Written by Eric Loper, Director of Golf Ball R&D
Finding the best golf ball for your style of play is a process that shouldn’t be overlooked since it is the only piece of performance equipment that golfers use on every single shot. The golf ball plays a critical role in how you play the hole from tee to green. Unfortunately, they are also products that golfers will inevitably lose, sometimes several times per round, and that can be expensive.
Think about what you want that ball do to from the point you tee it up until it drops in the cup. You want the ball to be long and straight off the tee, and you want the ball to feel soft and consistently stop quickly around the green. This requires high ballspeed, high launch, and low spin off the tee. Around the green we focus on the complete opposite—low launch, high spin. These targets contradict themselves, so this can be challenging to say the least, but these are the performance and durability attributes we in deal with in R&D when designing a new golf ball.
I’m always asked about golf ball fitting, and unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to finding the right ball. From a fitting perspective, the golf ball isn’t adjustable like a driver to optimise performance based on the golfer’s swing. This is one of the reasons why there isn’t an authentic consumer-facing ball-fitting program.
The purpose of this document is to outline the differences between each ball category and provide a starting point for your on-course evaluation.
THE HANDICAP DILEMMA
Many golfers say, "I can't play a Tour ball. I'm not good enough. I don’t have a high enough swing speed for TP5 or TP5x."
Golfers shouldn’t limit themselves to a lower-performing golf ball based on their handicap or swing speed. If you lose a lot of golf balls, then a lower price point may be best for you. However, it's also important to consider that if you buy a better golf ball, you will benefit from greater consistency and improved overall performance. Higher handicap players will certainly be less consistent, so they may not see the benefit on every shot, but when the ball is hit well, they’re going to achieve the expected result. It’s always disappointing when a well-hit ball rolls past the pin or off the backside of the green. The player will need to decide whether or not the additional performance is worth the expense.
In general, I like the idea of golfers using a golf ball that gives them maximum performance in a package they feel comfortable spending.
The trap that a lot of golfers fall into is that they will simply walk into a shop and just purchase what they’ve been buying for years.
I get it. They’ve had some of their most memorable shots with this ball, they’ve learned to trust this product, and when an unexpected result occurs, it’s likely player inconsistency. But when they fall into this routine of buying the same sleeve of balls over and over, they are missing out on other alternatives that could actually enhance their game and make it more enjoyable.
I think it all comes down to your level of confidence with the ball. Will this ball do exactly what I want it to do when I hit the right shot? If you find yourself being occasionally surprised (negatively) by results of your golf ball, it's time to start questioning whether that ball is working for you.
This can happen at all levels and it did with Rory McIlroy at the 2017 Masters when his ball came up surprisingly short on several shots into the green. He questioned his equipment at the time and made an appropriate change that was best for him. From an amateur perspective, if you are playing a 2-piece distance ball and are finding it difficult to hold the green with your wedges, you may consider a higher performing golf ball that provides more wedge spin.
FINDING THE RIGHT BALL (AT THE RIGHT PRICE)
First off, the “wall of balls” at the golf store can be overwhelming since there are so many different options at varying price points.
Where does someone start in their search for the perfect ball? Understandably this can be challenging, which is one of the reasons why the golfer falls into their purchase routine (tunnel vision). I think it’s good for the golfer to understand the various categories and what higher priced golf balls offer in terms of performance. With this understanding, the golfer can determine whether the performance gains offset the cost.
Tour Golf Balls (Higher Price Point)
Well over half the money spent on golf balls fall within this Tour golf ball category. These golf balls will give you the most complete performance from tee to green. These golf balls will provide higher ball speeds for faster swing speeds—but don’t worry, a slower swing speed golfer can play a Tour-caliber golf ball. Contrary to popular belief, a slower swing speed player doesn’t achieve any additional driver velocity from using a lower compression golf ball. Actually, a slower swing speed player can use a higher compression Tour ball (such as the TP5x) and still maximise ball velocity.
There is a reason a Tour player uses a golf ball that falls within this category. Tour golf balls offer the highest level of control around the green which is a result of the multi-layer constructions and a soft urethane cover. When hit around the green, the soft urethane cover will compress on the face, between the club face and the rigid inner cover layer, that will produce lower launch, higher spin, and softer feel. This material will also produce more consistent results and minimise “flyers.”
In the Tour category, we offer the TP5 & TP5x that are both 5-layer constructions. The 5-layers provide maximised distance off the tee, better performance with your irons, and Tour-caliber feel, spin, and control around the green. By gaining a half to a full-club in iron distance, players will be able to hit less club into the green. Think about how that can change the game for you—instead of hitting a 6-iron into the green, you’ll be using a 7-iron and will likely be more confident in your approach shot.
Between the two golf balls, the TP5 is designed for players looking for softer feel around the green where the TP5x is for the player that prefers more feedback on their shots. There's undoubtedly a space for different types of feel, and with our TP5/TP5x offerings, you can find the feel you prefer without sacrificing the overall performance of a Tour ball.
High-Performance Golf Balls (Mid Price Point)
Then there's also this emerging category of high-performance golf balls that cater to the cost-conscious golfer who still wants exceptional performance out of that golf ball and softer feel around the greens. For us, that's our Project (a) which is a 3-piece cast urethane golf ball at 70 compression. This ball utilises the same urethane cover and dimple pattern used in our TP5/TP5x. This golf ball is going to offer excellent control and soft feel around the green and be long off the tee for the average golfer. The urethane cover on the Project (a) is a key to its exceptional performance within this category.
Performance-Feel Golf Balls (Lower Price Point)
Next, there's the performance-feel category, which tends to be 2-piece and 3-piece balls with ionomer covers. These balls are certainly more price-point driven and tend to be more focused on lower compression for softer feel or distance. The lower compression ball will sound softer and will feel more forgiving especially on the mis-hits. When you look at the offerings in the market, our competitors offer two products: one focused on distance and another on soft feel.
The simple fact of having the golfer choose between soft feel or distance is forcing them to compromise. There's certainly technology in those golf balls, but they're not going to be as good as the high-performance ball or the Tour ball because they simply won't perform around the green as well.
Our Project (s) is a 3-piece multilayer construction that utilises high-performance resins for distance AND feel (vs distance OR feel) while having a relatively soft ionomer cover for excellent control around the green compared to similar products in the category.
THE ESSENTIAL NATURE OF ON-COURSE TESTING
Once you've established a golf ball category that you're comfortable with, the best way to help with your decision is by testing a couple different options out on the course.
Ideally, you would go out to a familiar course on a quiet day to directly compare your current ball (“gamer”) with another golf ball you are considering. I suggest testing at 180 yards and in towards the green.
Many have talked about testing at 100 yards and in, but with the recent launch of TP5/TP5x you'll likely find significant gains with your irons, especially if you're looking within the Tour ball category. Hit the longer irons and note the differences you're seeing in trajectory, distance, and ability to hold the green. It's important to make your decision based on multiple shots on multiple holes, hitting the balls side-by-side in various conditions.
Then when you get into wedge range, hit several shots with each ball, noting the reaction on the green and differences in feel. I would work with the wedges on full shots, half shots, and around the green—again, noting feel and reaction on the green differences. If you are testing between price points, hitting the 50-yard and in shots will highlight the differences in control and feel.
Once you have determined a preference, continue using that ball for the remainder of the round. If at any point you question the performance, then hit a second shot with your gamer and compare the results.
I truly believe that on-course testing is an essential component to finding the best golf ball for your game. Doing a "fitting" where you're hitting balls into a net with a driver and a couple different golf balls isn't a proper ball fitting... it's more of a demo.
A proper fitting would require testing all of the shots you would encounter on the course: tee shots, irons shots, wedge shots, flighted shots, sand shots, bump-and-runs, etc. It's impossible to accomplish that when you're hitting balls into a net. You need to experience the full spectrum of shots before making an informed decision about your golf ball.
To explore all of TaylorMade's current golf ball offerings, so you can go out and put our golf balls to the test CLICK HERE.