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Golf Ball Fitting with Titleist
Dominic Pedler

Titleist are back with a revised 2009 version of their best selling ProV1 golf balls. Meanwhile, for all today's technology, the company stresses that the challenge of ball fitting remains more of an art than a science. Dominic Pedler gets to the core of the matter with Bill Morgan, the company's Senior Vice President, Golf Ball Research & Development.

Dominic Pedler: The 2009 series represents the fourth generation of Pro V1 and Pro VIx balls.Are there genuine performance improvements and, if so, in which areas?
Bill Morgan: There are significant changes in construction that have allowed improvements in driver distance and durability, as well as a change in the relative spin between the two balls. The Pro V1 and Pro V1x are now more distinct than in the 2007 series.

DP:We understand the main changes are in respect of the Pro V1?
BM: Yes, we have reworked the Pro V1 from the inside to the outside, starting with a larger diameter core [up from 1.53 to 1.55 inches] which we have also reformulated to a slightly higher compression. Both these factors contribute to more speed off the clubface and greater distance – mainly off the driver. This is complemented by a slight change to the dimple dimensions to optimise the trajectory for maximum distance. The 2009 Pro V1x does not have as many changes, but is still also a little longer off the driver. Both balls have a new casing layer [between the core and the cover] and a cover made from a more abrasion-resistant urethane in response to consumer feedback to improve durability.

DP: How has the spin differential between the two balls changed since the 2007 series? BM: We have separated them a bit more. The 2009 series increases the spin off the Pro V1 and decreases the spin off the Pro V1x. The Pro V1 now spins more than the Pro V1x off both the driver and the irons.We can now market it more clearly as the higher-spinning ball, whereas the 2007 Pro V1x spun less off the driver but more off irons.

DP: In practice, how should golfers view the changes as affecting the long, medium and short game?
BM: The 2009 Pro V1x is the higher-flying ball and most players will probably hit it longer - especially off the tee. The new Pro V1 has a slightly lower trajectory than before and peaks a little bit earlier in its flight. The difference in distance will be most apparent for players who have higher swing speeds, or swings which tend to impart higher spin – and certainly if they have both. The difference will be greater the longer the shot. But, for most iron shots including full wedges, the distance differential will depend on your launch conditions. However, inside 100 yards there's very little distance difference.

DP: Given the cost of the balls, the increase in durability will be welcomed. But doesn't the tougher cover automatically imply a harder feel with less feedback – especially for elite golfers?
BM: There is a slightly firmer feel to the 2009 Pro V1, mainly because of the increase in compression rather than the cover. The Pro V1x feels very much the same. But we tested the feel of both balls very carefully with top tour players and the response was very positive. They still feel great.

DP: From what you've described, the Pro V1 (if not so much the x) appears to be a substantially different ball from the 2007 predecessor, and yet is only visually distinguished by a couple of dots on the alignment marking. Did you consider a new name?
BM:We did some surveys among club pros and consumers and there was a resounding 98 per cent agreement that there is so much goodwill tied up in the Pro V1 name that it would not be in anyone's best interests to change it .We've kept the looks as close as possible to the previous model though have added the 'dot differentiation' – not least for USGA submissions.

DP: Talking of the USGA, how can Titleist continue to make longer golf balls when distance is so tightly regulated by the authorities?
BM: It is important to distinguish between the nature of the USGA's tests for the Overall Distance Standard and the game of golf as played by the vast majority of players. The USGA are only interested in predicting distance for extremely long hitters. For this they use a very scientific testing protocol involving aerodynamic date gathered from simulations in an indoor tunnel; and launch data from a robot set up to swing at 120 mph with ball speeds of some 180 mph. The vast majority of golfers – including most tour pros – do not swing anything like this, which gives us the ability to exploit spin and launch opportunities for greater distance over a wide range of lower swing speeds.

DP: But many players with slower swing speeds assume that they are not suited to Pro V1 – or especially Pro V1x – because of a perception they cannot compress the core sufficiently for the ball to 'work'.
BM: This is a myth! Both balls work fine for all golfers – regardless of their swing speed. It is true that, because of its high compression and harder core construction, Pro V1x gives higher swing speed players a boost by taking advantage of the 'spring-like' effect on flexible thin faced drivers. The harder the golf ball, the greater that effect – but you have to be able to swing the club fast enough to get that extra benefit. None of this means that the ball doesn't work perfectly well for slower swing speed golfers. For example, at a more moderate 100mph swing speed, the Pro V1 and Pro V1x deliver similar driver distance, because at these lower levels that benefit doesn't come into play.

DP:And people forget that even the fastest swingers still have to hit iron shots with swings no faster than the average player's driver.
BM: Yes. For example, J.B. Holmes has a driver ball speed of around 182 mph, with a 3-iron it's around 143 mph, a 5-iron his ball-speed is 139 mph, and with an 8-iron 122 mph. If his Pro V1x didn't 'work' for these slower speed shots, he wouldn't play it. The point is that the golf ball responds proportionately to the energy input from any given swingspeed.There isn't an m.p.h. figure above which the ball 'works' and below which it doesn't.

DP:What golf ball do you personally play and why?
BM: I play the Pro V1x even though I'm an average golfer with ball speed of around 140 mph off the driver. That's because I am a naturally high-spinning player – I tend to hit down on the ball too much – and so I need a ball with lower-spinning properties.

DP:What's your view on the practice of using launch monitors for fitting your golf ball – especially matching your driver to the longest ball?
BM: I fundamentally disagree with this approach. For all levels of player, golf is much more than driving. Think about it: players that shoot par will use the driver no more than 14 times a round – while they'll hit shots to the green more than 23 times. Players who shoot 80, also hit 14 drives, but now some 30 shots to the green. If you shoot in the 90s, you may have more than 14 drives but you'll be playing more than 40 shots to the green.Why would you ball-fit according to the driver?

DP: But matching clubhead and ball so as to generate a higher launch and lower spin will get you more distance!
BM: Yes, and it's easy to do. I can certainly make you longer – but your score will not go down! To illustrate the point, compare the launch conditions of a group of tour pros, firstly with their driver and then hitting wedges. The launch conditions for their drives are tightly clustered reflecting their similar quest for distance – but their wedge shots are scattered all over the chart. Not only do they register hugely varied spin and launch off the wedge, they require it as they play their shots to the green in hugely different ways: coming in at different angles, with different amounts of run, backspin, etc. The point being that, unlike the drive where they are all striving for higher launch and low spin, there's more than one way to get it close to the pin with approach shots. This depends on each player's style of game, and hence you should fit your golf ball according to what construction helps you to hit it close.

DP: A launch monitor like TrackMan can't do that?
BM: TrackMan can measure what you did, but with ball-fitting you need to play the ball that most faithfully replicates what you intended to do. The machine doesn't know that. There's a Ben Hogan anecdote where someone came up to him after watching him on the practice green and said “Those were some fine shots you hit today, Mr Hogan.” To which came the reply: “You don't know what I was trying to do!”. The measure of success is whether what you did matches what you were trying to do. In this way, ball-fitting remains much more of an art than a science.

DP: So how should average golfers approach ball fitting in practice?
BM: The same way as for pros – understand that only you can best fit you. Professional golfers know which shots are most likely to affect their score and evaluate ball performance in these shot scenarios. They understand that these 'money shots' shots will affect their score far more than the driver.ALL golfers should do the same; try different golf balls in the shot scenarios that most likely to affect their score. Average golfers, too, need to hit it closer – not longer – to improve their scores.

DP: Is there a typical 'money shot' for average golfers looking to make that comparison between balls?
BM:All golfers are different. It could be short-game shot but it could be a longer shot. Often it will be the third shot at a par-4 when you've missed the green and need to get it close to save par. My point is to encourage golfers to think about their game and to try to identify the type of shot whose execution is most likely to affect their score.

DP: Beyond ProV1, how should golfers view the other balls in the Titleist range, like the NXT Tour, NXT, and PTS.
BM: I believe that almost all golfers will play better with either Pro V1 or Pro V1x. But there are reasons why these might not necessarily be the best balls. The number one reason is cost. For those golfers, NXT Tour is Titleist's attempt to create a golf ball that performs as much as possible like Pro V1 but at a lower cost. It does indeed perform very similarly for almost all shots – except within 100 yards where a more accomplished player has much more control with Pro V1 thanks to the higher-spinning urethane cover. It's that which accounts for the price differential.

DP:What about naturally very high-spinning players?
BM: If you are an erratic player and get too much side spin– both left and right – you need to look for a ball that brings you less spin on all shots. That's what the Titleist NXT is all about. It's our low-spinning golf ball. It's ideal for those golfers whose shots are genuinely slicing or hooking – as distinct from a straight push or pull. But really, if you're getting that much side spin, you need a lesson.

DP: And for players with very low swing speeds.?
BM: The latest generation of PTS ball caters particularly for those with fairly low swing speeds. who are more recreational golfers and need help with distance and a ball flight that looks more like a proper golf shot. At low swing speeds. some golfers can't get the ball high enough in the air and hence the PTS Carry is one they should consider.

DP: Despite your clear caveats, there will always be some players who really are only interested in distance.
BM: Those golfers may well like to consider an ultimate distance construction such as the Pinnacle FX Long. As I've explained, the Titleist ball-fitting philosophy and methodology is much more about scoring than distance. The golfers we talk to are not asking for 10 extra yards, they want 10 shots off their score.

DP:Will we see ball manufacturers introducing higher spinning balls to compensate for the impending rule change on iron grooves designed to reduce spin and control on recovery shots from the rough?
BM:AUSGA report suggests that the 2010 grooves change could reduce spin on shots out of wet rough by over 1,000 RPM – which is a lot of spin. We certainly could add that spin back – it's technically easy – but the trouble is that you then do so for all other shots, too. And, ultimately, there are still many more golfers – including more tour players – who are asking us for less spin, rather than more, when it comes to their game as a whole. But we will monitor developments. In the meantime, for shots into the green, the 2009 Pro V1 spins a little more than the previous model, so that's already a benefit come 2010.

DP: Finally, some people believe that the release of the new Pro V1 balls was necessitated by the ongoing lawsuit with Callaway over alleged patent infringement of the 2007 series. Can you set the record straight?
BM: The launch of the 2009 balls are not in response to anything other than us being able to make a better product that we can bring to the market. Of course, we have ensured that the new models are outside that lawsuit.We have always adopted a two-year product life cycle with the Pro V1 since its launch in 2001.We improved it in 2003, again in 2005 and 2007, and now 2009. Indeed, we are already working on further developments for – you guessed it – 2011.


Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International.

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