Choosing your “rocket ball”
The longest golf ball in TaylorMade’s 2012 lineup is not the new Penta TP5. It’s not the new Penta TP3, or the Rocketballz ball, either. According to Dean Snell, Senior Director of Research and Development for golf balls at TaylorMade, the longest ball in TaylorMade’s 2012 lineup is all of them.
That’s why Snell, who has been designing golf balls for more than 22 years, said the least important part of fitting a golf ball is testing it with a driver.
“There isn’t a TaylorMade golf ball that doesn’t come up to the USGA threshold of velocity,” Snell said. “Off the driver, they’re all pretty much going to go the same distance … Nobody is going to be able to give you a ball that goes 20 yards further [off the driver] any more.”
For that reason, Snell said golfers should choose a golf ball that is best for them from 150 yards and in. That sounds simple enough, but it raises another question. What makes one golf ball better than another from that distance? Luckily, there’s a pretty easy way to find out.
Snell said that golfers should spend less time testing the latest golf clubs, and more time testing golf balls. He wants you to test golf balls the same way many tour players do – by playing nine holes with different types of balls, and spending extra time hitting shots around the greens with them.
“Notice how the balls feel, how they release, how they putt, how they come out of the sand,” Snell said. “At the end, the results should sing to you.”
But before you start testing golf balls, there are a few things you should know about golf ball design. Understanding the advantages of different types of golf ball constructions can save you shots off your game, and money off your golf ball purchases. And for the better player, it can help justify paying a premium price for your next dozen.
The No. 1 thing Snell wants you to know is that a player’s ball speed is not the most important aspect of fitting a golf ball. It’s the launch angle and spin rate of a golf ball that golfers should monitor the most closely. That’s because at tour swing speeds, a 1 percent increase in ball speed equates to only about 2.5 yards of extra distance. But a change in launch angle, say from 9 degrees with 2500 rpm of spin to 12 degrees with the same amount of spin can add as much as 15 to 20 yards of distance. Golfers would be hard pressed, however, to find a new golf ball that can cause such a drastic change in their launch conditions off of the driver. But where they can find radical improvements with different golf balls is with their shorter clubs.
TaylorMade’s most expensive ball, the Penta TP5, will cost $45 per dozen when it is released in March. Its five-piece construction is similar to the original Penta TP, with the exception of a softer core compression and softer first mantle (the layer closest to the core), which will cause the ball to spin less on full shots than the original Penta.
Snell said that because of its softer construction, the TP5 performs better for high-spin players from 150 yards and in. It will also reduce spin for those players on shots with drivers and three woods. But the favorite part of the ball for many TaylorMade Staff players is its softer feel, which according to Snell actually has little to do with the way a golf ball reacts with the club.
“In our research, feel is actually a product of sound,” Snell said. “It’s a subjective measurement, but the softer the sound, the more control tour players feel like they have off the face.”
TaylorMade’s Penta TP3 is a three-piece ball that features all the benefits of the TP5, yet will cost about $10 less per dozen. Its cover is made of the same ultra-thin cast thermoset urethane material, and has the same compression as the TP5, but it is designed to spin more on full shots. Without getting into the technical details of golf ball design, Snell offered an easy solution on which Penta better players should have in the bag.
“If the current Penta hits the green and stays, or it spins back a little with your shorter irons, play the TP5,” Snell said. “But if it bounces forward, you probably want to try the TP3. And I promise golfers won’t be able to tell a difference in how the balls feel. If they can, I need to hire them as a product tester, because our tour pros can’t even tell the difference.”
For players that struggle with shots “knuckling,” or “falling out of the sky,” trajectories which mean the golf ball does not have enough spin, Snell recommends that they try the Rocketballz ball, a three piece ball that will cost $26 per dozen.
“People don’t believe me when I say this, but the Rocketballz balls and balls like it are actually softer than tour balls,” Snell said. “If you don’t believe me, try bouncing them on a wedge.”
The reason the Rocketballz ball is softer than the Penta line of balls is because of its ionomer cover. But ionomer, like surlyn, another popular material for covers in less expensive golf balls, must be made thicker, and is not as good at creating spin around the green as urethane covers. These less expensive balls also lack the firmer outside mantle that makes balls feel louder and “clickier,” yet adds short-game spin.
“Better players get more performance with urethane as you get closer to the green,” Snell said. “That’s what you pay for.”
For that reason, the Rocketballz ball will pitch a little higher and with a little less spin than the TP5 and TP3. But what the Rocketballz ball lacks in greenside spin, it makes up for with full shots. The Rocketballz ball will launch higher and with more spin than the Penta balls, which means average golfers will be able to hit the Rocketballz ball further than the TP5 and TP3 – a huge advantage for those that struggle from tee to green.
Snell said it’s hard for him to predict what’s next for golf ball technology, but admits it will be hard to improve on the design of the this latest version of golf balls.
“Tour players like Jason Day, Sean O’Hair and Sergio Garcia – they tell me, ‘This is the ball that I love,’” Snell said. “We’ve got the top of the pyramid covered.”
With the success of Penta’s five layers, five shots campaign, Snell is often asked – “You get to have 14 clubs, so why not 14 layers?” It’s something Snell said could happen in the future. But what he really hopes he sees in the industry is better golf ball education and fitting.
“Right now we put players into categories when we’re designing golf balls,” Snell said. “As the categories get tighter, we can create more product, but I don’t think that’s the answer. It creates more confusion, because there’s no explanation for all the golf balls on the wall. In the future, I hope we can take all the feedback and help from the multilayer designs to design product for a stronger database of people. It would be nice to say, this is the tour ball for you.”