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2021 Hot List

The best golf balls of 2021: How to choose between spin and launch

The most distinct difference we’ve found in golf ball performance comes in short-game spin (see below chart). Balls with a multilayer construction that include a urethane cover spin noticeably more than balls with an ionomer or Surlyn cover construction.

Routinely thought of as distance balls, some of these non-urethane cover entries are getting closer, but just looking at the average of the balls that made the Hot List in these two categories, the urethane cover balls spin close to 70 percent more than non-urethane cover balls on the half-wedge shot. The numbers are based on robot testing by Golf Laboratories using a Foresight Sports GC Quad launch monitor. That means more check and more consistency for that type of shot.

Hot List 2021-GolfBalls-RobotWedge5Iron

How much exactly? Well, while there is a range, our research shows the same half-wedge shot with a urethane cover ball will carry a little shorter and stop much quicker than a non-urethane cover ball. The urethane cover ball flies three yards shorter and only rolls out six yards, while the non-urethane cover ball rolls out 11 yards after landing. That resulted in shots that finished four feet from the hole with a urethane ball, but 27 feet from the hole with a non-urethane ball.

In other words, urethane cover balls offer more precision for the shots that require the most precision. Presuming, of course, you have that kind of precision.

Our player survey of average golfers and the two kinds of balls suggests many golfers don’t display that kind of precision and awareness. We did find that nonurethane balls launch consistently higher on these types of shots, which might be helpful to some average golfers. But the differences weren’t as great on full swings with longer clubs.

In fact, the latest urethane cover balls have improved carry for lower-lofted clubs through new aerodynamic dimple patterns. (Not only that, the standard deviation in the performance of the best urethane balls was more than 50 percent tighter vs. the non-urethane balls because the slicker cover would lead to inconsistent launch and spin. All that precision comes at a price, however. Urethane cover balls cost 50 to 100 percent more than non-urethane balls.

So if you’re losing two sleeves a round, your decision might be using a metric other than the RPMs you might be losing on a 40-yard wedge shot.