QA Choosing the Right Ball

RSS

Editor's Note: This is the latest in a weekly Q&A feature from GOLF CHANNEL's Chief Technical Advisor Frank Thomas. To submit a question for possible use in this column, email letsbefrank@franklygolf.com
 
Frank,
What are the key ingredients to ball selection? I would like to play the right ball consistently. Do I need to know my swing speed, etc.? I am 57 and a 14 handicap, but agree with you on lessons as opposed to buying new equipment, even though I do have a club fetish.
 
Thank you.
--Mike

 
Andy Bean
Andy Bean asks about square grooves on 'Ask Frank,' Monday at 11:00 p.m. ET on GC. (Wire Image)
Frank,
I have always enjoyed your comments and I have been an email subscriber to your newsletter for many months. Thank you.
 
When I was younger and played to a single digit handicap, I purchased the most expensive, top-of-the-line branded golf balls. Now that I am older (and perhaps wiser) I resist buying balls that cost $4 or $5 each. I find that by shopping carefully, I can buy name brand golf balls for $1 to $1.50 each. Admittedly, these are never the absolute top-of-the-line balls, but they are often manufactured and marketed by the same companies. Also, as an 18 handicapper, I don't notice the difference and I have yet to retire a ball because I have hit it out of round or worn it out.
 
I know Titleist, Nike and the rest want me to play the same ball as Phil, Tiger and the other touring pros, but it just doesn't seem worth it. What do you think?
--Ted

 
Dear Mike and Ted,
Mike, I know that using the correct ball is a major concern to many golfers, and Im going to try to give you a thorough answer here. Ive also included Teds letter here, because hes noticed something important, i.e., that most of the name brand balls in the marketplace today are all very good balls, which is different from how it was 30 years ago, when there was much more variation between balls ' even between balls made by the same manufacturer. I am certain that if Jack Nicklaus had played with a better ball in the mid to late 1970s, he would have won several more majors.
 
In the mid-'70s, to verify that all balls being used on tour were the same as those submitted to me at the USGA, I collected balls from tour sites. I got some MacGregor balls directly from Jack's bag and found some of them veered off line by as much as 15 to 20 yards when tested using the mechanical golfer. Re-tests proved that the first unbelievable test results were correct. I couldnt tell Jack about those results at the time, but he figured out there was a problem and soon changed to a Titleist ball and went on to win four more majors.
 
Today, we wouldnt get such erratic results; balls have improved significantly. There are basically two different grades of balls: Premium balls, designed primarily for the elite golfer, and those balls designed for average golfers, who have handicaps greater than about 5 or slower swing speeds than the elite golfers.
 
The premium balls generally have three or four layers in their construction and are designed to spin and give great control to those of us who can -- or think we can -- apply high spin to the ball around the greens. These balls also perform well at driver impact speeds above 90 mph. The downside to these balls is that they are very expensive, ranging from $35 to $55 a dozen.
 
Balls designed for lower swing speeds may not have the same spin properties around the green, but most of us need to get close to the green first. Theyre a better choice for those of us who arent as worried about stopping the ball short of the hole as we are about getting it down the fairway. These balls are more efficient for lower swing speeds, have sufficient spin around the greens for most of our needs, and cost about half the price of the premium version from the same company.
 
Below are a few examples of the higher priced Premium balls for generally faster swing speeds and good playing skills, and the lower priced balls for the rest of us. This is only a partial listing, but its good for starters. As far as quality is concerned, both categories provide excellent results in all the brands.
 
Premium Balls:
Callaway: HX Tour; HX 56
Maxfli: Black Max
Nike: ONE Platinum; ONE Black
Precept: Tour Premium LS; U-Tri
Srixon: Z-URC
Titleist: Pro V1; ProV1x
TaylorMade: TP Red; TP Black
 
Good Quality Balls For the Rest of Us
Callaway: HX HOT; HX Pearl; Big Bertha
Maxfli: Noodle; Red Max
Nike: Juice 312; Power Lady
Pinnacle: Power Core; Gold
Titleist: DT Solo; NXT Tour; NXT
 
Mike and Ted, go ahead and use the bottom list to make your selection and thereafter don't give it another thought. It is highly unlikely that you will be able to tell any differences in performance between the balls on this list, they are all about as good as they can get.
 
Because we think we are better than we really are, we are always tempted to go for the premium balls. The problem in doing this is that generally only your wallet will show any effects. However, the confidence factor you gain from spending more money just might make up for the yards you lose on your drives as the balls back up on the greens. The other secret Ive learned is that the more expensive balls are better they listen, particularly once theyre in flight, so dont forget to talk to them.
 
Hope this helps, and that my little story about Jack gives an insight as to how good he really was.
 
Frank
 
Frank,
Thank you for your time in producing your column; I enjoy receiving it and always learn something valuable.I seem to be much more accurate and consistent using a persimmon wood with a steel shaft rather than a metal / graphite combination. Is there any advantage for some golfers to stick with the older style woods?
 
Thank you,
--Dale

 
Dale,
Thanks for your comments. With regard to your wooden driver and steel shaft, I hate to say this, but even though you have made a good friend in your persimmon driver, it is time to consider a change.
 
You really are putting yourself at a disadvantage as far as distance and accuracy is concerned. On the other hand, if you are happy with the distance and accuracy you are now getting and dont wish to improve either of these, then dont change anything. There is nothing better than having confidence in your equipment.
 
If you want to get more distance, then the best thing to do is try out a new (2005 to 2007 model) titanium driver. They all have about the same technology, so a new one is not essential in your case.
 
Because you are now using, and happy with, your wooden driver, you must be hitting it somewhere close to the sweet spot. If you do the same using a 400 cc to 460 cc titanium driver with a high COR (Click here) and you launch the ball at an angle of 12 degrees or higher, then you will gain from 10 to 15 yards immediately.
 
As far as accuracy is concerned, be sure not to install a shaft that is too long. A driver more than 44 inches in length will only add to stray shots. Your persimmon driver with the steel shaft is probably 43 to 43 inches long. If you would like to swing faster with less effort, then try a graphite shaft. There are a number of good shafts that dont cost too much.
 
Your accuracy will also improve with a bigger driver head than the 200 cc persimmon driver you now have because it has a higher MOI (Click here).
 
Dale, the time has come to upgrade, as there are no advantages in continuing to use your persimmon driver. Sorry to have to tell you this especially if it means getting rid of an old friend, but it really is in your best interest.
 
Frank
 
Frank,
As I understand Coriolis force, it acts on objects flying over the earth's surface, deflecting them perpendicular to their path and dependent on latitude and groundspeed, and that it is opposite in the northern hemisphere than in the southern latitudes. Since golf balls travel over the earth's surface, even for a short duration, wouldn't Coriolis force act on the ball as well? Is the effect so minute that it isn't worth considering? Or would slicers be better off playing in one hemisphere than another? ;-)
--Tom

 
Tom,
Thank you for this question, the answer to which I am sure will be of great interest to many golfers. Many people believe that the Coriolis Effect is what makes the toilet flush in a circular motion that runs counter-clockwise in the States, but clockwise in South Africa.
 
The flush swirl direction is actually more a function of the toilet design than the Coriolis Effect. The Effect does, however, affect wind direction somewhat. It deflects winds to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and left in the Southern Hemisphere. This is what dictates the rotational direction of hurricanes in the north and cyclones down under.
 
Yes, it is true that all else being equal, the ball will fade in the Northern Hemisphere and draw in the Southern Hemisphere because of the Coriolis Effect. Your putts may also be affected. So at last we know the reason that the ball does what it does when we wanted it to do something else.
 
If you slice, the answer to your swing problem is not to visit your swing doctor, but rather to play all your golf south of the equator. And if youre determined to hit a straight ball without this outside influence, the equator is the place to play.
 
As much as we would like to blame the effect named after the French scientist Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis, unfortunately at its worst it may account for only fractions of an inch in the longest drives -- but don't let this stop you from blaming 'Cori' for the unintended result in the flight of the ball.
 
So go ahead and hit it flush, and dont worry too much about Coriolis, the phases of the moon, or solar winds. But we golfers are all grateful to you, Tom, for a novel way to let ourselves off the hook for our imperfections.
 
Frank
 
Click to purchase the Frog PutterFrank Thomas, inventor of the graphite shaft, is founder of Frankly Golf, a company dedicated to Helping Golfers. Frank is Chief Technical Advisor to The Golf Channel and Golf Digest. He served as Technical Director of the USGA for 26 years and directed the development of the GHIN System and introduced the Stimpmeter to the world of golf. To email a question for possible use in an upcoming Let's Be Frank column, please email letsbefrank@franklygolf.com