October 2, 2007

Touch Me, Feel Me, Hit Me

The mystery of golf ball development

Developing a golf ball is a mystery. The softer you make a ball, the more it wants to spin, which is good around the greens but not ideal off the tee. The harder you make it, the less it spins, which is good for your slice but not for your flop shot. It's a neat trick getting the ball to do a bit of both, and the concoctions being cooked up for golf balls are right out of the alchemist's recipe book.

In short, they've figured out ways to make "softer" play like "harder". It's relatively straightforward when you have a thin urethane cover. It's also pretty expensive. Without the urethane cover, designers have to find ways to engineer soft feel by manipulating the core. Specifically, we're talking about ways of engineering a lower–compression (softer) core so it's more resilient.

Precept's new Distance IQ ball is an example of that, as are the revamped Srixon AD333 and Titleist NXT Extreme. Others use multiple layers to improve performance. The new NXT Tour just like its predecessor, combines a firm outer core with a soft inner core, and the Wilson Zip ball benefits from a middle layer of resilient HPF polymer.

Generally, the best non–urethane balls use a soft core for feel and a firm cover for enhanced launch conditions, or in other words a hard–over–soft construction. "If you soften the core, it will get the most out of the average player's swing," says Bob Thurman, Wilson's global director of research and development. What the cover on these balls generally lacks, says Thurman, is the ability to store the shearing effect caused by the high–speed friction of, for example, a precisely struck chip shot. A soft ionomer cover has that capability. It also has a more consistent trajectory. The benefits of these attributes are proportional to the player's ability. For the rest of us, however, the hard balls are getting softer and smarter while staying well within our budgets.

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SRIXON —The new AD333 ($20 for a dozen) uses a zinc–oxide blended cover designed to be resilient and maintain feel.

WILSON —The multilayer Zip ($25) has a middle layer of resilient HPF polymer, allowing for a core compression of zero.

TITLEIST —The NXT Extreme's 1.55–inch core is soft and resilient. The NXT Tour has a very thin cover with a multilayer core. Both balls ($25) feature the same type of seam–line dimple arrangement as the Pro V1 line to improve aerodynamics.