At the beginning stages of your child’s development, you really don’t need to fuss about what golf ball your child uses. For the most part, we can just buy whatever is on the clearance rack or the “recycled” ball bin at your local pro shop or sports store, right?
Wrong! Your child needs to be fitted for a golf ball the same as your child needs to be fitted for their clubs.
Let’s start with a few terms used when selecting a golf ball.
Swing Speed: Swing speed is a measure of velocity, in miles per hour, of how fast the head of a golf club is traveling at the point it makes impact with the golf ball. Swing speed can be recorded by a launch monitor or other electronic radar devices.
Spin: Spin is the rotation of the golf ball in flight or the measured rate of that rotation. It’s what causes shots rise, curve and “back up” after hitting the green.
Compression: Compression is a measurement of the firmness of the golf ball. Typically, the softer the golf ball feels the lower the compression rating.
Trajectory: Trajectory is a term used to describe the flight characteristics of a golf shot. It considers the height of the shot as well as its launch and landing characteristics.
There have been huge advancements made during the last decade when it comes to golf balls. From core to cover, golf balls have changed drastically from the days of “wound” balls. Golf balls can be categorized by cover material, which is usually urethane or surlyn. There are spin ratings for the driver and long irons, greenside spin ratings for wedge play. They come in multiple layers and can be described as a two-piece, three-piece, four-piece and even five-piece balls. Some are categorized as “low,” “mid” or “high” trajectory, which are relative terms. Finally, they come in different compression ratings. When it comes to choosing the right ball for the adult amateur, the decision can be mind boggling. When it comes to choosing a ball for your child, I am happy to say this process is going to be much easier.
For children, you only need to look as far as the compression rating. And before I get the, “Yeah, but my child needs more greenside control and less driver spin,” keep in mind that we are talking about the beginner level, ages 5-12. I will touch base on younger than 5 and older than 12 as we go.
Compression rating rating is important because you want your child to be able to get the ball up in the air and hit it straight; distance should not be as much of a concern at this point. In order to accomplish this, your child will need to be able to compress the core of the golf ball, which in turn will yield a high initial launch. Choosing the correct compression will make it easier for your child to achieve this.
So how do we know the right compression? It’s as simple as knowing your child’s swing speed. To find out your child’s swing speed, have him/her take some swings on equipment that is designed to measure swing speeds based on miles per hour. Most of your local pro shops and some of the big name box stores will have this equipment available and usually will be able to measure swings for you. If you are unable to have your child’s swing checked, U.S. Kids Golf has created a kids swing speed chart based on age, using testing results compiled from the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship.
Age 5 Swing Speed: 51 mph Age 9 Swing Speed: 73 mph
Age 6 Swing Speed: 58 mph Age 10 Swing Speed: 76 mph
Age 7 Swing Speed: 62 mph Age 11 Swing Speed: 82 mph
Age 8 Swing Speed: 68 mph Age 12 Swing Speed: 86 mph
So now that we have your son/daughter’s swing speed, how does match it up to the compression ratio? We need to look for golf balls that have compression ratings ranging between 45 and 70. The lower the swing speed, the lower the compression should be. According to U.S. Kids Golf, children with swing speeds under 70 mph should be playing a ball with a compression of 45, and children with swing speeds between 71 mph and 90 mph should be using a ball with a compression rating of 62. This is why companies have created two balls, one for each range.
The U.S. Kids Golf 70: This golf ball is specially formulated to the Optimal Performance Combination (OPC) to provide the best results for golfers with swing speeds of 70 mph or less. Featuring a compression of 45, this ball is designed to give those with the appropriate swing speed more distance and trajectory while maintaining a soft feel.
The U.S. Kids Golf 90: This golf ball is specially formulated to the OPC to provide the best results for golfers with swing speeds of up to 90 mph. Featuring a compression of 62, this ball is designed to give those with the appropriate swing speed more distance and trajectory while maintaining a soft feel.
Nike also has a golf ball designed specifically for young golfers called The Nike EZ-Distance Youth Golf Ball. It is designed to deliver faster ball speed off slower swings, and higher ball flight for optimal carry.
There are a lot of great low compression/slow swing speed balls out there. Some manufacturers market their balls by swing speed and some market their balls by compression rating. If you are not sure, ask your pro shop attendant to clarify that the ball you are purchasing is a low-compression ball or one that matches your child’s swing speed. One of the best ways to determine which ball would be best for your child is to buy a couple sleeves of different brands and compression levels and test which ball works the best. The right ball can go a long way in making your junior golfer’s experience the best it can be at this point. As your child gets older and stronger, you will want to reassess what type of ball your child is hitting; it should always be a ball that is appropriate for your child’s swing.
For those of you that have children 5 or younger and are at the very beginning of golf introduction, you can have them hit just about any round object under the sun. My son and daughter hit everything, including foam practice balls, Wiffle balls, bouncy balls, tennis balls and even rolled up socks! Until they start going to the practice area, there really isn’t a serious need for them to hit golf balls. Let them play and hit whatever they want. Plus, lager objects are easier to hit and some will make silly sounds when struck. This is instant gratification for the little ones.
If you are the parent whose child requires “more greenside control and less driver spin,” you’re at that stage where your son/daughter is looking to play a Tour-level ball and are at the serious competition/tournament level. The best suggestion I can give you is have your young athlete attend a professional ball fitting. With such a vast selection of Tour-level balls, it is very hard to tell which one will give you optimal performance without seeing some real-world numbers on a launch monitor. If you are serious about playing the best equipment for YOUR game, you need to be professionally fit.
Having your child play the same ball as his/her favorite PGA/LPGA star is not going to cut it. Professional golfers use a ball that gives them the best performance possible and the way they found out is by testing them on a launch monitor and then testing them on the course. They look for specific things such as a certain amount of spin, feel, driver distance and trajectory control. These are considerations you need to look at when choosing a top tier ball.
Okay moms and dads, don’t let the golf ball selection process scare you, it’s not as hard as it sounds. The little ones younger than 5 years old hit every round object under the sun. For players 5 to 12 years old, it’s a process of matching your swing speed to the compression rating. The older athletes competing in tournaments, high school matches and even those that are college bound, you need to attend a professional ball fitting.
Clampett: Is confusion the leading cause of golfers quitting the game?
It seems that lately I’ve had a run of golfers attending my two-day Signature School with similar stories.
“Bobby, I have too many swing thoughts! I don’t know what I should think about when I swing.” Nearly without exception, these golfers tell me that their increased frustration had led to a deterioration of their game. It’s really a shame, because many of these frustrated golfers were at one time low, single-digit handicap players that had fallen to bogey-level golf.
In these schools, I have the time to start peeling back the onion with each student, and I’m hearing the same story over and over. My first question is always, “How did you find out about us?” Usually, it’s through referral or the result of an internet search for instruction help. My second questions is, “What do you hope to accomplish in our two days together?” They almost always respond, “Bobby, my head is spinning with too many swing thoughts. I don’t know what to do. Your approach to impact makes the most sense I’ve seen. That’s why I’m here.”
Statistics indicate that 4 million golfers quit the game in the United States every year. And if you polled each of these 4 million golfers, you’d find confusion to be the common denominator in their decision to quit.
I googled “golf instruction” and received more than 33 million results. Then I went to “YouTube” and typed in “Golf Tip.” There were 932,000 results. Scores of golfers get emails everyday suggesting a new thought or idea to improve their game. They watch television and pick up some more advice. They subscribe to golf magazines suggesting all kinds of ideas. Then they go to the range or course and put as much of it into action as their memories and bodies will allow… only to find it just doesn’t work! They’re farther away from playing good golf than they were when they began seeking out these swing fixes.
Many of my students are avid golfers who come to my schools on the brink of quitting the game all together. One student’s story was so sad. He confessed that no one at his club wanted to play with him anymore because his game had declined so sharply. He was considering selling his membership. In tears, he shared with us that all of his friends were members of his club.
Why is there all this confusion around the golf swing? There are two simple reasons.
The first involves the idea that “style-based” teaching is still the most common approach to improving a golfer’s game, and in my opinion, this doesn’t work very well for most golfers. Style-based instruction centers around a certain look. These teachers ask golfers to set up to the ball this way, get in these backswing positions, make this move on the downswing, look like this at the finish… and so on. Meanwhile, the Dustin Johnsons, Jim Furyks, and Bubba Watsons of the golfing world don’t possess golf swings that look anything like the “style” being suggested. When swing tips are given for “style” reasons, they’re arbitrary, a visual preference, and can’t be measured.
The second reason golfers are more confused today than they’ve ever been is the climate of today’s golf instruction world. We live in a new age, the digital age, and golfers are being bombarded by countless forms of media suggesting how to improve their games. These tips have a very wide range of theories and suggestions, most of which are conflicting.
Set up with your weight on the left foot. No, on the right foot. No, in the middle.
Have a short, compact swing. No, get a big shoulder turn for more distance. No, just swing around your body.
Finish high. No, finish low and left.
You get the picture. Without the ability to discern fact from fiction when it comes to all of this information, golfers go to the driving range in search of that secret pill that’s going to make it all work. The truth is that a secret pill that’s “style-based” just doesn’t exist. The best golf teachers know that the “style” of swing really doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters in playing good golf is creating good impact. That’s what Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk and Bubba Watson all have in common, and that’s why they are all great golfers and great ball-strikers.
Good instructors understand what it is that these great players do to create that good impact, and they have the ability to offer clear remedies that might be built on only one or two simple thoughts. When a golfer is limited to thinking about only one or two key things, their mind is free and so is their swing. It’s not paralysis by analysis that ruins golfers, but rather paralysis by having too many needless and ineffective swing thoughts that ruins golfers.
Good instruction and good swing tips help golfers understand the impact their swing needs to create to be a good ball-striker. When a golfer’s impact isn’t good, a good instructor will help the student understand the specific element of their impact that wasn’t good and provide the appropriate remedy to fix it. Using today’s modern technology helps reveal precisely what was good or bad about a swing’s impact. After the remedy is given, technology will specifically be able to measure and show improvement in the various elements of impact. Game improvement can now be measured and verified by viewing the specific areas where impact is improved. When students see this measured improvement, hope is restored, confidence grows, scores drop and fewer golfers quit the game!
Be aware that it’s fine to read these articles and view these swing tips for their entertainment and educational value, but golfers should only apply the tips when they know they will help them improve a specific element of their impact. Then and only then will their game improve. One thing is for certain in golf, better impact equals better golf. That is where the “hope” of a good golf game is to be found.
The difference between “ugly” and “unorthodox” golf swings
I’d like you pretend for a moment that you were asked to name the five ugliest golf swings by players who had won a major championship. Who would you select, and what criteria would you use to make that judgment? You might say you’re not sure, but you would have no difficulty identifying an ugly swing if you were to see one, right? The question is, what factors would move you toward that decision?
I struggled with this exact question when it was posed to me and others who were members of Golf Magazine’s “Top 100” panel at the time. In making my decision, I was concerned that I did not confuse UNORTHODOX with UGLY. The fact is that some of the greatest golfers throughout history have been considered to have had unorthodox swings.
- The word “unorthodox” is defined as that which is contrary to what is usual, traditional or generally accepted.
- The word “ugly” is defined as that which is unpleasant or repulsive in appearance.
In comparing the two definitions, they are clearly quite different. The word “unorthodox” suggests something that is different from the norm, while the word “ugly” relates to the appearance of an object regardless of its status. The problem with labeling any golf swing as unorthodox is that the definition of that condition varies with time. What was once considered to be unorthodox may later be considered perfectly acceptable, and we’ve seen this happen over and over again in golf instruction.
Case No. 1
It was considered unorthodox when Harry Vardon moved his thumbs toward the top of the shaft and placed the little finger of his right hand over his left forefinger knuckle. The standard grip in his era featured both thumbs to the sides of the shaft. The club was held more in the palms of both hands and with all ten fingers, rather than more diagonally through the palm as in Vardon’s Grip. As Vardon began to win, however, his competitors copied his grip. What once was considered unorthodox became orthodox.
Case No. 2
Hogan and Nicklaus were paired together in the final round of the 1957 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. The dichotomy between their backswings couldn’t have been more evident. This was due to the way in which they utilized their right elbows in the backswing. Nicklaus allowed his right elbow to work up and away, pointing more outward at the top. Hogan’s right elbow was closer to his body and pointed more downward.
At the time, Hogan’s backswing was considered orthodox while Nicklaus’ swing was considered unorthodox. As Hogan faded from the winner’s circle and Nicklaus began to emerge, what was once thought to be unorthodox later came to be considered orthodox.
There are some swings that most observers would agree are both unorthodox and ugly. For example, most observers would say that Jim Furyk’s swing is not pretty — they might even go so far as to categorize it as ugly. This is despite the face that Furyk has had an outstanding career and has a U.S. Open victory to his credit. What is it that observers find so offense in his swing? The answer is the differential in planes between the backswing and the downswing, or what might be referred to as a “loop” in his swing.
In Furyk’s case, the club is taken well outside what might be considered the traditional backswing plane. Then it is looped well to the inside and back into position on the downswing. This is is a perfectly acceptable way to play golf, which is evidenced by the size of his bank account and the number of trophies on his mantle. As you might surmise, because of his golf swing, Furyk has not been asked to write any full-swing instruction books.
The problem is that, in the eyes of the observer, the combination of the two distinctly different planes gives a disjoined appearance to the swing. Does it follow then that the variance in the backswing and downswing is the primary factor in determining if a swing qualifies as being ugly? The problem with reaching that conclusion is that it doesn’t hold up to comparison with other players who employ a similar pattern… beginning with Freddy Couples. He begins his swing by lifting his arms well outside the traditional plane line. With a delayed turn of his torso, he then brings the club back into a more traditional plane at the top.
In the case of both Couples and Furyk, their backswings operate well outside the traditional plane line with both players “looping” the club back into position prior to impact. And yet Couples’ swing is universally admired, while Furyk’s swing is in some quarters ridiculed. This begs the question of why Couples’ “looping” swing motion is considered more acceptable than Furyk’s. The answer to that question is two-fold.
- Furyk’s loop is created ostensibly by a change in plane with the arms and the hands, giving the swing a frenetic appearance.
- Couples’ loop is created with a graceful turn of his body with the arms following in perfect harmony.
And so, when taking the swings of Couples and other “loopers” into consideration, it would seem that the dramatic change in plane between the backswing and the downswing in and of itself does not warrant the classification of ugly.
Author Footnote: A point worth considering as part of this discussion is that there have been other accomplished players throughout the history of the game whose backswings have operated on the same principles as Couples. This would include perennial Champion’s Tour winners Kenny Perry, and earlier Jay Haas, whose swings were generally admired despite their unorthodox approach to the backswing.
What does this all mean? First, while a loop in the golf swing may be unorthodox, is not necessary considered ugly provided that the club is routed into plane with the turn of the body rather than just the arms and the hands. Second, as stated earlier, the definition of unorthodox can and does change depending on the era. And third, an unorthodox swing is not necessarily ugly. The two classifications are very different.
As you evaluate golf swings, remember this adage; an unorthodox swing is not necessarily ugly, but an ugly swing is always unorthodox.
TG2: Should Tiger Woods play in The Masters without a driver?
Tiger Woods’ No. 1 concern heading into the Masters is the driver, according to Notah Begay. Equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky argue whether Tiger should even use a driver during the Masters. Also, they discuss Rory’s new prototype putter and how it was made, and they talk about a new shaft company called “LA Golf Shafts.”
Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
For more info on the topics, check out the links below.
- Rory’s putter: www.golfwrx.com/503976/rory-mcilr…rmade-soto-proto/
- Tiger’s driver: www.golfwrx.com/503940/tiger-wood…irms-notah-begay/
- LA Golf Shafts: www.golfwrx.com/503818/la-golf-pa…s-la-golf-shafts/
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