There are 1,308 balls on the USGA's conforming list, but a Golf Datatech study suggests despite all the alternatives, most consumers aren't interested in switching what they play.
The firm's semi-annual study of serious golfers shows 97 percent use their favorite ball brand more than half the time. Moreover, three of four typical golfers play their favorite more than 80 percent of the time. That's an increase from 66 percent when the same question was asked in summer 2012.
Even so, that doesn't necessarily mean consumers believe there is one ball that would work for everyone.
Only 28 percent agreed with the statement: "Do you believe there is a single golf ball which can perform best for all levels of play?" Higher handicaps (21 and above) were the least likely to think that was true, about half as much (17 percent) as single-digit players (33 percent).Follow @MikeStachura
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Photo: Augusta National/Getty Images
What the winner will receive is not just a piece of history, but an intriguing set of sticks with so much variation from club to club that it might drive a modern-day player berserk.
That's because Hogan's clubs were from a time well before constant loft, lie and swingweight checks became routine. Manufacturing tolerances were almost an oxymoron. As such, Hogan worked on his clubs and whatever felt good to him is what he went with.
"He set his clubs up for feel so the specs are a little all over the place," said Tom Stites, now a consultant for Nike Golf who learned the art of club design from Hogan himself. "On today's golf courses a player would really dig into the turf with those 8- and 9-irons. Those clubs would be pretty tough to play. But back then when the turf was firmer they were perfectly good."
That's because those 8- and 9-irons had zero bounce. Today, most clubs start with 1 degree bounce on the 3-iron and progressively move up 1 degree of bounce per club, resulting in a pitching wedge with 8 degrees bounce. Hogan's bounce angles, however, were all over the lot from minus-2 degrees on his 4-iron, to 5 degrees on his pitching wedge. Although only 5-foot-8, Hogan had his irons made a half-inch longer than standard.
The lofts would be considered extremely weak today. Comparing Hogan's personalized MacGregor forged irons from 1953 to current forgings reveals that, on average, modern irons have lofts approximately 2.5 degrees stronger. According to Stites, they also have more than five times the offset of Hogan's old blades. Additionally, Hogan's irons weighed nearly 5 percent more than today's clubs, although the swingweight (between D-0 and D-2.25) is similar.
One club where the swingweight definitely was not similar is the driver, which checked in at a swingweight of G-2 -- reported to be the heaviest ever measured at the USGA test center. Conversely, today's titanium drivers routinely tip the scale at a swingweight of C-8 or C-9. That heavier clubhead was also in a considerably more compact package. Hogan's driver head was approximately 145cc. Virtually every driver currently used on the PGA Tour exceeds 400cc, and many are at the 460cc limit.
Hogan preferred very firm cord grips with a "reminder" pattern. A close look reveals that the reminder (a raised rib in the back) was set at 5:30 instead of 6 o'clock -- a slightly "weak" hand position. Although Hogan never explained why, it is a reasonable assumption he did so to combat the hook that plagued him early in his career.
Many professional golfers have idiosyncrasies when it comes to their equipment, but Hogan was really finicky. He inserted two extra cleats in the middle of his left golf shoe for added traction and also inserted an extra screw in the middle of the insert of his fairway woods, believing the hard metal would propel the ball farther than the plastic insert. He also routinely soaked golf balls in salt water in order to find ones that were perfectly round. Hogan's personal quality-control test on balls also went a step further. He would inspect them by holding a magnifying glass up to each, searching for excess paint in the dimples.
Hogan's quest for perfection wasn't brand-specific. Although under contract with MacGregor at the time, Hogan routinely used Spalding Dot and Titleist golf balls. In fact, Hogan won the 1953 U.S. Open with the Dot and then the British Open using specially made 1.62-inch Titleist balls.
Ultimately, Hogan's lack of satisfaction with MacGregor equipment led him to create the Ben Hogan Golf Co. in late 1953. Still, the equipment he used for that magical season holds significant historical importance. So much so that it is likely the clubs will sell for more than Hogan's single-season high in earnings of $42,556 in 1946, when he won 13 times.
JERRY KELLY // What's in a name?
Small putter companies are the Davids amid golf's Goliaths. In fact, at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and Puerto Rico Open, five companies (Odyssey, Titleist, Ping, TaylorMade and Nike) accounted for more than 90 percent of the putters being used, leaving few opportunities for upstart or long-standing smaller companies to get their flat sticks in play -- this was a far cry from 1999 when José Maria Olazábal used a Kevin Burns 9304 model in winning the Masters. That win helped spark a run where in 2002 putters from Burns were the fourth-most-used on the PGA Tour according to the Darrell Survey 2002 Equipment Almanac.
All of which made Jerry Kelly's solid showing in the Puerto Rico Open with a Kevin Burns putter notable. "I worked with him at John Deere last year and made him a new putter for this season," said Burns, who said he first met Kelly a few years ago at the Frys.com Open. The club is a redesign of Burns' 705 model and is 33 inches long with a mid-slant neck. Kelly used it to finish T-9 while ranking third in putts per round.
Callaway Speed Regime
PRICE: $48/doz. (Three models: 1, 2, 3)
Patrick Reed used a version of the SR3, a five-piece ball that features a HEX dimple pattern specifically designed for players with swing speeds above 105 mph.
Those spotting Hunter Mahan using a Ping Eye2 lob wedge at the WGC-Cadillac Championship can rest easy. Mahan wasn't wielding one of the old Eye2s not permitted in competition but rather a conforming Eye2 XG model. . . . Russell Henley had Nike's tour technicians check the loft and lie angle on his Method 006 putter at Trump National Doral. Henley regularly has his putter inspected because the long neck makes it more likely that the loft or lie will get unintentionally altered when traveling. . . . A Yes! C-Groove Sandy 12 putter was back in the bag of Ryan Moore in Miami. The putter is the one he used in winning the CIMB Classic in Malaysia last October. Moore finished T-25 at the WGC, ranking 44th in strokes gained/putting. . . . Ernie Els had some new fairway woods in Miami. The four-time major champion employed Adams' new Tight Lies model for his 3- and 5-woods (14 and 19 degrees, respectively). . . . Francesco Molinari wanted a slightly different feel with his Nike Method 006 putter so he practiced with one at the WGC-Cadillac Championship that did not have weights like his gamer. After a few putts on the practice green at Trump National Doral, Molinari put the lighter putter in the bag, eventually finishing T-25 while ranking 37th in strokes gained/putting.
Remember the early 2000s when the Lady Precept gained favor among men who found the soft, low-compression ball worked well for them, too? Since then manufacturers have tried designing balls with monikers more suitable for guys but with the same design principles.
The latest is Callaway's Super Soft, which has a startlingly low ball compression (38!) that the company says comes close to the USGA limit on initial velocity thanks to a large 1.595-inch core and soft ionomer cover.
Still, there are challenges to designing such a ball. "The more soft you make it, the harder it is to make it resilient," says Dave Bartels, Callaway senior director of golf ball R&D. The company found the balance by manipulating the core composition and using the ionomer cover, which also improved the feel around the green.
As a youngster, I played as late into the season as possible and remember using low-compression golf balls because they produced a better feel in the cold. That memory makes the introduction of the ColdFusion ball -- designed for use when temperatures dip below 60 degrees--intriguing.
The ball has a large core with a thick, elastic ionomer cover resulting in a compression of 70. According to the company, a 10-degree drop in temperature can result in a 2.5-yard loss of distance. To combat that, the core of the ColdFusion ($30 a dozen) is designed to retain its elasticity, and the thicker, soft cover helps enhance feel in chilly conditions -- not an insignificant attribute as anyone who has felt the sting of a poorly hit long iron in cold weather can attest.
TaylorMade's Project (a) is designed to bring tour-level technology -- multiple layers, urethane cover and increased short-game spin) -- to golfers who need it most: average amateurs.
Dean Snell, TaylorMade's VP of R&D for golf balls, said a study the company conducted of golfers with handicaps of 10 to 27 found that players missed the green from 150 yards 17 of 18 times -- and by an average of 35 yards. That suggests short game determines their score, but less-expensive Surlyn-covered balls don't check as easily on short shots.
Snell says the Project (a) -- $32 a dozen, or about 25 percent less than most "tour" balls -- is a better solution because it has a similar cover to the company's Tour Preferred balls. "The soft urethane cover against that hard inner mantle layer creates a lot of spin," he says.
In a game of word association, not many would use "distance ball" with "Titleist." Yet two years ago the company went down that path with the introduction of its Velocity ball -- a two-piece model designed to deliver all the distance it could. The ball was a commercial success, but Titleist said consumers asked for a ball that flew a little lower and felt a bit softer without sacrificing yardage.
The latest Velocity addresses those desires. A reformulated core provides the softness, and a change to a "spherically tiled" 328-dimple pattern helps produce a slightly lower flight with a shallower landing angle for more roll off the tee.
The Velocity ($27 a dozen) is available in traditional single numbers (1, 2, 3 and 4) or in double-digits (00, 11, 22 and 33).
Traditionally golf-ball development works in one direction: Technology targeting elite players trickles down to average golfers. Wilson is flipping the script with its latest tour ball that seeks to build on the success of its low-compression Duo balls, which are designed for average golfers.
The new Wilson Staff FG Tour ($45) will be one of the softest multilayer, urethane-covered balls on the market, with a compression of 70. Most balls in the category are in the 90s and 100s. Wilson officials say their research shows even low-handicap players prefer a lower compression ball.
The four-piece construction has two mantle layers offering improved velocity and a core that helps reduce driver spin. The urethane cover is designed to produce plenty of short-shot spin.
Ask Bill Morgan, Titleist's senior VP of golf ball R&D, how he goes about making an improvement to a ball, and the answer is simple.
"Golfers tell us what they need and want," Morgan says.
For the new NXT Tour and NXT Tour S line ($34 a dozen), more than 40,000 golfers worldwide participated in the testing (which also included the new Velocity and DT SoLo balls). What the company learned this time around is that in addition to achieving as close to the performance level of the company's Pro V1 and Pro V1x at a better price ($34 a dozen), a softer feel was desired without sacrificing performance benefits.
In the multilayer NXT Tour a softer dual core helps reduce spin on long shots, and a softer cover adds spin on shorter shots. On the two-piece Tour S a similar process was followed (softer core and cover) for more spin around the greens and a softer feel.
From the Nov. 27 edition of Golf Digest Stix:
They're legit: USGA rules allow metal-core balls.
You've heard of medal play. Are you ready for metal play? A hollow metal-core golf ball was declared conforming as part of the USGA's Rules of Golf update Nov. 6. Though the rules require equipment to have a "traditional and customary form and make," the USGA said the rigid center of the OnCore MA Series 1 ($40 a dozen, available in January) is an exception to Appendix III of the Rules. The metallic core shifts weight to the perimeter, which OnCore says will "reduce slices by 30 percent."