Does it really make that much difference which golf ball you use? Well yes, it can do, although choosing the right one depends greatly on your skill level and physical attributes.
The more accomplished golfer will benefit from a high end, tour standard golf ball as they are designed to help the better ball strikers with faster swings. Good players should always use the best ball they can afford because when you are regularly shooting low scores, improvement becomes about marginal gains and a premium ball can help you achieve that. This is why the top professionals are so meticulous about the brand of ball they use. For us mere mortals, choosing the best golf ball for your style of play – and ability level – is no less important.
If you are new to the game or a high handicapper then the type of ball you use is not going to affect your score too much. Nevertheless, having the right ball to suit your game will help you improve over time and give you the best chance of maximising your better shots while, crucially, limiting the damage on your poorer ones.
Ultimately a bad swing is a bad swing though and a premium golf ball is not going to prevent that. In fact, this might surprise you but in some cases a top quality golf ball may even exacerbate the damage of a bad shot due to its extra spin.
The good news is that golf manufacturers allow for this and produce a variety of balls to cover all skill levels and swing speeds. Just because Rory McIlroy uses a certain ball doesn't mean that you should!
It’s very important to note here that for average and below average golfers the ‘right’ ball does not necessarily mean the best or most expensive. More often than not the right ball for a scratch handicap golfer will not be the right ball for a 25 handicap player.
If you are new to the game or you are a struggling mid-high handicap golfer, here are some helpful pointers when choosing what golf ball to play.
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Swing speed and compression are key
Compression is a measure of how much the ball compresses against the club face on impact. The more a ball is compressed, the further it will travel due to the amount of energy transferred. So if your swing speed is slow then you need a softer, low compression golf ball to maximise your distance.
A higher compression ball on the other hand, feels harder and therefore needs a faster swing speed to be able to fully compress and produce maximum distance. Higher compression balls also tend to fly a little straighter. There endeth the science lesson.
A slow swing with a high compression, high spinning golf ball will not yield good results. Conversely, a faster swinger of the club will lose distance by using a low compression ball.
Unfortunately, golf manufacturers rarely advertise the compression rating of their golf balls but a decent rule of thumb is that when a ball is marketed as ‘soft’ it will usually (although not always) be low compression. Some research is advisable though just to be sure and you can readily find the compression on most golf balls with a simple online search.
The key thing to remember is that ‘distance’ golf balls will not necessarily mean extra distance for everyone as it really is all about having the right compression to match your swing speed. Beginners or seniors who swing the ball slowly need a low compression - or ‘soft’ ball and will struggle to get results from a harder, higher compression ‘distance’ ball.
Low compression balls have a rating of 80 or below. Mid compression balls are around 90 and high compression is 100 or above.
Golf ball quality
The quality of a golf ball is determined by how many pieces are used in its construction. Those hard rubber balls you get down at the crazy golf by the seaside are one piece balls. They were also common at driving ranges not so long ago but most (if not all) ranges have upgraded to two piece models now.
A two piece ball consists of a solid rubber core and a firm outer layer, usually made from surlyn which is a harder material than you find on premium balls, which use urethane. Two piece golf balls are the most commonly used by amateur players. They spin less and therefore fly somewhat straighter than multi layered balls, meaning they are more forgiving, especially with the driver.
A slice will still be a slice but it might not be quite as wayward as it would be with a premium, high spinning ball. Instead of being in the trees you might just be in the light rough. This is why lower spinning balls are so popular with golfers at the mid-high handicap level.
There is a trade off as the lack of spin means you have less control on your approach shots but this won’t be an issue for everybody as the less accomplished ball striker is not going to be applying lots of backspin anyway. Just getting on (or even near) the green is enough for many casual golfers and a two piece ball will certainly help you do that.
Less spin also adds distance to your shots (for one thing you’ll get a lot more run) so for most average golfers a two-piece ball makes sense, especially when cost is a factor. Two-piece balls are considerably cheaper than multi-layered golf balls. In fact you can pick up a decent box of two piece balls for a third of the price you’d pay for premium balls.
You don’t need to be a golf ball scientist to know that a bad golfer will lose a lot more balls than a single handicap player. For the lesser skilled player it can be an expensive business replacing a box of Titleist ProV1 every time you play 18 holes, therefore a two-piece, low spinning, low compression ball such as the Callaway Supersoft is usually the way to go for most.
Premium golf balls
Three, four and even five piece golf balls are usually at the top end of the price scale. Much more research and development goes into the design of multi-layered golf balls and that is reflected in the price as well as the performance.
For many years now the Titleist Pro V1 has been the standard bearer for golf ball excellence and is widely regarded as the number one ball in golf. It’s certainly the most commonly used ball on the professional tours and clearly so many top pros wouldn’t use it if there was anything significantly better.
The ProV1 is a three piece ball but Titleist also offer the ProV1x which is a four piece, higher spinning, slightly harder feeling alternative.
The world’s top players tend to use ProV1 (or ProV1x), TaylorMade’s TP5 (a five piece ball) or the Chrome Soft by Callaway. Bridgestone are also in the mix as they have both Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau in their stable, using the Tour BX ball.
All of those balls (particularly ProV1x) are high compression and designed for golfers with fast swings. So if you are a casual golfer or an enthusiastic high handicapper asking yourself “should I be using a premium ball?” the answer is…
Some casual golfers could benefit from using the same ball as the tour pros but for most there will not really be any significant gain and unless you’re swinging the club at 100mph and upwards then a tour ball is more likely to harm your game than help it. At least off the tee anyway. You might see some improved results around the green if you’re skilled enough to spin your pitches and chips.
While it might harm you off the tee, a premium golf ball might save you a shot or two per round thanks to the added feel it provides around the greens and the level of confidence that can inspire. Lets face it, if something feels good then you’ll be more comfortable and confident, and confidence is a huge component in playing well. Ultimately it still comes down to your own performance but your comfort level does play a big part.
So if you like how a certain golf ball feels and it gives you confidence then that in itself can help your game but generally speaking choosing a ball just because the tour pros use it is not the smartest move.
Does this mean that if you’re not that good a player you should avoid premium balls completely? No, not necessarily. A good alternative to the balls used by Tiger, DJ, Rory and the rest on tour is the TaylorMade Tour Response ball, which is essentially a premium ball (at a non-premium price) aimed at golfers with mid-high handicaps and somewhat slower swing speeds.
The Tour Response is a much lower compression ball than the ProV1 for example, so it helps amateur golfers gain more ball speed and distance without sacrificing any of the feel. Several tests have shown it is marginally shorter off the tee than a ProV1 but significantly longer on iron shots.
ProV1 spins more but the Tour Response launches higher so there is no issue with it checking up on the green. It works out at around £1 per ball less than a ProV1, which still isn’t cheap but overall represents good value. The Tour Response is every bit as ‘premium’ a golf ball as those used on the PGA tour, it’s just aimed at golfers of a much lower standard.
So if your budget allows it and your swing speed is slow or in the mid-range then the Tour Response is your best bet for a premium ball. Generally though finding the best two-piece ball should be the priority for anyone who plays above single figures as it will save you money without having to sacrifice anything in performance.
Buying the best golf ball: in summary…
Beginners, high handicappers and slow swingers need as low a compression ball as possible. We mentioned Callaway Supersoft, but Wilson Staff DUO is another excellent option for anyone in this category.
An average player with a medium / high swing speed looking to go with a more high end, premium option will benefit from a ball such as the TaylorMade Tour Response. As a cheaper, two piece alternative we would again recommend the Callaway Supersoft, as well as Srixon Soft Feel.
Fast swingers should be looking at a higher compression ball such as a ProV1 or TaylorMade TP5 if the budget allows it, or Titleist Velocity as a cheaper two-piece alternative.