My name is Dean Snell, and I own a golf-ball company called Snell Golf. Maybe you’ve heard of my company or even used one of my golf balls; that’s great. My company isn’t the focus of this piece, though; it’s you. GolfWRX has given me the opportunity to help its readers understand what type of golf balls are best for them. I’m a golf junkie, like many of you, so I often find my way to this site. I love reading what you all have to say about my golf balls, and golf balls in general. That’s why I said “yes” to writing this article. I hope to save some of you a few strokes, and some of you a few dollars.
To me, there are really only two different types of golf balls; premium golf balls, which are called “tour balls,” and then all the other balls, which for the sake of this discussion we’ll call “distance balls.” They’re more affordable. I sell both a tour ball and a distance ball, so I don’t have a dog in this fight. It’s true what you’ve heard, though, tour balls do technically perform better than distance balls, but that doesn’t mean everyone needs a tour ball. Once you know the facts, you’ll know why.
I’ve been designing golf balls for 27 years, and things have changed dramatically in golf-ball design during that time. The change was so rapid, in fact, that many golfers don’t have their facts straight about what the new tour balls do, and what they don’t do. Back in the early ’90s, when we used to test drivers and 8 irons for performance, the Tour Balata was the true tour ball, but it scared a lot of golfers away due to high driver spin rates. In fact, tour players back then used 6- or 7-degree drivers just to try to reduce the spin a bit. For the average golfer, the driver spin rate would go even higher, thus producing huge hooks and slices off the tee. So if you played a tour ball in those days, you might have had a driver spin rate of 4000 rpm. If you played a distance-ball, your spin rate rate probably dropped to about 2500 rpm. Since reducing the spin of your drives creates more distance, for the most part, many golfers liked distance balls better, even though they were harder to stop on the green.
It took some time, but today tour balls are designed with multiple layers, which help to create what’s called a spin curve across your set of clubs. What that means is the new tour balls give golfers the distance of those old distance balls, but the control of the old tour balls when you need it. The new distance balls are better than they used to be, but they don’t have the same spin curve the new tour balls do. With distance balls, golfers will experience low-spin performance with all their clubs, which makes it difficult to stop shots quickly on the green. Better players also have trouble controlling shots with distance balls, as they tend to launch higher and with less spin, creating shots known as “fliers.”
Now, this may be the most important paragraph in this story. Whether you buy a tour ball or a distance ball, know they will both go about the same distance off the tee. That’s because leading golf ball designers have worked to get the spin rates of all their golf balls in a very similar range off the tee, and aerodynamically each ball’s dimples are correct for its particular construction. The ball speeds of all of them have been maxed out to USGA limits, as well.
Once you leave the tee is where tour balls start to outperform distance balls. Statistically, golfers hit most of their shots from 150 yards and in, and more than half of those shots are from less than 100 yards. Inside 150 yards, and especially inside 100 yards, is where certain golfers can truly benefit from tour-ball performance. Although you may not be able to spin the ball back like a pro, you will still be able to add some spin and control to your shots with a tour ball. With every 1000 rpm of spin you can add to a wedge shot, you can stop the ball 5 feet closer to where it lands on the average green. Having the ball stop faster may mean a birdie, or reduce the chance of a three putt.
So, lower spin rates for longer drives, and more spin for more control around the greens are the biggest pros for tour balls sold today. With the new balls, however, something completely flip-flopped in the feel category. Back in the day, distance balls were very firm in feel, and the tour balls were very soft. Better players used to love the soft feel. To improve their performance, tour balls have gotten firmer over the years, and distance balls have become incredibly softer. So if a soft feel is important to you, some of the distance balls on the market today feel much softer than tour balls. Just like the old days, the durability of distance balls is also still a plus, but the gap is closing. Most distance balls are made with an ionomer or Surlyn cover than is less prone to getting cut, scraped or gouged, but improvements to the urethane covers used on tour balls have added to their durability.
The biggest con of a tour ball continues to be its price, though. They can cost as much as $48 per dozen. Regardless of how you feel about that price point, there is a reason tour balls cost more than distance balls. All tour balls use at least a three-layer construction, which improve performance, and also adds to the cost of making them. Their urethane covers are also more expensive, from both a materials and labor standpoint.
Still haven’t made up your mind about which ball is for you? Here’s how I suggest golfers make the decision between a tour ball and a distance ball.
Get a sleeve of tour balls and a sleeve of distance balls, and compare them against each other on the golf course. You don’t need to play both balls tee to green, though. When you can, hit multiple shots with each ball from 100 yards, 75 yards and 40 yards. Try chips and putts from different lies. Then, go to the next hole and do the same thing, and repeat this process for 5 or 6 holes.
By the time you walk off the last green, you should have a favorite, and it’s not always a tour ball. Maybe you liked the way one ball felt, or noticed that one ball was stopping closer to the hole because it was either checking up more or rolling out more. Something will likely stand out to you. If it doesn’t, then buy distance balls. There’s no reason to throw your money away for no measurable benefit.
The Wedge Guy: Your game vs. The pros
I know most of us like to watch golf on TV. Seeing these marvelous (mostly) young athletes do these amazing things with a golf ball makes for great theater. But the reality is that they play a very different game than we do, and they play it differently as well.
I’ve long contended that most rank-and-file recreational golfers cannot really learn a whole lot by watching men’s professional golf on TV. It would be like watching NASCAR or Formula One racing and looking for tips on how to be a better driver.
The game is different. The athletes are different. And the means to an end are entirely different. Let me offer you some things to ponder in support of this hypothesis.
First, these tour professionals ARE highly skilled and trained athletes. They spend time in the gym every day working on flexibility, strength, and agility. Then they work on putting and short game for a few hours, before going to the range and very methodically and deliberately hit hundreds of balls.
Now, consider that the “typical” recreational golfer is over 45 years old, likely carrying a few extra pounds, and has a job, family or other life requirements that severely limit practice time. Regular stretching and time at the gym are not common. The most ardent will get in maybe one short range session a week, and a few balls to warm up before a round of golf.
The tour professionals also have a complete entourage to help them optimize their skills and talents. It starts with an experienced caddie who is by their side for every shot. Then there are the swing coaches, conditioning coaches, mental coaches, and agents to handle any “side-shows” that could distract them. You, on the other hand, have to be all of those to your game.
Also, realize they play on near-perfect course conditions week to week. Smooth greens, flawless fairways cut short to promote better ball-striking — even bunkers that are maintained to PGA Tour standards and raked to perfection by the caddies after each shot.
Watch how perfectly putts roll; almost never wavering because of a spike mark or imperfection, and the holes are almost always positioned on a relatively flat part of the green. You rarely see a putt gaining speed as it goes by the hole, and grain is a non-factor.
So, given all that, is it fair for to you compare your weekly round (or rounds) to what you see on television?
The answer, of course, is NO. But there ARE a lot of things you can learn by watching professional golf on TV, and that applies to all the major tours.
THINK. As you size up any shot, from your drive to the last putt, engage your mind and experience. What side of the fairway is best for my approach? Where is the safe side of the flag as I play that approach? What is the best realistic outcome of this chip or pitch? What do I recall about the slope of this green and its speed? Use your brain to give yourself the best chance on every shot.
FOCUS. These athletes take a few minutes to drown out the “noise” and put their full attention to every shot. But we all can work to learn how to block out the “noise” and prepare ourselves for your best effort on every shot. It only takes a few additional seconds to get “in the zone” so your best has a chance to happen.
PAY ATTENTION TO DETAILS. You have complete control over your set-up, ball position and alignment, so grind a bit to make sure those basics are right before you begin your swing. It’s amazing to me how little attention rank-and-file golfers pay to these basics. And I’m firmly convinced that the vast majority of bad shots are “pre-ordained” because these basics are not quite right.
SHAKE IT OFF. The game is one shot at a time – the next one. That has been preached over and over, and something most pros do exceedingly well. Very often you see them make a birdie right after a bogey or worse, because the professional bears down on these three basics more after he had just slacked on them and made a bogey or worse.
MEDIOCRE SHOTS ARE THE NORM. And those will be interspersed with real bad ones and real good ones. Those guys are just like us, in that “mediocre” is the norm (relatively speaking, that is). So go with that. Shake off the bad ones and bask in the glory of the good ones – they are the shots that keep us coming back.
Let me dive into that last point a bit deeper, because some of you might find it strange that I claim that “mediocre shots are the norm,” even for tour professionals. First, let’s agree that a “mediocre” shot for a 20-handicap player looks quite different that what a tour pro would consider “mediocre.” Same goes for a “poor shot.” But a great shot looks pretty much the same to all of us – a well-struck drive that splits the fairway, an approach that leaves a reasonable birdie putt, a chip or pitch for an up-and-down, and any putt that goes in the hole.
Finally, I will encourage all of you – once again – to make sure you are playing from a set of tees that tests your skills in proportion to how their courses test theirs. This past weekend, for example, the winner shot 25 under par “on the card” . . . but consider that Summit had four reachable par-fives (most with iron shots) and a drivable par-four, so I contend it was really a “par 68” golf course at best. Based on that “adjusted par”, then only 20 players beat that benchmark by more than 5 shots for the week. So, obviously, the rest pretty much played “mediocre” golf (for them).
So, did your last round have at least one or two par-fives you can reach with two shots? And did you hit at least 10-12 other approach shots with a short iron or wedge in your hands? More likely, you played a “monster” course (for you) that had zero two-shot par fives and several par-fours that you could not reach with two of your best wood shots. And your typical approach shot was hit with a mid-iron or hybrid.
The game is supposed to be fun – and playing the right tees can make sure it has a chance to be just that. Paying attention to these basics for every shot can help you get the most out of whatever skills you brought to the links on any given day.
The ghost of Allan Robertson: A few thoughts on the distance debate
It’s that time of year in certain parts of the world. Ghosts, ghouls, and ghoblins roam the lawns. Departed ancestors return to these fields to visit with living descendants. It’s also a time (is it ever not?) when curmudgeons and ancients decry the advances of technology in the world of golf equipment.
Pretty big narrative leap, I’ll admit, but I have your attention, aye? An October 16th tweet from noted teacher Jim McClean suggested that it would be fun to see PGA Tour players tee it up for one week with wooden heads and a balata ball.
Others beg for a rolling-back of technological potency, raising property acreage as a critical determinant. Fact is, 90 percent of golfers have no experience with hitting the ball too far, nor with outgrowing a golf course. And yet, the cries persist.
Recently, I was awakened from a satisfying slumber by the ghost of Allan Robertson. The long-dead Scot was in a lather, equal parts pissed at Old Tom Morris for playing a guttie, and at three social-media channels, all of which had put him on temporary suspension for engaging violently with unsupportive followers. He also mentioned the inaccuracies of his Wikipedia page, which credits him for a 100-year old business, despite having only spent the better part of 44 years on this terrestrial sphere. Who knew that the afterlife offered such drip internet access?
I’m not certain if Old Tom cared (or was even alive) that his beloved gutta percha ball was replaced by the Haskell. I believe him to have been preoccupied with the warming of the North Sea (where he took his morning constitutional swims) and the impending arrival of metal shafts and laminated-wood heads. Should that also long-dead Scot pay me a nighttime visit, I’ll be certain to ask him. I do know that Ben Hogan gave no sheets about technology’s advances; he was in the business of making clubs by then, and took advantage of those advances. Sam Snead was still kicking the tops of doors, and Byron Nelson was pondering the technological onslaught of farriers, in the shoeing of horses on his ranch.
And how about the women? Well, the ladies of golfing greatness have better things to do than piss and moan about technology. They concern themselves with what really matters in golf and in life. Sorry, fellas, it’s an us-problem. Records are broken thanks to all means of advancement. Want to have some fun? Watch this video or this video or this video. If you need much more, have a reassessment of what matters.
Either forget the classic courses or hide the holes. Classic golf courses cannot stand up in length alone to today’s professional golfers. Bringing in the rough takes driver out of their hands, and isn’t a course supposed to provide a viable challenge to every club in the bag? Instead, identify four nearly-impossible locations on every putting surface, and cut the hole in one of them, each day. Let the fellows take swings at every par-4 green with driver, at every par-five green with driver and plus-one. Two things will happen: the frustration from waiting waiting waiting will eliminate the mentally-weak contestants, and the nigh-impossible putting will eliminate even more of them. What will happen with scoring? I don’t know. Neither did Old Tom Morris, Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., Lady Heathcoat Amory, or Mildred Didrickson, when new technology arrived on the scene. They shrugged their shoulders, stayed away from Twitter and the Tok, and went about their business.
Add the tournament courses. Build courses that can reach 8,500 yards in length, and hold events on those layouts. Two examples from other sports: the NFL made extra points longer. Has it impacted game results? Maybe. The NBA kept the rim at ten feet. Has it impacted game results? Maybe. We don’t play MLB or MLS on ancient diamonds and pitches. We play their matches and games on technologically-advanced surfaces. Build/Retrofit a series of nondescript courses as tournament venues. Take the par-5 holes to 700 yards, then advance the par-4 fairways to 550 yards. Drive and pitch holes check-in at 400 yards, at least until Bryson DeChambeau and Kyle Berkshire figure a few more things out.
Note to the young guys and the old guys from this 55-year old guy: live your era, then let it go. I know things.
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Stats and strategy guru Spencer Aguiar (@teeoffsports) and guest Sia Nejad of Win Daily Sports dive deep into the CJ Cup @ Summit. Tune in for picks, predictions, DFS, GPP, draws, fades, bets, and more!
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