also was playing a Pro V1. Andrade later said the win “resurrected my career.”

But ball counts and one player’s career revival do not a revolution make. Over the next 15 years, the Pro V1 (and its later-developed cousin, the Pro V1x) tightened the already-tight grip that Titleist held on the ball market, and were part of a PGA Tour distance explosion that shook the game to its core, producing unheard-of driving stats and sending course owners and their architects scrambling to find locations for new, (farther) back tees.

While the usual suspects (hello, Jack Nicklaus) called for limits on distance, targeting not only the golf ball but “hot,” thin-face drivers, too, Tour players were only too happy to employ a ball that went far and stopped fast.

It should be noted here that the Pro V1 was not the first ball of its kind, i.e., a solid-core, multilayer ball that combined the distance characteristics of previous solid-core balls with the spin and feel of liquid-core, wound, balata balls. Mark O’Meara won the 1998 Masters using a solid-core Strata ball made by Top-Flite. Woods switched from a wound Titleist ball to a solid-core Nike ball shortly before he won the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 shots. After the introduction of the Pro V1, Bridgestone and Callaway filed patent-infringement lawsuits against Acushnet, Titleist’s parent company. Settlements were reached in all cases.

Titleist, however, was the unquestioned big cheese among golf ball makers. More Tour pros use Titleist balls than any other brand, and the company is the leading seller of golf balls as well. So, when more than half of the Titleist players in the Invensys field switched to Pro V1s, the industry took notice. And when 42 of 45 Titleist players in the 2001 Masters field teed up a Pro V1, the rout was on. Titleist had originally planned to introduce the ball to the retail market in March 2001, but moved that date up to December 2000 because of the favorable initial response. Within four months, the Pro V1 was the best-selling golf ball on the market.

The ball’s impact has been felt on both the pro and consumer fronts:

• According to Titleist, two out of every three golfers across the major worldwide pro tours play the Pro V1 or Pro V1x, more than five times the nearest competitor.

• According to Golf Datatech, through September 2015, the Pro V1 has been the best-selling golf ball in the marketplace for 175 consecutive months.

“The Pro V1 responded to the changing nature of the game,” said Mary Lou Bohn, vice president, golf ball marketing and Titleist communications.  “The arrival of the power game on the Tour necessitated golf balls that delivered very low spin in the long game, while maintaining the spin, feel and control of the premium liquid-center, wound-technology golf balls.”

When hit with a driver, the solid-core Pro V1 spun less than a liquid-core balata ball, so it tended to hook and slice less. When stuck with an iron, especially a short iron, the Pro V1 spun more and stopped quicker.

The arrival of the Pro V1 was the death knell for wound, liquid-core balata balls, which had ruled the highest levels of golf for decades. Fifty-nine of the 95 competitors in the 2000 Masters used a wound ball. A year later, only four did.

Today, good luck finding a wound ball in a tournament (or anyplace other than maybe eBay, for that matter). But Pro V1s? They’re everywhere.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.