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The turn of the last century – the start of the 1900s – saw the growing use of the early wound golf ball, called the “Haskell” ball. Oct. 11, 2000, saw the introduction of the Titleist Pro V1 ball, which changed everything. The new ball featured a solid core, thin (but durable) elastomer cover and higher ball speed to pros and recreational golfers.
Billy Andrade won the Invensys Classic to be the first PGA pro to win with the new Titleist Pro V1. The following March, the Pro V1 became the best-selling ball in the marketplace. It continues to be today. The Pro V1 has been the winning ball in 39 professional majors, as well as countless other championship tournaments. But nowadays golfers have lots of options.
There are more than 100 USGA conforming golf balls to choose from, including different models from a couple of dozen manufacturers. TV ads don’t help the consumer make the right choice.
The three main variables that determine how a golf ball performs are “power” (meaning distance), “feel” (meaning touch around the greens) and “spin” (meaning the difference between a hard and soft ball).
Balls can be up to five pieces in construction, depending on how many layers are involved. The outer covers are either inexpensive Surlyn or higher priced urethane. Premium balls with urethane covers often fly longer and spin more but become unplayable faster and cost more.
An extremely important aspect of choosing the right ball is to know your swing characteristics, your skill level and the parts of your game. For example, if you’re a fairly high handicapper, with a low clubhead speed (say 80 mph and below), you’re not going to gain anything with an expensive, soft over, premium golf ball, except maybe a show of prestige among your golfing friends.
If, however, you are a long hitter, even with an average handicap, who generates a clubhead speed of 95 to 115, and has reasonable control of your ball flight, you will need a ball that spins less off the driver and spins more on approach shots and around the greens. Thus, the faster you swing the club, and the more expert your game is, the more you can benefit from a high-premium, high-compression golf ball.
Let’s return to spin. If you strike the ball squarely in the center of the clubface while swinging right down the target line, you may be able to impart almost all backspin with very little sidespin. However, most higher-handicap recreational golfers are slicers; they swipe the ball off the clubface. For right hand folks that means the ball often peels off to the right, high and short. Playing with a soft cover ball is going to exaggerate your slice, since it’s the sidespin that determines the result of your shot.
Golfers are often puzzled about balls that they may pull out of a pond. They’re not good if they are discolored in any way. And bear in mind that balls become unsuitable after eight days underwater. And be careful of recycled balls, which are just re-glossed. It’s a good idea to clean your ball at every opportunity, take a cut or damaged ball out of play, and change balls every nine holes.
If you prize finding decent golf balls on the golf course, just remember this ageless advice from Mark Twain: “It’s good sportsmanship not to pick up lost balls while they are still rolling.”
Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at email@example.com.