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Ball selection process, 2009 (long).

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
Ever since 6th grade I've had a ritual that I repeat every year... During the off season (which we have a lot of here in MN) I would research the various golf balls on the market and find 5-10 that I thought might fit my game the best. Then once spring rolled around I'd grab a sleeve of each and put them though my informal ball test and rank them until a winner was declared. The "winner" would be my golf ball for that year (for the most part). An unintended side affect of the test however, is that I usually find the "winner" is not always the best ball for me depending on the conditions. I may use something different in high winds or extreme cold.

For as long as I can remember, a Titleist won every year that I performed this "test" so I've switched golf balls very infrequently. Primarily I've switched between softer and soft. Despite my swing speed, I tend to prefer softer.
  • Titleist Tour Balata 90/100
  • Titleist Professional 90/100
  • Titleist Pro v1/v1x

Since having kids, I haven't preformed this test each spring. Instead I've based my decision on history and stuck w/the Titleist Pro v1. Not this year...

This year my "winter analysis" (more on that in a bit) has boiled down the field to 6 contenders.
  • Titleist Pro v1/v1x
  • Callaway Tour i/ix
  • Bridgestone B330-S/B330

My "winter analysis" consists of a few (very unscientific) parts.
  • Reviews - I read reviews about golf balls pretty much anywhere and everywhere that I can find them. Websites, magazines, commentary from anybody willing to talk about what golf ball they use and why, etc, etc, etc. There is a lot of BS out there so the BS filter has to be set on high during this phase but you do gather some information here. After all, this is how I learned of the B330 (talked to a guy in the proshop about what ball he uses and why).
  • Magazines - Somewhat of an extension on what I said above but both Golf Magazine and Golf Digest has raised the bar over the past few years. Sure, the tests still aren't as subjective as I would like ("demand factor"? Give me a break!) but it nice to get some numbers on factors that I am not able to test in a somewhat controlled environment like spin rates, carry distance, etc. Although these tests aren't perfect, they are better than the 1-10 scale manufactures provide on the back of the box.
  • Feel, part 1 - The way a golf ball feels is the largest criteria in my selection process. If a ball feels wrong, I want nothing to do with it. Just look at the balls that I've used over the years (above) and that should be obvious. I prefer a ball with a very soft feel, always have, likely always will. Not that many years ago you only had 1 or 2 choices if you wanted a ball with a soft feel. Today, things are much different, there are a plethora of choices out there. Part 1 of my feel test is limited to my putter and my livingroom floor. It isn't the perfect test environment so unless a ball is really bad, I don't really eliminate any at this stage. It's more of a practice in information gathering.

Once spring rolls around I start testing each ball starting at the green and working my way back. I'll try to perform every test at least 2-3 times before making any decisions. I also prefer to test every ball in the same session (although that doesn't always work out) to minimize variations from day to day.

Armed with the knowledge gained in my winter feel test, I've got a pretty good idea of what to expect on the greens. I start off putting and will go from one ball to the next with my focus mainly on how the ball feels off the putter. At this point I'm ranking the balls on a simple A/C/F scale.
  • A - great feel, rolls true
  • C - alright feel, maybe a little firm, rolls true
  • F - feels terrible, doesn't roll true

As long as a ball rolls true, you can make puts even if it does feel a bit firmer than ideal. I can't remember ever giving a ball an F here.
  • Titleist Pro v1 - A
  • Titleist Pro v1x - A
  • Callaway Tour i - C
  • Callaway Tour ix - C
  • Bridgestone B330-S - A
  • Bridgestone B330 - A

Any ball that earns an F in this test, get tossed. Balls that earn a C, really need to perform in other areas to remain in contention.

From here I move to chips and short pitches (<40 yards). Again I'm looking for something with a soft feel but my main area of concern is that I want something predictable and want to be able to control the spin. Predictability is the main reason that I've stuck with Titleist for so long. The changes from model to model have been small enough from year to year that I always had a feel for working with them. In this test I'll try everything from low runners to high soft shots that should land and stay put. At this point in my testing a ball either passes or it fails. There is no C is this category, this is where scoring really takes place so I accept no compromises here.

Like every other test, I'll do this one a few times with each ball and try to do them side by side. So far this year, I've only had the opportunity to try this with each Titleist and the Tour ix (I just bought a house, I've been really strapped for time this spring).
  • Titleist Pro v1 - pass (so far)
  • Titleist Pro v1x - pass (so far)
  • Callaway Tour i - pending
  • Callaway Tour ix - fail (feel)
  • Bridgestone B330-S - pending
  • Bridgestone B330 - pending

Any ball that survives this test will be ranked against the others. I'll also take notes about what I liked vs what I didn't like about each ball for later review.

In my next test I move back to what has become my favorite iron. It's the iron that I have the most confidence in and always seem to hit well. Since I'm testing golf balls here, I don't want to be worrying about swing thoughts or questioning my abilities with my weapon of choice. For me, this means that I have an 8 iron in my hand, your mileage may vary. I perform this test in a vacant field. I don't want to focus on a specific target at a specific distance since I couldn't care less how far my iron goes as long as it's consistent. Throwing a green into the mix at 165 yards will only muck things up in my brain. What I'm aiming for here is consistency, I want to drop all of my test balls (of a specific brand/type) right on top of each other shot after shot. I want to get a feel for the workability of ball and really understand what it takes to get the ball moving right/left, high/low. I also want to learn the exact distance that I hit that ball with my 8-iron for use in my next test. This is the first test that I really take advantage of the MN spring weather as well. We have cold, dry, humid, rainy, windy, still, warm, etc weather during the spring which really gives me the opportunity to understand the strengths/weaknesses of each ball in various conditions. This is, by far, my most thorough and time consuming test. In years past, I've spent as much as 2 hours/day, 5 days/week for a month doing this.

At this point I correlate the notes from my chipping/pitching test with my 8-iron test and decide which balls to keep and which to toss. I like to come out of this test with 3-5 surviving golf balls. Again, due to time constraints, I've only had time to work with the Pro v1 so far.
  • Titleist Pro v1 - pass (so far)
  • Titleist Pro v1x - pending
  • Callaway Tour i - pending
  • Callaway Tour ix
  • Bridgestone B330-S - pending
  • Bridgestone B330 - pending

Now that I know how far I hit each ball with my 8 iron I move to the course and start hitting into greens (I have access to a golf course where I can spend 1-2 hours on a few holes hitting into a number of different greens from various lies). This is basically an extension of my last test. I want to get an idea of how the ball interacts with the green. Does it stop, spin out, back up, etc? Can I get enough movement on the ball to get to specific pins? What happens when I vary trajectory? Stuff like that. During this test I'll also hit a few full wedges and some long irons into the green. Once you have an idea of how far the 8 iron goes, you have a feel for how far the rest of your set will go as well. Like the last test, this one is subjective and I take notes so that I can re-rank the balls later.
  • Titleist Pro v1 - pass (based on course play)
  • Titleist Pro v1x - pending
  • Callaway Tour i - pending
  • Callaway Tour ix
  • Bridgestone B330-S - pending
  • Bridgestone B330 - pending

At this point in the process I try to trim my list to only 2 or 3 balls.

My final test goes back to the tee. Here I focus on my driver and anything else that I may use off the tee for the majority of holes (in past years this meant driver/2-iron, this year driver/3 wood/3 iron). Like my first 8-iron test my main concern here is consistency. I want to be able to work the ball but it has to be in a predictable manner. Spin has to be high enough to work right/left, yet low enough not to balloon. Feel is a major criteria in all of my tests up to this point, and this one is no different. Chances are however, that if a ball feels like a rock off the driver, it's not going to make it to this test so this is mainly a performance based ranking. For the first time, (controllable) distance is also factor in my ranking. I especially like to perform this test in a number of weather conditions as I've found that the soft, high spin balls that I prefer tend to perform poorly in high winds when coupled with my swing.

continued in next post...
post #2 of 8
Thread Starter 

Re: Ball selection process, 2009 (long).

Continued...

At this point, if all goes well, I'll have a "winner". With any luck, I'll have it narrowed down to a single ball but chances are I'll have 2 or 3 top performers depending on weather conditions. This has more to do with my swing coupled with my preference for a softer ball (which spins to much in the wind) than anything else.
  • Titleist Pro v1 - pass (based on course play)
  • Titleist Pro v1x - pending
  • Callaway Tour i - pending
  • Callaway Tour ix
  • Bridgestone B330-S - pending
  • Bridgestone B330 - pending

I'll be sure to update this post as I keep working through the testing process.

So how overboard have I taken this? Is it apparent that I'm an engineer when you review my process? Does anybody do anything similar? Have I missed anything?

If you've managed to read this far, I'm very interested in your comments/feedback.
post #3 of 8

Re: Ball selection process, 2009 (long).

I really wish I had the time, patience and skill to due a ball test this in depth. I too always spend some time in the spring choosing my balls for the year, but my testing is pretty much just chipping and driver. I'm just looking for feel, spin and trajectory. I applaud your efforts to take this to a science. Golf Digest may be calling your before they do the 2010 Ball Test.
post #4 of 8

Re: Ball selection process, 2009 (long).

Well, as an engineer by training and one who appreciates the scientific method, I admire your detailed approach. But looking at the science again, it feels there are too many physiological variables to make the tests truly objective, and after reading through all your process it really does seem like you end up with the ball that just feels good. So I can't help but wonder if you simply stuck with a ball you've loved in the past like the ProV1 and spent the time practicing a few areas where your game isn't tip-top, you'd be able to shave the last point-and-a-half off your handicap. And every once in awhile, play a round with a different ball and just get a general feel for if you like it better around the course.
post #5 of 8
Thread Starter 

Re: Ball selection process, 2009 (long).

Originally Posted by Clambake View Post
Well, as an engineer by training and one who appreciates the scientific method, I admire your detailed approach. But looking at the science again, it feels there are too many physiological variables to make the tests truly objective, and after reading through all your process it really does seem like you end up with the ball that just feels good.
Yes, my testing is very very subjective. I'll be the first to admit that, notice that I'm not testing a single Nike or Srixon? There is a reason for that and its purely subjective (although, I just checked out the Srixon website, I might be willing to try one mainly because of this deal. If I don't pick the Srixon, I'll just print off this thread and send it in). I'm not a robot so, like everything in golf, physiological variables come into play big time. The biggest part of my testing process has more to do with removing mental doubt than finding the very best golf ball. I have no way of doing the test without knowing what ball I'm hitting at a given time, it's just to easy to tell them apart at address. What I'm looking for is the ball that works best for me both mentally and physically. After going through this process, I have no reason to doubt or question my ball choice one round to the next. If nothing else, I've convinced myself that I'm gaming the right ball.

As you noted feel is a huge part of my test. Feel is a huge part of my game though and it's something that I look for when testing golf balls. If the ball doesn't feel right to me, my confidence can (and will) suffer. As you know, confidence over the ball is a huge part of the game.

So I can't help but wonder if you simply stuck with a ball you've loved in the past like the ProV1 and spent the time practicing a few areas where your game isn't tip-top, you'd be able to shave the last point-and-a-half off your handicap.
Before I had kids I was able to spend a few hours on the range and practice greens every night/afternoon. I was also able to play a lot of golf and held handicap between +2.4 and +1.8 for a number of years (IIRC, the lowest I reached was +2.6 but that only lasted for a week or two, I've still got the card around here somewhere...).

Since having kids I'm just not willing to devote that kind of time to my game. Spending time with my family is far more important than hitting around a small white ball. Because of the fact that I spend less time practicing/playing now than before, I'm also a lot more conscious of my equipment. I want equipment that works with me rather than equipment that requires a great deal of practice. Getting a driver shaft that fits my swing and irons that allow me to work the ball easier have helped tremendously (again, this may be subjective but golf is a very mental game).

And every once in awhile, play a round with a different ball and just get a general feel for if you like it better around the course.
I should have mentioned that above... My final test does involve putting each of the finalists into play. I'll use each ball during the course of play alternating every few holes. If a ball doesn't perform on the course (again, somewhat subjective) I'll toss it out, I don't care how well it did in my "tests".

I have stuck with the Pro v1 for quite and while and could easily keep gaming it and be happy. On the other hand, my testing process is fun, it's good practice and it gives me a pretty good insight as to what other products have to offer. If I was forced to make a choice today, I don't think that I'd pick the Pro v1.
post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 

Re: Ball selection process, 2009 (long).

Originally Posted by rebby View Post
From here I move to chips and short pitches (<40 yards). Again I'm looking for something with a soft feel but my main area of concern is that I want something predictable and want to be able to control the spin. Predictability is the main reason that I've stuck with Titleist for so long. The changes from model to model have been small enough from year to year that I always had a feel for working with them. In this test I'll try everything from low runners to high soft shots that should land and stay put. At this point in my testing a ball either passes or it fails. There is no C is this category, this is where scoring really takes place so I accept no compromises here.

Like every other test, I'll do this one a few times with each ball and try to do them side by side. So far this year, I've only had the opportunity to try this with each Titleist and the Tour ix (I just bought a house, I've been really strapped for time this spring).
  • Titleist Pro v1 - pass (so far)
  • Titleist Pro v1x - pass (so far)
  • Callaway Tour i - pending
  • Callaway Tour ix - fail (feel)
  • Bridgestone B330-S - pending
  • Bridgestone B330 - pending
I was able to get to the course to run though this test. I was only there for about an hour but did come up with some decent results. Thus far, all balls have passed with the exception of the Tour ix (as noted above). I found the Tour ix to firm for my liking. It was acceptable off the putter but I with the wedges, it was just a tad to firm for me to confidently compress the ball on short pitches and trust that the ball would spin and stop. It felt odd and that was enough to throw me off. Yet again, obviously subjective, just look at the magic Phil was able to perform the other day with a Tour ix.

Anyway, at this point, I'd rank the balls as follows.
  1. Pro v1/B330-S
  2. Tour i
  3. B330
  4. Pro v1x
  5. Tour ix

At this point my "ranking" is a very tight race since I'm pretty happy with all 5 of them although (as you can tell) I'm leaning toward the softer balls which has ALWAYS been the case in my short game tests. We'll see what tomorrow brings, hopefully I'll have an hour or so to run through this again.
post #7 of 8

Re: Ball selection process, 2009 (long).

Thanks for posting, very interesting read in terms of your approach to scoring in golf. I can see how a similar focus could help me improve my game.
post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 

Re: Ball selection process, 2009 (long).

I ran though my chipping/pitching test again tonight. Hit a few puts as well. After tonight I've whittled things down a bit more.
  1. B330-S
  2. Pro v1
  3. B330
  4. Pro v1x
  5. Tour i
  6. Tour ix

I decided that the Tour i just wasn't for me either. I wanted to like it, and I was able to control the spin, but it wasn't any better than either the Bridgestone or the Titleist so I decided to scratch it from my list.

At this point I'm going to continue with both the Pro v1 and the B330-S. Thus far the B330-S is slightly edging out the Pro v1 for the #1 spot. Surprisingly the Pro v1 seems slightly softer than I remember from last fall. I haven't scratched the Pro v1x or B330 off the list entirely but (in the interest of time) I'm going to focus on the Pro v1 and the B330-S for my next series of tests. If something feels off, I'll switch to it's counterpart and try again. I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up giving the Pro v1x a much closer look a little later on.

I'm hoping to get a few hours to hit some 8 irons tomorrow...
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