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Are people crazy for repeatedly paying up to four dollars for a thing they usually lose? Or are they just golfers?
 
When you think about it, every season we blithely pony up many dollars per dozen for golf balls. For most of us, those balls wind up in woods, water or worse before the end of their useful lives. But we keep buying, making golf balls the game's No. 1 consumable. In no other recreational sport do players burn through the primary item so quickly.
 
But we need something to put in the hole, so pay we do. There's always the cynical element that believes golf ball manufacturers gouge us, but having seen the design and manufacturing processes close up several times, I can tell you that's not the case. Golf balls are high tech, top secret, labor intensive orbs. The more you understand them, the better equipped you are to match one to your game.
 
Let's review some of the factors that might influence your buying decisions:
 
CORE
 
Well, that's thecenter of the issue, if you will. Modern golf ball cores are made of rubber mixes that have been fine-tuned to produce a certain kind of behavior when struck. Yes, they all bound away from the thing that hits them we have Newton to thank for that but within the microscopic world of rubber molecules, some recipes spring away harder and faster than others. The trade-offs are control and feel. You get to determine where on that spectrum you want to fall based on what suits your game. As with drivers, we're back to trial and error again.
 
COVER
 
Some years ago, Bill Morgan, Titleist's chief golf ball scientist, held up before us journalists a translucent mass of dried goo. It had some twigs and debris stuck in it. In his other hand he held up a slightly cleaner mass of goo.
 
'This,' he said, elevating the clean goo, 'is just as good as this,' and here he raised the twiggy glue. The twiggy stuff was natural balata from Malaysia; the clean stuff synthetic balata. Morgan's message: Synthetics are nothing to fear.
 
Now that we've moved past balata, that's truer than ever. As a matter of fact, synthetic cover materials are to be embraced. They have made the 'golf ball smile' an anachronism, kind of like metal spikes, but even more so. Balls are now uncuttable, for all intents and purposes.
 
But they do so much more than avoid scuffs. Cover materials such as Surlyn, urethane, and others now offer a range of feel choices as well. Covers that can deliver spin while encasing a hot rubber core have turned to old distance versus feel spectrum over on itself. Now you don't necessarily have to give up one to get the other. Try a bunch; see what works.
 
TWO PIECE, THREE PIECE OR MORE PIECE?
 
The outside of the club affects the flight of the ball: Golf clubs are the epitome of visible technology. The inside of the golf ball influences how it flies: Golf balls are the essence of invisible technology. White, dimpled, round. How do we tell them apart?
 
Well, minus the equator markings, we have construction. A two-piece might be best if you want the biggest rubber core you can get, for maximum power. A three-piece or four-piece may be better if you need feel benefits but want to preserve some distance. Again, read the boxes, get advice, and try 'em out. But
 
TOSS THE MYTHS
 
A certain kind of ball might not be made for your kind of player. So what? If it works for you, or you simply like it, play it. It's your game, and your dollars.
 
THE ICED TEA EFFECT
 
This is what I call the confusion that inevitably comes upon anyone who approaches a wall of dozen boxes in the pro shop. There are so many choices, it's like choosing from the multitudes of flavored teas at the convenience store cooler. Some people cop out and head for the bottled water.
 
Don't let this happen to you. The road to a good match with a golf ball is trial. If you're not sure, buy a sleeve first instead of a dozen. But forge ahead. Play, feel, test, enjoy. You're your own best golf scientist. Hit away.
 
But don't lose 'em. Not too quickly, anyway.
 
Here's a chart to help you shop:
 
Ball Chart
 
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