Will golfers shoot lower scores with a premium golf ball or does the price not really matter when it comes to performance on the course? The answer to that question depends on how good the golfer is.
If you’re a premium player then a premium ball is definitely going to accentuate your skills and lower your score, but what if you’re a distinctly average mid-handicap golfer like me? Will using one of the best golf balls translate to better scores? I've often wondered that, so I figured, "let's find out".
I put the Titleist ProV1 ball (£44.99 a dozen) up against the cheapest ball I could find, a 12 pack of Slazenger V100 distance balls which cost just £8 from Sports Direct.
It is stating the bloody obvious to say that the ProV1 is a vastly superior golf ball to the cheapo Slazenger ball. It is marketed as 'the number one ball in golf' for a reason. We all know there is no comparison in quality between these balls, otherwise tour pros would be knocking Slazengers around on TV every week. Slazenger balls are a massively inferior product to a ProV1. This is not in question and the purpose of this article is not to see which ball is best. We already know that.
The question is whether using the best golf balls will translate to a lower score for golfers who are not necessarily skilled enough to reap the full benefit offered by the kind of balls used by the very best players in the world. So, will an average golfer achieve better results with a ProV1, or could a cheap Slazenger ball do the same job?
Read on and see!
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Titleist ProV1 v Slazenger V100 - The Test
Figuring out the best way of comparing these balls wasn’t easy. For higher quality golfers it would be simple. They can repeat the same swing over and over which means you are getting a like for like comparison on shots.
When you’re a mid handicap golfer however you don’t produce the exact same swing each time. And if you’re not producing the same swing then you won’t have the same contact, and if there is no real consistency to your shots how can you fairly compare two different golf balls? You may achieve better results with one ball just because you made a better swing. It would have nothing to do with the ball. That was the main obstacle to overcome if I was to make a fair comparison of these golf balls.
So I came up with two tests. The first was just to play both balls against each other head to head over 9 holes and see which posted the better score. It would not be a definitive outcome but the result would still be interesting and it would be fun to do it.
But I also needed something a bit more accurate. So I also set up a number of challenges where bad shots would be completely disregarded and only good shots would count. Three good shots with each ball and then compare the results. I would hit drives, fairway woods, mid irons, short irons, pitches, chips, bunker shots and finally putts. Only the best three shots with each ball would count (except with putting), but that meant that I would need to hit six good shots for each challenge. This could be an awfully long day!
As it turned out, I had to do it over two days. Partly because of the time it took me to hit six good fairway woods, but also because bad weather stopped play. It is England after all.
Titleist ProV1 v Slazenger V100 - Head to Head
The premium ball came out on top by three shots. I shot +3 for nine holes with the Titleist and +6 with the Slazenger. Was that because of the ball or how I played? Mostly the latter. I made a triple bogey with the Slazenger because I hit a wild slice off the tee and compounded it with more silly errors. The slice was because of a terrible swing, it had nothing to do with the ball. Indeed, there but for the grace of God go the Titleist. Take that hole out of it and the match was all square.
Good players will benefit from premium balls because it helps to control their spin on approach shots. Some players will use a low spinning premium ball because they get so much action on their wedges that they can spin right off the green. Rory McIlroy switched to a lower spinning ball and went from one of the worst wedge players on tour to statistically the best.
For us mere mortals though, it’s very much a lottery. For example, I hit a really nice 9 iron approach with the ProV1 and it sat down really quickly. About 10 yards short of the flag. The same shot with a budget ball is not going to stop as quickly and will therefore be closer to the hole. The flip side is that when you hit one a little too far it will stay on the green with the premium ball but the two piece will most likely run through the back.
The better the player, the better the distance control and the more important it is to be able to get the ball to stop on a dime. For the rest of us, like I say it’s kind of a lottery much of the time.
Personally I don’t think the ball makes any difference when it comes to putting other than the 'feel' factor which can either add or subtract from your confidence level. That is very much down to personal preference anyway. Not all golfers like putting with a softer covered ball.
When it comes to the actual roll of the ball, there's no difference. A good putt is a good putt and a bad putt is a bad putt, irrespective of what ball you are using. I have as much (or little!) chance of sinking a putt with one of those rubber balls you get when playing crazy golf as I do with the best ball money can buy.
The main observation I took from those nine holes was that there was very little difference in accuracy off the tee but that on similar strikes the expensive ball did go a few yards further and had a much nicer feel off the club face. It’s a relatively small sample size though so I was keen to look into this further.
So onto the second part of the test!
Titleist ProV1 v Slazenger V100 - Driving
Course conditions were fairly soft so there wasn't a great deal of run after landing. My three best drives with the Titleist all went a similar distance (235 yards) whereas two of the Slazengers were lagging behind at around 225 despite similar strikes. However, the third Slazenger ball went 238 yards. I hit it well but the strike was not noticeably different to the other shots, so it must have just taken a fortunate bounce.
So there is a clear advantage off the tee with a premium ball. Not a massive advantage, but it does fly a little bit further (or a lot further if you're a really good player). A few more yards off the tee is nice if you're a 14 handicap but it doesn’t guarantee a lower score. It may shorten the odds a little though and in theory if you are hitting a club less on a couple of holes each round that might help you knock a shot off your score. In reality it probably won't.
Is that extra few yards worth the stress and worry over potentially losing a four quid golf ball every time you tee it up on a hole with trees or water? That depends on whether you can afford it or not I guess. Personally I hate losing expensive golf balls!
Titleist ProV1 v Slazenger V100 - Fairway Woods
It was very hard to compare shots accurately in this category because I’m not consistent enough. My ball striking with a 3 wood off the deck is quite good but I struggle to hit them all in the same place. The dispersion area of the six balls was huge (fades, draws, pulls etc) but the distance they travelled was fairly similar. The premium ball carried a little further but after landing the Slazenger ball ran like an Olympic middle distance runner.
I switched to a 7 wood and there was an obvious difference in how the ball reacted off the club face. The ProV 1 had a distinctly more penetrating flight and a softer landing. The difference in feel was huge too. The Slazenger doesn’t feel particularly nice but that’s part of the trade off in price. It still went straight and a similar distance to the Titleist.
Titleist ProV1 v Slazenger V100 - Irons
I used a 7 iron for this comparison and hit shots from 155 yards away as that’s close to my carry distance for that club. Disregarding the bad shots and only counting the three best ones, the total combined distance away from the hole for the Slazenger balls was 36 feet, with the closest being six feet away. With the Titleist the total distance was 52 feet.
However, in terms of feel there was no contest. Shots with the Titleist felt much softer and they stopped quicker, which partially explains why they were further from the hole as two of them were well short. The Slazenger balls landed in a similar spot but didn’t stop as quickly and therefore ran up closer to the hole.
I was struggling to hit my usual 150 carry so these results are definitely more about me than the quality of the balls, but I do think this is useful information. Most mid-handicap golfers are not going to be hitting their number every time and sometimes that bit of extra run that you get due to a lack of spin will help. Of course when you do hit one perfectly you’re going to wish you had a premium ball giving you that lovely back spin, but if we’re playing the percentages then for average golfers there isn’t going to be much difference when it comes to distance from the hole.
Titleist ProV1 v Slazenger V100 - Wedges
For this I went with an 85 yard shot with my 56 degree wedge. I much preferred hitting the premium ball as it felt much softer and easier to control, even with my limited game. I genuinely don’t care too much which ball I hit off the tee as feel is less important with driver, but when I’m close enough to be hitting a wedge or short iron I’m much happier with a better quality ball. Even good shots with a cheap ball don’t feel particularly nice when you’re using a wedge.
I’ll make a confession here. Often when I play, if I’m struggling with my driver and running the risk of losing balls in the trees, I’ll just reach into the bag and grab the Top Flite or Pinnacle Gold that I found in the rough a few holes before. I’ll tee off with that and then replace it with a premium ball to hit my approach. There's less chance of losing a good ball with a short iron that there is with a driver!
In terms of results, the shots with the ProV1 were closer to the pin because 85 yards was a really good number for me and the premium ball would travel that distance and stop immediately. The Slazenger did not sit down as quickly and rolled several feet before stopping.
However, if my distance had been 90 yards the results would have been reversed. Spin isn't always helpful, even though it is incredibly satisfying.
Titleist ProV1 v Slazenger V100 - Pitching / Chipping
There’s a big difference here but it doesn’t necessarily lead to lower scores. The balls will perform in completely different ways due to the spin factor. You can get a premium ball to check really quickly and you therefore have much better control of the shot. But if you know how the ball is going to behave you can adjust to that and hit it just as close with the budget ball. With chipping especially it is just as easy to get close with the cheap ball as it is to do it with the ProV1, but you will need to hit the shot in a different way.
The chipping results were very similar. I chipped in once with the Slazenger and almost holed a couple with the Titleist. It’s simply a case of knowing what the ball will do and then acting accordingly. With a premium ball you can land it closer to the hole knowing that it will check on the first couple of bounces and then roll slowly to the hole. With a two piece distance ball like the Slazenger V100, you aren’t going to get any spin or control so you adapt; land it shorter and watch it roll.
The big advantage a premium ball has is when you don’t have much green to work with or if you’ve short sided yourself, perhaps needing to flop one up and over a bunker. So with the premium ball you might be able to get it close.
With an inferior ball you have very little chance in these situations and just need to take your medicine. The ball is unlikely to stay on the green and if it does you will be well past the flag as you can’t get them to stop quickly.
Does this translate to lower scores for average golfers? Probably not, because a) how often are you likely to find yourself in that situation, and b) you still have to play the flop shot well!
Titleist ProV1 v Slazenger V100 - Bunkers
Similar to chipping in some ways. You can fly it closer to the pin and try to spin it with a premium, urethane covered ball, but you can still get it close with the two-piece ball. The main thing is that you are aware of what the ball is likely to do.
With a good ball out of a bunker you can fly it close to the hole knowing it will come to a quick stop. A two piece ball is going to roll more so you want to land it shorter. A good golfer will gain a big advantage with a premium ball on bunker shots, but given the relative skill levels of most mid handicap players out of sand (for many just getting it out and finding the green is seen as success), it probably doesn’t make too much difference which ball you are using.
For the record, the closest ball to the hole on this test was a Slazenger but it was not a particularly good shot. It came out shorter than where I wanted it to but it rolled on nicely. You could argue that makes it a better option for a lesser skilled bunker player, but it's very much a random thing because if you fly one to the pin you'll want a ball that stops quickly.
Titleist ProV1 v Slazenger V100 - Putting
This is all about feel and what you are comfortable with. Whereas everything I’ve written above is based on a relatively small sample size, when it comes to putting I can talk in pretty definitive terms as my front garden has been converted to an artificial turf putting green which means I’ve literally hit tens of thousands of putts on it with all manner of different golf balls.
To make practice more interesting I’ll often put different golf balls up against each other in putting challenges and, hand on heart, I can honestly say that I don’t hole more putts with a more expensive ball than I do with those novelty ones that non-golfing family members give you as Christmas gifts. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones that come in colours never seen on golf courses - blue, red, green, black, purple… they usually have little slogans on them too, like “I’m feeling rough” or “take me to my golfer”.
I’ve put them head to head against some of the best golf balls on the market and for me it’s a lottery as to which one comes out on top. Those things are like little rocks, but if you put a good stroke on it they have as much chance of going in as the best TaylorMade golf balls. Particularly on short to medium putts. On long putts it may be different as you’ll need to put a different stroke on it as there is a difference in how quick or slow certain golf balls will come off the putter face.
Bottom line though, if the ball is perfectly round and you make a nice stroke then you won’t see any difference. And if you make a bad stroke, a premium ball does not give you any better chance of finding the hole.
In the test I holed more putts with the Slazenger than the Titleist but like I say, that means nothing as next time the result is likely to be different. In terms of feel I actually have no preference. Most golfers will prefer the softer feel of a urethane covered ball, but if your putter has a soft face (mine does) then even a two piece ball like the Slazenger doesn't feel too hard. I can putt just as badly with an expensive ball as a cheap one!
Titleist ProV1 v Slazenger V100 - Verdict
My verdict is that a premium golf ball will not help an average golfer shoot noticeably lower scores, and it certainly won’t make a shred of difference to the scorecard of a high handicapper. That isn’t any reflection on the quality of the ball, it’s just the reality for mid-high handicap golfers. We just aren’t good enough to consistently get the benefit from a premium ball.
That being said, there is a clear difference in feel when you do hit a nice shot with a premium ball as opposed to a cheap one and it’s a more enjoyable experience. Shots feel much nicer with a urethane covered ball so you need to weigh that up with the price difference and whether you are comfortable with the possibility of losing two or three premium balls per round.
If the money doesn’t matter, then go with the expensive balls as they're clearly better quality and every golfer likes using nice gear and to look the part even if they don't have the game to back it up. If, like me, you bristle at the idea of losing a four quid ball every five or six holes then look for a value ball that suits your game, as it really isn’t going to make much difference to your score.