15 years after introduction, Pro V1 still going strong

By Al TaysOctober 22, 2015, 4:12 pm

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.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”

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Reed's major record now a highlight, not hindrance

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The narrative surrounding Patrick Reed used to be that he could play well in the Ryder Cup but not the majors.

So much for that.

Reed didn’t record a top-10 in his first 15 starts in a major, but he took the next step in his career by tying for second at the 2017 PGA Championship. He followed that up with a breakthrough victory at the Masters, then finished fourth at the U.S. Open after a closing 68.

He’s the only player with three consecutive top-4s in the majors.

What’s the difference now?

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“The biggest thing is I treat them like they’re normal events,” he said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I’ve always gone into majors and put too much pressure on myself, having to go play well, having to do this or that. Now I go in there and try to play golf and keep in the mindset of, Hey, it’s just another day on the golf course. Let’s just go play.

“I’ve been able to stay in that mindset the past three, and I’ve played pretty well in all three of them.”

Reed’s record in the year’s third major has been hit or miss – a pair of top-20s and two missed cuts – but he says he’s a better links player now than when he began his career. It took the native Texan a while to embrace the creativity required here and also to comprehend the absurd distances he can hit the ball with the proper wind, conditions and bounce.

“I’m sort of accepting it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with doing it. It’s come a little bit easier, especially down the stretch in tournament play.”