Now, all you citizens and golfers of the 21st century must treat me kindly as I take some faltering steps into an arena that is important in golf but, quite frankly, doesn’t really interest me. Namely, balls. Golf balls of all sorts of compressions, layers, spin rates, feels, distance properties, trajectories, controls and colours. It is a veritable soup of scientific information claiming this, that and the other, all of which, of course, is going to enable you (providing you’ve made the right choice) to hit it higher, further and more accurately.
Like me, some of you may well be from the era when your balls came individually wrapped. Weren’t the choices simple then? A Dunlop ’65, a Warwick, a Penfold or just a lowly Blue Flash? Golf ball development is now arguably the fastest-moving sector of our entire industry and to keep up with the constant change you have to be either a) working in that arena, b) extremely nerdy or c) know friendly professional people you can go to for good advice. I fall short in the first two options so was always going to be looking for category c) help.
Enter two very patient men, Anthony Roberts and Dave Wright, both based at Clays Golf Centre near Wrexham where I do my coaching and both working for American Golf. They saw me rather glumly surveying the displays of dozens and dozens of different sorts of balls.
Where to start?
“With your swing speed,” they chorused. They went on to explain that the speed of your swing gives a pretty good indication of the compression of golf ball you should be using. Higher compression balls need to be married to a fast swing speed and lower swing speeds to softer or low compression balls. And before you ask, pretty much any golf facility nowadays can measure your swing speed for you.
Do your eyes glaze over at spin rates? Well, my feeling is that only a very small percentage of the golf-playing population are skilled enough to cope with a high-spinning ball. Backspin may be the holy grail for lots of golfers but remember, with this ball any slight off-centre hits will produce an awful lot of sidespin which could send you deep into the woods or out of bounds, when the same shot with a lower spinning ball may only put you in the semi-rough. If you struggle to return the clubface square to the golf ball for an online, centred hit – well, frankly, you’re not skilful enough to benefit from playing a high-spinning ball. The key is to match a ball to your actual game, warts and all, NOT the game you’d like to have next year or the year after. (Note to self: do not match the ball to the game you USED to have donkey’s years ago on the Tour.)
For many of us, of course, it’s all about balancing distance with control but don’t forget to consider how you want the ball to react or feel in your short games. A softer feel around the greens will suit a player who likes to be fairly aggressive with their short shots, pitching it up close to the pins and having the backspin bring the ball to a halt. For those who play lots of chip and runs and don’t use spin to stop the ball, a harder feel off the clubface may be more acceptable.
Every manufacturer has a myriad of balls in their stable designed to suit every type of player imaginable with their varying individual tastes and as I’ve learned, the guidance given by the experts is both invaluable and essential if you’re to narrow a seemingly impossible choice down to something more manageable. However, there’s not really any substitute for conducting your own experiments on the course, so do a little research, buy a couple of sleeves of balls and off you go
And there’s always room for a little mischievous fun when asked what’s on your Christmas list this year. See what the reaction is when you simply reply, “A ball-fitting session please.”