Ball Spin

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Golf ball spin is so often misunderstood; and for good reason. It can be awfully complicated. Things like physics, geometry, applied science, aerodynamics, force creationholy smokes, my head is spinning. I thought it might be a good idea to talk to a couple of really smart guys who both know golf ball design and function inside and out.
 
Brandon Sowell is the golf ball marketing manager for Bridgestone Golf. I asked Brandon what makes a golf ball spin?
 
There are many different variables that come in to play, Brandon told me. For the most part ball spin occurs because of the club head hitting the ball, of course. Brandon continues, How a ball spins has a lot to do with the loft on the club and the swing path the clubs takes to impact the ball. Then there is the material used in the construction of the ball itself. Different covers affect spin and therefore flight.
 
OK, I get that and Im sure you do as well. Lets continue our conversation with Mike Pai, vice president of sales and marketing for Srixon. I asked Mike about what types of balls from a construction standpoint are out there and how construction affects spin.
 
There are two main types of golf balls. Multi-layer (3-piece and 4-piece balls) and 2-piece products, Mike says. The multi-layer urethane segment is favored by better players and tour players because it features a soft cover which is the primary driver of spin control with irons and around the green. Most distance only balls are 2-piece construction balls with firmer covers. Typically speaking, continues Mike, more layers offer more degrees of freedom to control performance. In other words, the ideal ball has low spin with the driver but good spin with the irons and around the greens. With more layers you are able to accomplish this by varying things like mantle layer hardness and thickness, core compression, core size, etc.
 
I asked Brandon about golf ball spin characteristics relative to too much spin or too little spin. We also talked about dimples.
 
The spin characteristics of a golf ball will greatly affect how that golf ball flies through the air, said Brandon. Too much spin will cause the ball to up-shoot and therefore fall out of the sky faster. Insufficient spin means that the ball wont get up in the air enough and so it wont fly as far either. This all ties in to the aerodynamics of the ball and the dimple design. Brandon continues, There is significant R&D that goes in to dimple design optimizing not only the shape but the depth and number of dimples as well. A lot of people believe, incorrectly, that the number of dimples equals how high or low the ball is going to fly.
 
But its really all the factors of golf ball design that determine flight. If you change one variable you can completely change the flight and spin characteristics. So you really have to look at a golf ball as a whole rather than its parts and judge performance and spin characteristics taking all the variables in to account.
 
How about firmer golf balls versus softer golf balls? Mike Pai told me, Harder ionomer covers will provide less spin off of all clubs which is why they are used primarily in distance products. Softer covers like urethane provide more spin particularly with the irons and the wedges. Because you are closer to the green, you do not compress the ball as much and therefore the material is the driving force behind how much spin you get.
 
Brandon is of the mind that angle-of-attack in to the greens should be considered carefully when choosing a golf ball. A lot of people believe they want the highest spinning ball they can find for shots hit in to the green. This is not necessarily always the case, says Brandon. You have to figure out your desired angle of approach to the green. A golf ball that has high spin characteristics can fly a little lower in to the green but just because another golf ball has a lot less spin doesnt mean it is going to have less stopping power on the greens. The ball could be coming in at a much higher angle so it can stop just as quickly as a higher spinning ball.

With a better understanding of spin, it makes sense that getting fitted for a golf ball is just as important as getting fitted properly for clubs. Getting ball fitted is one of the best things you can do these days to improve your game, says Mike Pai. Decide how much spin you need to play your greenside shots and go from there. If you play soft conditions and dont need a lot of greenside spin, then go for a lower spinning product that you are more apt to hit longer distances. If you play firmer greens or you play for spin in your short game, find a product that works for you around the greens that also gives you the distance you need off the tee.
 
Its most interesting for me to see, with our TOUR players, how testing goes and what we learn and what the players learn from testing, Brandon told me. Ill give you Charles Howell as an example. We recently signed Charles and we were testing the B330 against the B330S. To see the actual results of the testing ' to see he spun the B330 a good bit more than he spun the B330S off the tee because the B330 is a firmer compression ' to see the consistency of the results with Charles was quite amazing. His launch monitor numbers were almost identical for every swing he made. And he made a lot of swings during testing.
 
It turned out that Charles was a little surprised by the results. He had been told for some time information not really in line with what these new test results were clearly showing, Brandon said. Namely, a firmer golf ball would spin less than a softer ball. Charles was quite amazed to see the data for himself. That, in fact, a softer golf ball would spin less for him. He ended up choosing the B330S to play with and this optimized his driver performance while still giving him the feel he was looking for. The best of both worlds for a guy with his club head speed.
 
If Charles Howell III didnt have the information exactly right, what chance do we have? Well, fortunately, we have a great deal of chance. Launch monitors, like the one used to test young Master Howell, have become much more readily available to regular golfers like you and me. Many retail stores and golf courses now have sophisticated launch monitors. With a qualified fitter at the helm you can collect data that can help you choose the right type of ball for your game. By not being properly fitted ' in essence, not understanding how your ball is spinning ' could be robbing you of precious distance as well as control around the greens.
 
Finally, I asked Brandon to once and for all debunk the softer ball, harder ball spin confusion so even I could understand it. There is a tremendous amount of stress applied to the golf ball when hit by a driver swung at even medium swing speeds, Brandon told me. Most people have seen the super slow motion photography used to capture driver-on-ball impact. You see the golf ball flatten or deform. Heres the deal. The more the ball deforms, the less it is going to spin off the club face. The less it deforms, or the harder the ball is, the more spin it is going to have.
 
I think my head is spinning a little less now thanks to Brandon Sowell and Mike Pai.
 

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