Online golf ball fitting? Maybe, maybe not
Bridgestone: Seven questions about how I play, some of them not particularly relevant (it’s not clear to me, for example, whether a tendency to hook the ball or slice the ball should produce a different ball recommendation, and as best I can tell changing the answer didn't change the recommendation). The questions result in only one recommendation, which isn’t as helpful as two. With two, I can take the online recommendations and test them out on the golf course.
Callaway: Three questions, including one about price. (Why?) We do get three recommendations, which is good, but you haven’t asked me enough questions so I don’t have a lot of confidence in your recommendation.
Nike: No online fitting tool, although the video of tour players offering advice is somewhat educational. (Main thrust: Distance shouldn't be nearly as important as playability around the greens.) So in the end, even within the Nike family of eight balls, you have no solid advice on whether someone should play the Nike One Vapor or the Power Distance Soft. Very disappointing.
Srixon: Asks you a couple of distance and spin questions, as well as a ranking of the four most important performance aspects (Example: Distance off the driver, spin on approach shots, feel off the putter, etc.). The latter is good, but, again, only one recommendation. Two would be better.
TaylorMade: Essentially, this is a two-question (TWO!) survey that picks your ball based on your handicap and your preferred short game shot. All players at 10-handicap or better get a choice of the two TP tour balls; all players who shoot higher than 85 get a choice between the two Burner balls. Curiously, the fitting tool doesn’t include recommendations for TaylorMade’s new Penta ball. In other words, it’s not up to date, so therefore, it’s incomplete and thus borderline useless.
Titleist: An overly simplistic 3-question survey that in nearly every case recommends the Pro V1 or Pro V1x (and since the survey concludes with two recommendations, usually both the Pro V1 and Pro V1x are recommended). The only way you can get a recommendation for even Titleist’s mid-level NXT Tour is to admit that you normally miss your target with your full swings AND you miss the green (the ENTIRE green?!) with your partial swings. The good thing about Titleist is the two recommendations and the advice to make your decision based on a thorough on-course test of the two recommended balls. But I don’t like how it gets you to those two recommendations.
Wilson: Hands down the best online ballfitting tool going. Smart questions (14 of them!) in eight different areas of the game lead you to one lead recommended ball and a secondary choice. This is what online ballfitting should be about: asking a golfer to think about how he plays all the key shots in his game and then directing him to a couple of primary choices that he can go test on the golf course.
Maybe you think differently?
BOMB: Just a little. But only a little. The online fitting from Wilson is indeed thorough and helpful. And most of the other online tools are pretty incomplete for the reasons you stated. But at least they’re making an effort and isn’t something better than nothing?
I know everyone wants to know EXACTLY what they should play. It is, after all, the question we probably get asked the most. But short of a full-blown fitting, trial is the best way to sift through the golf-ball maze. It is, in many ways, what we do with the golf ball Hot List. We recommend the spheres we think people should be paying attention to, thus reducing the possibilities to a somewhat manageable number and then let them take it from there, preferably through on-course testing.
Do I wish the online fitting tools from most manufacturers were better? Absolutely. Do I wish they asked more (and more useful) questions? You bet. Do I wish they would possibly recommend a ball that wasn’t their own? OK, I know that’s not going to happen. What we have now is a start. And I’m willing to grant a couple of brownie points for that. Hopefully the companies will see fit (no pun intended) to expand on that in the future. If they don’t, then they deserve to get knocked around a little because as we’ve seen from the example set by Wilson, better is possible.