Equipment

Titleist's 75 years as the No. 1 ball at the U.S. Open runs from 'Dynamite Thread' to Pro V1

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It probably comes as no surprise that Titleist, long the most played golf ball in the professional game, is once again the No. 1 ball played in the U.S. Open. This year marks 75 years since a Titleist ball was most preferred at America’s national golf championship, and that history reflects as much the changes in golf ball technologies as the preference in performance demands.

At the outset and for the first half-century, the Titleist balls that dominated at the U.S. Open were a construction that essentially no longer exists. Those included multiple versions of balls whose insides were made of rubber windings around a relatively small rubber core. The construction of windings, included a smaller rubber core that was filled with a liquid center. The liquid was made of a mixture of salt water and corn syrup.

The cover was a form of balata, synthetic or otherwise, that was a soft, rubber-like latex material made from a tropical sapodilla tree. By comparison, this kind of ball spun much more off the tee than the current solid core construction used in the Pro V1 and Pro V1x balls that feature a cast urethane cover.

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The lineup of Titleist golf balls included a number of balls in the early days that benefited from special windings dubbed “Dynamite Thread.” Designed to enhance distance, it also helped with a softer feel. The “DT” moniker became a hallmark on several Titleist models over the years.

For many of those early years prior to the 1970s, the dimple pattern was a fairly uniform series of rows known as the Atti pattern. Under the Atti pattern, dimples were all the same half-sphere and the rows were like circles around the surface of the ball. They covered about 60 percent of the surface of the ball, much less than the dimple patterns on balls today, which often contain multiple sizes of dimples and cover more than 80 percent of the ball’s surface area for a more efficient and consistently aerodynamic flight.

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Over time, though, the emphasis in performance for these balls moved from “soft” to distance. Much of that work began in the 1970s with transformative dimple patterns based on intense aerodynamic study. Rather than uniform rows, the dimples moved to a series of triangular planes that formed different multi-sided hedrons or polygons. Among the more famous models was the Titleist 384 Tour, which was the introduced in 1983 with an icosahedron pattern. Early ads claimed “60 extra dimples make it the tour’s biggest hit” and “16 yards longer off the driver.” 

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The 384 Tour was the most played model until the debut of the Tour Balata in 1992, which featured a larger rubber core and “a more reflexive balata cover … resiliently resists the scuffing of today’s groove technology.”

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In 1994, Titleist introduced the Professional, which became the first Titleist with a urethane cover to be played on tour, and it was the top choice at the USGA's marquee championship until 2001, the first U.S. Open after the now-iconic Pro V1 was introduced the preceding October. The Titleist Professional’s urethane cover also was employed for the Pro V1, but it was the solid core construction (no more windings) that was transformational for Titleist, which had seen the success of multilayer, solid core models from both Top-Flite and Nike. 

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Of course, nothing would compare to the success of Pro V1 and the Pro V1x, the dual-core version that followed in 2003. Today, it is common for more than 70 percent of the players at a tour event to be playing a version of either the Pro V1 or Pro V1x. Last week, according to Titleist citing figures from the Darrell Survey, 106 players teed up a Titleist at the U.S. Open at LACC.

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Wyndham Clark became the sixth player in the last nine U.S. Opens to win with Pro V1 or Pro V1x. The first player to win the U.S. Open with a Pro V1 ball was Retief Goosen in 2001.

How much has the distance changed just by the golf ball? One test from instructor Andrew Rice in 2011 suggested the distance increased from 262 yards with the Tour Balata to 298 yards with a Pro V1. According to the USGA’s annual reports on driving distance, it characterized the effect of the golf ball innovations from 2000 (pre-Pro V1) to 2004 (full adoption of the Pro V1/Pro V1x) as approximately 15 yards.

Even without Dynamite Thread.