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15 years after introduction, Pro V1 still going strong

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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.