Growing Up Golf Part 6: The Right Ball
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.