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Choosing your “rocket ball”

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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.

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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.

Penta TP5

What’s next?

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.”

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Zak is the Editor-in-Chief of GolfWRX.com. He's been a part of the company since 2011, when he was hired to lead GolfWRX's Editorial Department. Zak developed GolfWRX's Featured Writer Program, which supports aspiring writers and golf industry professionals. He played college golf at the University of Richmond (Go Spiders!) and still likes to compete in tournaments. You can follow Zak on Twitter @ZakKoz, where he's happy to discuss his game and all the cool stuff that's part of his job.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Denny

    Sep 24, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    Several balls may have a legitimate claim as the longest ball. In the most recent test I have seen, Several balls are in a range of 4 to 5 yards at the long end of the chart. Finding the ball that is in that range with the most spin off of an 8-iron or wedge then becomes the determining factor in the best ball to play.

    http://hittingthegolfball.com

  2. Dean Libner

    Apr 13, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    Played the Rocket for the first time last
    week and the hype is true. This is the longest
    ball I’ve ever played. And to make it all the sweeter I found the ball on the practice area.
    Went to Sports Authority yesterday and bought
    a dozen for $26.99.

  3. joe

    Jan 30, 2012 at 11:05 am

    The Penta performs well but it is not long before it looks like it is ready for the shag bag.

  4. turner

    Jan 28, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    I got a hold of the Rocketballz golf balls. They are good.

  5. Fistofnuts

    Jan 20, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    The best thing about Rocketballz so far is the marketing. I can’t wait to see if they live upto the hype. If they do, they will be the greatest contribution to the average golfer’s game since the creation of hybrid golf club.

  6. Ron Boehl

    Jan 18, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    The finest ball that I have ever played was the TP-Red ball that was the forerunner of the Penta ball. When they quit making that I bought what I could afford so I wouldn`t run out soon. The Penta is a very good ball but it didn`t putt like the TP-Red ball. I switched from Titietst Pro-V1`S for it. It had a knack of going in the hole for me. I will have to try the new TP5 ball since it is softer and see how it chips and putts.

  7. mrcub33

    Jan 13, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    It sounds good that for the Mid Handcapper that the Penta TP 3 will work and can save $10 Bucks, but I just stocked up on balls for this season and I’ll wait for them to go on sale doen to $25 Bucks and then stock up again

  8. Leonard

    Jan 11, 2012 at 3:11 am

    No one’s underestimating what Taylormade will develop in the future. I can’t wait to try the Rocketballz!

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pga tour

K.J. Choi WITB 2018

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Equipment is accurate as of the 2018 Valero Texas Open (4/18/2018).

Driver: Ping G400 Max (9 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI-6x

Driver: Ping G400 Max (9 degrees)
Shaft: Ozik Matrix MFS M5 60X

3 Wood: Ping G400 (14.5 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI-7x

5 Wood: Ping G400 (17.5 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI-8x

Hybrid: Ping G400 (22 degrees)
Shaft: Atlus Tour H8

Irons: Ping G400 (4-PW)
Shaft: Nippon N.S. Pro Modus 3 Tour 120X

Wedges: Ping Glide 2.0 (50-12SS, 54-12SS, 58-10)
Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400

Putter: Ping Sigma G Wolverine T
Grip: Ping Pistol

Putter: Ping PLF ZB3
Grip: Super Stroke KJ

Putter: Ping Sigma Vault Anser 2
Grip: Ping Pistol

WITB Notes: We spotted Choi testing a number of clubs at the Valero Texas Open. We will update this post when we have his 14-club setup confirmed. 

Related:

Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about Choi’s clubs. 

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Accessory Reviews

I tried the great Golfboarding experiment… here’s how it went

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Corica Park Golf Course is not exactly the first place you’d expect to find one of the most experimental sports movements sweeping the nation. Sitting on a pristine swath of land along the southern rim of Alameda Island, deep in the heart of the San Francisco Bay, the course’s municipal roots and no-frills clubhouse give it an unpretentious air that seems to fit better with Sam Snead’s style of play than, say, Rickie Fowler’s.

Yet here I am, one perfectly sunny morning on a recent Saturday in December planning to try something that is about as unconventional as it gets for a 90-year-old golf course.

It’s called Golfboarding, and it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: an amalgam of golf and skateboarding, or maybe surfing. The brainchild of surfing legend Laird Hamilton — who can be assumed to have mastered, and has clearly grown bored of, all normal sports — Golfboarding is catching on at courses throughout the country, from local municipal courses like Corica Park to luxury country clubs like Cog Hill and TPC Las Colinas. Since winning Innovation Of the Year at the PGA Merchandising Show in 2014, Golfboards can now be found at 250 courses and have powered nearly a million rounds of golf already. Corica Park currently owns eight of them.

The man in pro shop gets a twinkle in his eyes when our foursome tells him we’d like to take them out. “Have you ridden them before?” he asks. When we admit that we are uninitiated, he grins and tells us we’re in for a treat.

But first, we need to sign a waiver and watch a seven-minute instructional video. A slow, lawyerly voice reads off pedantic warnings like “Stepping on the golfboard should be done slowly and carefully” and “Always hold onto the handlebars when the board is in motion.” When it cautions us to “operate the board a safe distance from all…other golfboarders,” we exchange glances, knowing that one of us will more than likely break this rule later on.

Then we venture outside, where one of the clubhouse attendants shows us the ropes. The controls are pretty simple. One switch sends it forward or in reverse, another toggles between low and high gear. To make it go, there’s a throttle on the thumb of the handle. The attendant explains that the only thing we have to worry about is our clubs banging against our knuckles.

“Don’t be afraid to really lean into the turns,” he offers. “You pretty much can’t roll it over.”

“That sounds like a challenge,” I joke. No one laughs.

On a test spin through the parking lot, the Golfboard feels strong and sturdy, even when I shift around on it. It starts and stops smoothly with only the slightest of jerks. In low gear its top speed is about 5 mph, so even at full throttle it never feels out of control.

The only challenge, as far as I can tell, is getting it to turn. For some reason, I’d expected the handlebar to offer at least some degree of steering, but it is purely for balance. The thing has the Ackerman angle of a Mack Truck, and you really do have to lean into the turns to get it to respond. For someone who is not particularly adept at either surfing or skateboarding, this comes a little unnaturally. I have to do a number of three-point turns in order to get back to where I started and make my way over to the first tee box.

We tee off and climb on. The fairway is flat and wide, and we shift into high gear as we speed off toward our balls. The engine had produced just the faintest of whirrs as it accelerated, but it is practically soundless as the board rolls along at full speed. The motor nevertheless feels surprisingly powerful under my feet (the drivetrain is literally located directly underneath the deck) as the board maintains a smooth, steady pace of 10 mph — about the same as a golf cart. I try making a couple of S curves like I’d seen in the video and realize that high-speed turning will take a little practice for me to get right, but that it doesn’t seem overly difficult.

Indeed, within a few holes I might as well be Laird himself, “surfing the earth” from shot to shot. I am able to hold the handlebar and lean way out, getting the board to turn, if not quite sharply, then at least closer to that of a large moving van than a full-sized semi. I take the hills aggressively (although the automatic speed control on the drivetrain enables it to keep a steady pace both up and down any hills, so this isn’t exactly dangerous), and I speed throughout the course like Mario Andretti on the freeway (the company claims increased pace-of-play as one of the Golfboard’s primary benefits, but on a Saturday in the Bay Area, it is impossible avoid a five-hour round anyway.)

Gliding along, my feet a few inches above the grass, the wind in my face as the fairways unfurl below my feet, it is easy to see Golfboards as the next evolution in mankind’s mastery of wheels; the same instincts to overcome inertia that brought us bicycles, rollerblades, scooters, skateboards, and more recent inventions such as Segways, Hoverboards and Onewheels are clearly manifest in Golfboards as well. They might not offer quite the same thrill as storming down a snowy mountainside or catching a giant wave, but they are definitely more fun than your standard golf cart.

Yet, there are obvious downsides as well. The attendant’s warning notwithstanding, my knuckles are in fact battered and sore by the time we make the turn, and even though I rearrange all my clubs into the front slots of my bag, they still rap my knuckles every time I hit a bump. Speaking of which, the board’s shock absorber system leaves something to be desired, as the ride is so bumpy that near the end I start to feel as if I’ve had my insides rattled. Then there is the unforgivable fact of its missing a cup holder for my beer.

But these are mere design flaws that might easily be fixed in the next generation of Golfboards. (A knuckle shield is a must!) My larger problem with Golfboards is what they do to the game itself. When walking or riding a traditional cart, the moments in between shots are a time to plan your next shot, or to chat about your last shot, or to simply find your zen out there among the trees and the birds and the spaciousness of the course. Instead, my focus is on staying upright.

Down the stretch, I start to fade. The muscles in my core have endured a pretty serious workout, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to muster the strength for my golf swing. It is no coincidence that my game starts to unravel, and I am on the way to one of my worst rounds in recent memory.

Walking off the 18th green, our foursome agrees that the Golfboards were fun — definitely worth trying — but that we probably wouldn’t ride them again. Call me a purist, but as someone lacking Laird Hamilton’s physical gifts, I’m happy to stick to just one sport at a time.

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Equipment

Titleist AVX golf balls passed the test, are now available across the United States

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Titleist’s AVX golf balls first came to retail as an experiment in three markets — Arizona, California and Florida — from October 2017 to January 2018. AVX (which stands for “Alternative to the V and X”) are three-piece golf balls made with urethane covers, and they’re made with a softer feel for more distance than the Pro V1 and Pro V1x golf balls.

After proving their worth to consumers, Titleist’s AVX golf balls are now available across the U.S. as of April 23, and they will sell for 47.99 per dozen (the same as Pro V1 and Pro V1x golf balls) in both white and optic yellow.

According to Michael Mahoney, the Vice President of Golf Ball Marketing for Titleist, the AVX is a member of the Pro V1 family. Here’s a basic understanding of the lineup:

  • AVX: Softest, lowest trajectory, lowest spinning, less greenside spin and longest
  • Pro V1x: Firmer than the Pro V1, highest spinning and highest trajectory
  • Pro V1: Sits between the V1x and the AVX in terms of feel, spin and trajectory, and will appeal to most golfers

Different from the Pro V1 or Pro V1x, the AVX golf balls have a new GRN41 thermoset cast urethane cover to help the golf balls achieve the softer feel. Also, they have high speed, low compression cores, a new high-flex casing layer, and a new dimple design/pattern.

For in-depth tech info on the new AVX golf balls, how they performed in the test markets, and who should play the AVX golf balls, listen to our podcast below with Michael Mahoney, or click here to listen on iTunes.

See what GolfWRX Members are saying about the AVX golf balls

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