"Ball fitting" has become a bigger part of golf's vernacular, and in 2016, most players know that using the right ball for their swing can actually make a difference. For Bridgestone Golf, the concept is a cornerstone. "Fitting is the foundation for what we do," says Bridgestone's Elliott Mellow. "It allows us to take a product that pretty much looks the same to most people (round, white and dimpled) and help individual golfers better enjoy the game."
Mellow has the kind of job any golf geek would love: He spends his days thinking about polymers, cores, mantel layers, dual dimples—everything that goes into engineering a high-performance golf ball. And while a conversation with him could make your head spin, he translates the science behind the company's golf balls into terms the layman can better relate to: distance and spin.
Mellow leads Bridgestone's U.S. fitting program, which offers both live and online fitting experiences. The first step in a live ball fitting is getting an individual's player profile so that the expert fitters have an understanding of who the golfer is (age, gender, driver distance, average score, shot shape, trajectory, etc.). The player then hits a series of drives with the ball he or she currently plays with, and the launch monitor captures a ton of data. "We have them take enough swings to get an average of how their current ball performs," says Mellow. The fitters then analyze that info and give them a Bridgestone ball to try with the driver. "The driver reveals the most about the performance of the golf ball," says Mellow. "We show them the performance difference between their current ball and our products so they get immediate validation. We are successful 75 percent of the time, and the higher the handicapper, the more a fitting can help them," he adds.
According to Mellow, the success rate goes up every year, and the main reason it goes up every year is because "we can continually refine and re-engineer the golf ball based on data we gather from the actual consumer." About 330,000 golfers have been through the live fitting program since 2008, and more than 2 million swings have been captured. That's a lot of data.
One of the most important results of all this information has been to create a "tour quality" ball for amateur swings speeds, which Bridgestone defines as less than 105 mph. "A lot of golfers play with tour balls, and they shouldn't," contends Mellow. "[A tour ball] gives a player like PGA Tour professional Brandt Snedeker distance and speed off the tee, but for an amateur who cannot fully compress the core, that particular ball won't carry or roll as far. It will also create excessive side spin, so, for example, a five-yard slice might become a 20-yard slice." Hence, the company launched the B330RX, which has many of the feel and performance benefits of a tour ball but is designed to perform better for more average swing speeds. It was the start of a whole new ball category, Mellow says.
Whether you go through Bridgestone's system or have your local pro help you test different types of balls on a launch monitor to see the difference in performance, comparing golf balls side by side to find the type that optimizes your game is a worthwhile exercise for all players. It will open your eyes to the vast variety in ball construction, and help you pinpoint the type of ball that makes you perform the best. (For instance, you might just find that a softer ball with more spin will give you more distance off the tee than a so-called "distance ball" would.) No two golfers are created equal.