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Monday, September 21, 2020

High science or a load of balls?

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Get Shorty*

The 9-Hole Course is back in the limelight, and none more so in Ireland than Cruit Island, Mulranny, Castlegregory and Bushfoot

For most of my golfing life, I have been blissfully unaware of how to exploit the science and technology imbedded in my equipment and remember clearly when golf balls were individually wrapped and bought in ones and twos – never in dozens – and scratch golfers (like me) were as likely to play with a ‘lucky find’ as the most expensive orb in the pro shop in a championship with ‘everything’ on the line.

Tom Kite and Fuzzy Zoellor, were only two of the many former greats who expressed astonishment at the superb distance control and delicate short game that Christy O’Connor Senior could bring to bear on the ‘hard as a rock’ Pinnacle ball that he played with as a senior golfer. Christy Senior, it must be said, operated in a different golfing universe to most mortals, but he knew even back then that outright, raw distance was hugely significant for the simple reason that the closer one is to the hole/target, the easier it is to get closer to it with one’s next shot!

Alas, Fr. Time never loses. Strengthening my glutes, core and arms to generate higher swing speeds and be capable of withstanding the shock of impact and the so-called Smash Factor have been outplayed and outlasted by time. Old age (I’m 75) and a succession of accumulated golf and gym injuries means I now struggle to swing above 80-mph. That discovery was alarming at first and it made me feel my cause was hopeless. Surely, it was time to call a halt and ride off into the golfing sunset? Such a puny swing speed would never compress a Pro V-1 and it started me thinking – what ball should I be playing to get the best out of my 80mph if had a change of heart and decided to play on? After all, haven’t my golf pro friends been telling me that a softer ball that spins more and flies higher will go further than a relatively ‘hard’ Pro V-1?

The good news is there are plenty of softer balls on the market to suit the older golfer and never having been one to become remotely uptight about playing exclusively with any particular brand of golf ball; it’s an area of technology to which I have been ‘blind’ and neglectful, for sure. Similar to the majority of golfers, I would imagine, I will play with almost anything. It may be late in the day, but now could be the time to abandon this cavalier attitude.

We all know about club fitting but there is ball fitting too. To do it properly you need to find an indoor studio/swing room with a Trackman computer to carry out the necessary tests with as many different balls as possible. There are so many options to choose from it’s a minefield. I thought it would be ‘impossible’ to swing my PING 410 at a consistent speed, but it was much easier than I thought. I just ‘busted my gut’ and, only once or twice went below 80mph and never got above 84mph. Call it consistency if you like, but I think the explanation is ‘capacity’. What a shock to the system it was too, because the first time my swing speed was measured in the USA (about thirty years ago) I dialled between 106-109mph. These days, I thought I’d be clocked at around 90mph; not even close, my boy!

Before getting down to discussing ‘numbers’ there are a few ‘old wives’ tales to be debunked: When comparing a Titleist Pro-V1x and a Titleist Pro V-1, the ‘x’ is the ‘spinnier’ ball whereas the Taylormade TP5 brands are the opposite, the ‘x’ spins less, but the main thing you need to think about when buying golf balls is the difference between soft and hard. A harder ball offers the best resilience to the strike, meaning power and speed are retained for longer drives but errors are more pronounced. A softer ball will absorb slight errors, which results in greater accuracy. As a confirmed short hitter, my mantra henceforth must be: if I am going to be short; I’d better be accurate. Short and crooked has no chance!

I was not able to test all of the balls I am going to mention in studio conditions, but I have played with them all and here are my reviews:

Srixon AD333 (Blue) – didn’t like the feel, but a good value, all-round performing ball for mid to high handicaps.

Srixon Low Compression (Green) – one of my more favoured balls, especially when playing hickory golf as nearly all modern balls can feel very hard on wood. INMO – the Srixon Green works equally well with modern weapons.

Srixon Z Star – I’m convinced that I putt better than normal with the Srixon Black Z Star ball, but Trackman marked it down as the shortest performer off my driver.

Wilson Duo – no data but a clear favourite of mine, particularly when I am using my hickories. Not as long-lasting as most of the other balls on the market today.

Snell (Black) – A very good golf ball that performs as well as the Pro V-1. Probably, too hard and uncompressible for the older, slower swinging golfer.

Titleist AVX – The best golf ball on the market for strong, high ball hitters who have a tendency to be ‘wild’. AVX is designed to produce a lower more penetrating flight (ideal for links play in the wind)

Titleist Tour Soft – came out tops in my exhausting (not exhaustive) tests!

Titleist Pro-V1 – the No. 1 choice of elite players by miles because it strikes a balance between short game control and yardage from the tee. Not suitable for the slower swinging golfer, apparently.

TaylorMade TP5 – the closest competitor to the Pro V1 with similar characteristics.

TaylorMade TP5x – made with five layers, it’s second to Titleist on Tour. For some (strange) reason it produced ‘acceptable numbers’ off my powder puff swing speed.

TaylorMade Soft Response – Nip and tuck in a tight battle for geriatric supremacy with the Titleist Tour Soft.

TaylorMade Burner – A two-piece ball with 342 dimples for lower air resistance and greater accuracy. It performed okay but seemed to have tendency to ‘shoot off’ the putter when struck ‘hard’.

Honma TW-X – nice graphics! Felt lighter when struck and seemed to fly higher, which on the golf course could mean further too. I liked it but finding it on general sale in Ireland may not be easy?

Mizuno MP-S – an honest middle of the road performer. Not good enough for me. I am searching for the ultimate.

I did not test the Callaway Chrome Soft ball under laboratory conditions. While, I have played with ‘the Chrome’ on numerous occasions, I always had a distinct feeling I was ‘losing’ a few yards; a conclusion that is not scientifically based.

The point is (and must not be overlooked) everyone is different. To find the ultimate ball for you, a ‘fitting’ under PGA Pro/Trackman supervision is wise. I can guarantee a few surprises are in store.

You cannot argue with science. Science rules the world including the world of golf. To ignore it is to put yourself at an unnecessary disadvantage. Having gone through the process, please do what I say (not what I do myself) by always playing with the same ball every time.


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