2014 Hot List: Golf Balls

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2014 Hot List: Golf Balls

April 17, 2014

We all crave distance, but how a golf ball performs on approach shots and around the green is what saves the most strokes. Maybe that's why manufacturers are focusing on feel—by lowering compression and reformulating softer covers to make chips and pitches check up quicker. It's what we saw in our review of 59 balls for the 2014 Hot List. Both in robot testing and player comments, the meaningful differences clearly came off the short wedge shots, not from the driver. The following pages highlight our favorite balls in three price categories (Over $36, $21-$36, and $20 and Under). So search for distance, but let feel make the final decision.— Mike StachuraGOLD: Balls that earned a score of 93 to 100 on our weighted scale.SILVER: Balls that earned a score of 88 to 92.99.RATINGSStar ratings represent a scoring range within each price category. A ½-star is equal to the upper end of a particular range.97-100 ........... ____88-96 ............... ____70-87 ................. ____51-69 ................... ____< 50 ........................ ____

BRIDGESTONEB330/B330-S/B330-RX/B330-RXSPrice: $45 dozenThis series continues to be unmatched in its variety and commitment to ball-fitting. An intriguing upgrade this year: water-infused cores designed to produce less driver spin.B330: It's built for Freddie swing speeds with a firmer mantle layer and firmer outer core (pictured). The water-infused core design reduces driver spin.B330-S: Aimed at 105-mph swing speeds, the four-piece design features the softest cover of any of the B330 balls for high spin around the greens.__B330-RX:__The urethane-cover enhances spin on short shots, but its soft compression and thinner mantle layer (20 percent less than before) and new core decrease driver spin.B330-RXS: The softest overall ball in the B330 line, the new core design means less driver spin, but you'll get more short game spin than RX.PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____FEEL____½DEMAND ½

CALLAWAYSPEED REGIME (SR1, SR2, SR3)Price: $48 dozenEverybody has thought about matching golf-ball compression to different swing speeds. But Callaway also found three unique dimple-pattern aerodynamics to maximize tee balls.Speed Regime SR1: Designed with swing speed specific aerodynamics, SR1 targets sub-90 mph speeds by increasing lift for longer carry (pictured).Speed Regime SR 2: Focused on the 90-105 mph swinger, the five-piece construction (two cores, two mantles, cover) is designed for less initial drag than SR1 and more lift than SR3.Speed Regime SR 3: The firmest overall compression in the series, it features the lowest initial drag for better initial flight for the highest swing speeds.PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____FEEL____½DEMAND ____

NIKERZN PLATINUM/RZN BLACKPrice: $46 dozenRZN Platinum: Like the RZN Black, the RZN Platinum has the new resin polymer core and softer cover, but it's even softer than the RZN Black to produce more spin (pictured).RZN Black: Nike's new resin polymer core features a waffled shape to improve energy transfer. There's also a softer cover to improve control on the short shots.PERFORMANCE ½INNOVATION____FEEL____DEMAND ____

SRIXONZ-STAR/Z-STAR XVPrice: $45 dozenZ-STAR: The softer compression version of Srixon's tour balls, the three-piece design features a special coating on the cover designed to increase friction on shorter shots.Z-STAR XV: There's an ultra-thin urethane cover (0.5 millimeters) to enhance distance and spin on this dual-core design. The cover also features a friction-increasing coating for short-shot spin (pictured).PERFORMANCE ½INNOVATION____FEEL____DEMAND ½

TAYLORMADETOUR PREFERRED/TOUR PREFERRED XPrice: $46 dozen____ As in previous TaylorMade balls, both of these use multiple mantle layers to enhance performance for specific clubs. A softer urethane cover is the major update this year.Tour Preferred: This ball uses multiple mantle layers to enhance performance for specific clubs. A softer urethane cover is the major update this year (pictured).Tour Preferred X: The X is built similarly to the Preferred, but it's not quite as soft. It's geared towards the better player who wants more penetrating ball flight.PERFORMANCE ½INNOVATION____FEEL____½DEMAND ½

TITLEISTPRO V1/PRO V1XPrice: $48 dozenThe line—as reliably excellent in our evaluations as ever—features the Pro V1 and Pro V1x.Pro V1: Due to a lower compression core, this three-piece design (core, mantle, urethane cover) is the softer of the two and the softest in Pro V1 history. Off the driver, it's designed to produce lower flight and less spin than the 2011 Pro V1 for increased distance.Pro V1x: A new core formulation process on this dual-core design yields tighter manufacturing tolerances than previous versions. Compared to Pro V1, it should fly higher and iron shots should land at a steeper angle.PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____FEEL____DEMAND ____

WILSON STAFFFG TOURPrice: $45 dozenWilson study says two-thirds of golfers prefer "soft." So FG Tour's new version has a compression 10-25 points lower than many tour balls. A dual-mantle inside enhances speed.PERFORMANCE ½INNOVATION____FEEL____DEMAND ____

MAXFLIU/6, U/6LC, U/6XPrice: $45 dozenEach ball features six layers: a cover, four progressively denser mantles and a core.U/6: There are six layers: a cover, four progressively denser mantles and a core. This ball is for normal swing speeds: soft enough for feel around the green but still long.U/6LC: There are six layers here, too. The LC stands for lower compression—so, it's geared towards slower swing speeds.U/6X: This ball is also built with six layers, but it's firmer than the LC and the 6. Since it's high compression, this ball is for faster swingers, to help them hit it long.PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____½FEEL____½DEMAND ____

NICKLAUSBLACKPrice: $52 dozenThis three-piece, urethane-covered ball is made for swing speeds of 95 miles per hour or higher. For every dozen balls purchased online or at affiliated Nicklaus Design pro shops, the company will make a charitable donation.PERFORMANCE ½INNOVATION____½FEEL____DEMAND ____

VOLVIKWHITE COLOR S3/WHITE COLOR S4Price: $45 dozenBoth feature Volvik's first urethane cover. The main difference between the two is the S4's firmer compression. They're the company's best-spinning balls on wedge shots.PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____FEEL____½DEMAND ____

BRIDGESTONE E5Price: $27 dozenIt's a two-piece ball designed to launch high, but it's the urethane cover that adds tour-level spin on short shots.PERFORMANCE ½INNOVATION____½FEEL____DEMAND ½

BRIDGESTONE E6Price: $27 dozenThe e6 is a consistent favorite in our evaluations. It's also the softest e6 ever made thanks to a lower compression and softer Surlyn cover.PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____½FEEL____½DEMAND ____

BRIDGESTONE E7Price: $27 dozenOf the three e-series balls, this is the one that emphasizes distance first thanks to a firmer core. It also should fly a little lower.PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____½FEEL____DEMAND ½

CALLAWAYX2 HOTPrice: $27 dozenThe company's softest three-piece ball has a dimple pattern designed to maximize ball speed for swings slower than 90 miles per hour.PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____½FEEL____½DEMAND ½

CALLAWAYX2 HOT+Price: $27 dozenThis ball's dimple pattern is made for swings over 90 mph. It's also firmer than the X2 Hot but softer than most tour balls.PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____½FEEL____DEMAND ½

NIKERZN REDPrice: $30 dozenIt's got the waffled, polymer resin core of the tour balls but in a formula emphasizing distance. Also, the cover is made of low-spin Surlyn.PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____½FEEL____½DEMAND ____

NIKERZN WHITEPrice: $30 dozenThe waffled core functions like it does on the Red, but it features a lower compression. The cover is a softer Surlyn, too.PERFORMANCE ½INNOVATION____½FEEL____½DEMAND ____

SRIXONQ-STARPrice: $25 dozenA special coating on the cover helps increase friction to give you more short-game spin than typical Surlyn-covered, two-piece balls.PERFORMANCE ½INNOVATION____FEEL____½DEMAND ½

TAYLORMADEPROJECT (A)Price: $32 dozenThis three-piece ball's urethane cover is designed to give you significantly more approach-shot spin than Surlyn-covered balls.PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____FEEL____DEMAND ½

TAYLORMADEROCKETBALLZPrice: $26 dozenThe Surlyn cover on this three-piece ball is firmer than the 2012 version to provide more distance.PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____½FEEL____DEMAND ½

TITLEISTNXT TOURPrice: $34 DozenBoth the dual-core and polymer-blend cover are softer than last year, but the ball still maintains low spin off the driver.PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____½FEEL____DEMAND ____

TITLEISTNXT TOUR SPrice: $34 DozenDeveloped with input from average golfers, it has a soft core and polymer-blend cover.PERFORMANCE ½INNOVATION____FEEL____½DEMAND ½

TITLEISTVELOCITYPrice: $27 DozenThe ball has been updated with a new dimple pattern that produces a shallower landing angle and more roll-out on tee shots.PERFORMANCE ½INNOVATION____FEEL____DEMAND ____

I NEED THE BALLTHE BALLPrice: $35 DozenLaugh at the name if you want, but the cast urethane cover enhances wedge spin, and the tungsten-infused core helps control driver spin.PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____½FEEL____½DEMAND ____

RIFEV-MOTIONPrice: $33 DozenHard to find these in most golf shops, but the cast urethane cover and inner mantle layer work together for short-shot spin.PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____½FEEL____½DEMAND ½

CALLAWAYSUPERSOFTPrice: $20 DozenIt's Callaway's softest two-piece ball in its history and as soft as any we've seen (the company says the core compression measures out at zero).PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____½FEEL____DEMAND ____

NIKEPOWER DISTANCE SOFTPrice: $16 DozenThis bargain favorite features a new, softer ionomer cover and a lower overall compression than its predecessor.PERFORMANCE ½INNOVATION____FEEL____DEMAND ____

TITLEISTDT SOLOPrice: $20 DozenThe two-piece design is still the Titleist standard for softness. A new dimple pattern enhances surface coverage for a more consistent flight.PERFORMANCE ½INNOVATION____½FEEL____DEMAND ____

TOP-FLITEGAMER SOFTPrice: $20 DozenOne of the least-expensive three-piece balls available. The core and cover are softer than previous models to help golfers with non-tour swing speeds.PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____FEEL____DEMAND ½

WILSON STAFFDUOPrice: $20The Duo is designed with a compression rating that's softer than typical two-piece distance balls. It also will launch high on full swing shots.PERFORMANCE ____INNOVATION____½FEEL____½DEMAND ____

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