You would think we figured out the golf ball years ago. You would be wrong, and Bill Morgan, senior vice president of golf ball research and development at Titleist, has a never-ending supply of evidence to prove the point. In this week's Equipment Q&A, we talked with Morgan during our research for the NBC-Golf Digest Equipment Special, and he offered his thoughts about the introduction of the Pro V1 and Pro V1x balls, and on how golf balls can still be improved.
Much of the conversation centered on two themes: consistency and fitting. The goal of a designer is to figure out the best way to make a ball that equally meets the demands of the wildly different impacts of a flop shot and a driver smash. That challenge involves understanding how the inside of the ball works with the outside of the ball, and vice versa. In addition, Morgan takes issue with the idea that certain players should only play certain types of balls, and he also stresses that what gets lost too often in golf ball discussions and debates is how in the formula for what happens in a golf shot, the ball is subservient to the club and the club is subservient to the golfer. Hence, the value of fitting.
Golf Digest: What's your approach to ball fitting? Is it for everyone, or just a certain level of player?
Morgan: I think ball fitting is very important for all golfers. In our system, we will walk you through a process that is identical to what we use with tour players. The first thing we do is characterize the nature of your game, and then based on that select two golf balls that you can go onto the golf course and try in different shot scenarios. We think it's very important in ball-fitting to try the balls on the golf course because that's where you play the game, and that's where you can see the results of the shot you're trying to make. If you don't see it on the golf course, it's not real.
GD: What is the role of swing speed in ball selection?
Morgan: We believe it's a myth that moderate and lower swing speed players need special balls. We think in terms of influencing a golf shot that the club is more important than the ball and the golfer is more important than the club. Now, while we know different players apply a different level of force to the ball than others, it is clear to us that the range of force applied by a better player includes the level of force applied by by lesser players. We strongly believe that a ball must be designed for all speeds or it won't work for any golfer.
GD: So how do you make a ball better?
Morgan: When we work on how to make a ball that's better for Nick Watney, those are the same things that are going to help you and I play better, too. Of course, what's "better" is different every time. The change we're seeking for the next generation of golf balls is coming from what golfers want today. So "better" changes. What we call better today might not have been better in 2005. It might have been worse.
GD: Consistency is part of that improvement process, right? What have you done to make the ball more consistent?
Morgan: The entire history of dimple development has been one in which we've tried to make the surface of the golf ball more and more uniform to improve upon the consistency of the aerodynamic performance of the ball. We think we've taken a big step this year, which takes us to a place we've never been before. This year we've introduced what's called a spherically-tiled, tetrahedral layout, which has a different count and a different arrangement of dimples on the surface of the ball. In fact using the specific geometry of spherical tiling in the tetrahedral layout, we've subdivided the golf ball's surface into 24 identical tiles that are all exactly the same and produce the most uniform surface coverage we've ever had. We also dug into the process of making the core and in doing so we found a way to make cores more consistently. And if we can make a more consistent core, then we can be more precise with our formulations. So we developed a new formulation to go hand-in-hand with our new molding process. The two together have enabled us to make a core that's more individually consistent, and more consistent core to core to core.