Nike Talks About Tigers Ball

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Editors Note: Rock Ishii is Nike Golfs product development director for golf balls. He was born in Tokyo, Japan and has a Masters degree in mechanical engineering from the Nagaoka Technical Institute University in Miata, Japan. Immediately after college Rock worked for Bridgestone Sports in sports research. He joined Nike Golf in 2002. Rock is responsible for all golf ball research and development at Nike Golf; from product concept work, to the marketing and sales team, product development, working closely with the vendor team and the R&D team. Rock is married and has three children: two sons, 12 and 8, and a 5-year-old daughter.
 
A Conversation with Rock Ishii
 
Casey / Q:
Rock, what ball does Tiger play and why is he playing it?
 
Rock / A:
Tiger plays the ONE Platinum 2008. This is the ball we launched on February 1st of this year. Tiger is always looking for total performance out of his golf ball. The distance is certainly important. However, even more than distance, Tiger values performance on his approach shots in to the green and short game performance around and on the green.
 
Casey / Q:
And he is also very much a worker of the ball, isnt he?
 
Rock / A:
Very much so. Tiger likes to work the ball so he is playing a ball that fits his eye in terms of trajectory. Tiger moves the ball a lot; right to left, left to right, high and low. The ONE Platinum is not designed to be the longest ball on the market. It is designed to be the number one total performance ball on the market.
 
Casey / Q:
What are some things people should think about when they look to choose a golf ball?
 
Rock / A:
There are a couple of key things involved when you are trying to figure out what kind of ball to play. First of all, ask yourself what the weakest part of your game is. Take my game, for example. Shooting 81 or 79, well, thats a huge difference, right? Wed always rather break 80 if we can. Those two shots, I can almost guarantee, are shots that I lose on the green or around the green. And most golfers are going to tell you the same thing. I didnt chip it close enough to get up-and-down, or, I missed a putt that I should have made. Well, the ONE Platinum is designed to help players manage the feel part of their game. Its the ultimate scoring ball in my opinion.
 
Casey / Q:
The last time I looked, golf was a game of score not how far did I hit that last drive.
 
Rock / A:
Exactly. This I believe very strongly in. Making birdie or saving par and going to the next hole with momentum, you cant get any better than the ONE Platinum for that scenario. How many times have we seen Tiger with an amazing par save and then go to the next hole and birdie? All the time we see that. And that is game management, premium feel around and on the green, controlling trajectory on approach shots; the ONE Platinum is a ball that answers all these demands and thats why Tiger plays the ball.
 
Casey / Q:
What is another important factor in selecting a golf ball?
 
Rock / A:
Swing path and angle of attack is also a huge factor in determining what kind of ball to use. Many of the college players you see today have tons of power but their angle of attack in to the ball is very steep. Much steeper certainly than Tiger who has a relatively shallow angle of attack. These college players, or players who are generating a lot of spin, should play the ONE Black, not the ONE Platinum. If you cant manage spin well, you want a ball that spins less. And relatively speaking, ONE Black spins less than ONE Platinum. And with optimum launch conditions, the ONE Black is a little bit of a longer ball than the ONE Platinum. Now, dont get me wrong. The ONE Black is still a urethane covered golf ball so it spins plenty well around the green and there is ample control with the ONE Black. It just doesnt spin quite as much as ONE Platinum.
 
Casey / Q:
What is Tigers point of view on spin?
 
Rock / A:
Tiger has told me on countless occasions that you must be able to manage the spin of a golf ball. When he talks about managing spin he is talking about reducing unwanted spin, especially on full shots, and yet still having all the spin he wants around the greens. So the ONE Platinum ball is ideal for this type of player. Tiger can hit the ONE Black farther, but he doesnt really need to hit it farther, does he? No. He hits it plenty far already. He wants the ultimate control over his golf ball and the ONE Platinum is designed for the total performance he is looking for.
 
Casey / Q:
Are your TOUR players custom fit for golf balls the same way they are custom fit for clubs?
 
Rock / A:
Custom fitting has become critical in terms of helping our TOUR players maximize their performance on the golf course. And the custom fitting process involves all of their equipment including ball and clubs. Loft, lie, shaft type, shaft length, overall weight, swing weight, style of clubthese are important factors. The golf ball is just as important as any club in the bag. In fact, many TOUR players believe the golf ball is their most important piece of equipment. We work so hard with our TOUR staff ' going through all 14 clubs in their bag, even putter ' to determine which of our balls they are going to play. Our players go through comprehensive launch monitor testing to help determine if they are better off playing ONE Platinum or ONE Black. Once we zero in on that, we are able to tweak their clubs until the launch monitor numbers are optimized. By the time the process is finished we are satisfied, and the player is satisfied, that they are playing the right ball. Its a very intense and detailed process but it is worth it to get the performance they are looking for.
 
Casey / Q:
Whats your thought process when it comes to helping them select a ball?
 
Rock / A:
Even TOUR players have strengths and weaknesses. Its all relative, of course. But you know as you go down the list of TOUR players you will say certain players are great drivers of the ball, some players hit excellent iron shots, some players have remarkable short games and some players are famous for their putting skill. So, just like I would ask an amateur player to acknowledge the weakest part of their game, I ask our TOUR players to do the same thing. Then we try and get them in to the ball that helps to increase the strength of the weakest part of their game.
 
Casey / Q:
And you are probably always working with the issue of distance versus control?
 
Rock / A:
This is very true. If a player crushes the ball off the tee and distance is no problem, but, that same player is way down in the greens-in-regulation stat, or maybe the up-and-down stat, or putting stat, we are going to help that player in to a ball that is going to help their short game. They already crush the ball. What do they care about three or four or six more yards for? No. They want to score better. They require more help from the ball in terms of spin, trajectory management and feel around the greens. That is a candidate for the ONE Platinum. If, however, a player is hurting for distance, they will usually gravitate towards the ONE Black.
 
Casey / Q:
What is the break down of ONE Platinum versus ONE Black on your TOUR staff?
 
Rock / A:
This year with our TOUR staff it is about 50/50 in terms of ONE Black players and ONE Platinum players. Last year, and I dont know why, about seventy percent of the players were playing ONE Platinum. I find this to be an interesting statistic.
 
Casey / Q:
While you design golf balls for the best players in the world, there is a lot that goes in to making golf balls for recreational players as well. What are your thoughts on this?
 
Rock / A:
We design golf balls for a target consumer. That target consumer might be Tiger Woods and it might be your Uncle Bob who is a 27-handicap golfer. We take in to account many, many different variables of a persons game to come up with the design platform we use for golf balls. A high handicap golfer who plays maybe once a month, are they really concerned with great spin around the greens? Or are they looking to keep the ball in the fairway, maybe hit it a little longer, and play a reasonable round of golf? Its the latter, of course.
 
Casey / Q:
You are referring to the Karma and the Juice?
 
Rock / A:
Yes. The Karma model ball and the Juice model ball are designed for the recreational golfer. With these golf balls, we are looking to get rid of any extra spin; the spin that isnt needed to get the golf ball to fly properly. Especially side spin. We dont want the recreational player to have to fight a ball that has a tendency to hook or slice easily. We want to help the recreational golfer with a ball that tends to fly straighter. But a recreational ball, like Karma and like Juice, still has to have just the right spin characteristics because the correct amount of spin is what optimizes carry distance. Its finding the happy medium between distance and feel that is the challenging part of designing a golf ball for recreational use or for the higher handicap player.
 
Casey / Q:
I dont know too many recreational golfers that arent trying to get more distance.
 
Rock / A:
We agree with you. And, speaking honestly, we tend to concentrate more on helping recreational players optimize distance with their longer clubs in our recreational line of golf balls because a high handicap golfers sensitivity around the greens is no where near as critical as for a better player. As long as they are playing with the same kind of ball for a round of golf ' a Karma or a Juice, for example ' they will get used to how the ball performs on chip shots and off the putter face. But since most amateur golfers, and especially higher handicap players are hurting for distance, we put a premium on designing distance in to our recreational use golf balls.
 
Casey / Q:
Whats the difference between Karma and Juice?
 
Rock / A:
Karma is designed for slower swing speed players ' players who swing even less than 90 mph. Juice is designed for 90 mph and above swing speed.
 
Casey / Q:
OK, Rock, enough about the rest of us. Lets get back to Tiger. Why the ONE Platinum for Tiger?
 
Rock / A:
The ONE Platinum is designed for Tiger Woods. Plain and simple. However, the concept of that design is based on the principal of optimal launch conditions. Its the ultimate technology in a golf ball. And as such, the ONE Platinum can be played successfully by, and is played successfully by many, many amateur players as well. As I stated before, the ONE Platinum is the ultimate total performance golf ball. Tiger can play any ball in the world he wants to play. He chooses to play this ballthe ONE Platinum. Hes not doing it to be nice to us or to be a good guy. Hes playing the ball because it performs up to his expectations and he wins with it.
 
Casey / Q:
What approach do you take to managing your own game when it comes to golf balls?
 
Rock / A:
Here is something that I have learned to do over the years. I change my ball depending on what course I am going to play or based on what the weather or climate is like. For example, if I play a 6,500 yard course I am going to use the ONE Platinum. I am not a long hitter but I hit it long enough so that on a little bit shorter of a course I am going to look for optimal touch around the greens. If I play a 7,000 yard course I am going to play with the ONE Black because I need the extra distance off the tee and with my longer clubs. I will still get plenty of feel around the greens but I like the extra distance. If it is very cold, I am going to play the Karma ball because as a lower compression golf ball it will still fly plenty far even though it is cold. I dont think too many TOUR players are changing balls like this. But, this is something I do as a recreational player and I find it helps me play better.
 
Casey / Q:
How different are golf balls now, one to another?
 
Rock / A:
Golf balls are made to very exacting specifications these days. There arent too many bad golf balls out there anymore. If you hit a modern day golf ball ' I dont care who makes it ' right on the center of the club you are going pull optimal performance out of that ball. Its not like golf ball A is ten yards shorter than golf ball B. When you see one ball is much longer or shorter than another ball it is because of human error. A faulty golf swing. A hitting error. Each golf ball we design is designed with a true performance concept in mind. And, if that ball is hit properly, its going to fly very well. This business about a ball being 15 yards longer or 20 yards longer and so on, no I dont believe that. All the leading companies have terrific technology today and the distance is built in to most modern balls right up to the limits set by the USGA.
 
Casey / Q:
So, the choice is a personal one?
 
Rock / A:
Its all about your own personal preference and your game management. Finding the right ball for your game is the most important thing. That ball very well might be the ONE Platinum, the ball played by Tiger Woods. Your spin numbers might match up perfectly for that ball even though you dont develop any where near the club head speed that Tiger does. Or, you may be perfectly satisfied by the Karma ball or the Juice ball. Its what the launch monitor numbers tell you and what you experience when you go out and play.
 
Casey / Q:
Final thoughts, Rock?
 
Rock / A:
People think about Tigers golf ball and thats great. We want people to think about what ball Tiger is using. Hes the greatest player in the world and we are proud to make the ball he uses. And we love people to purchase and play that ball. But, dont think in terms of only distance. Because that is not what the ONE Platinum ball was designed to do. It was designed as a total performance ball. If you are looking for pure distance there are many other options from Nike Golf in our golf ball line for pure distance. Thats a point I feel strongly about making. Tiger can hit other balls in our line longer, however, he is not seeking purely distance. He is seeking and he is playing a ball that satisfies every aspect of his game. This is an important distinction in my opinion. So, the ONE Platinum might be the perfect golf ball for you as well. But stay open minded about selecting a golf ball and try to pick one that helps strengthen the weakest part of your game.
 
Casey / Q:
Rock, thank you for your time today.
 
Rock / A:
Casey, thank you. It was a pleasure speaking with you.
 
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