Hey guys, I just posted this up on Twitter, and I figured I'd share here as well. It's a good little article from the Wall Street Journal on the new Nike 20XI ball. There are definitely a few interesting points in here, especially the one about how they had to reduce the size of the core to comply to USGA regulations. The ball would fly 20 yards longer if the core in it were the same size as the rubber core in a standard ball. Anyway, I'll save you having to go there, here it is:
Can Your Golf Ball Make a Difference?
A Nike Expert, Francesco Molinari and Anthony Kim Talk About the Subtleties of the White Orb
Like many golfers, I'm suspicious about the hype and technology surrounding golf balls. So I seized the opportunity this week to spend some time with Rock Ishii, Nike Golf's chief ball designer. He was walking the fairways during the practice rounds here at the WGC-Cadillac-World Golf Championship at the Doral Resort and Spa, helping Nike Tour pros evaluate the company's new ball, the 20XI.
Not every new ball that comes out can be longer and better than the one before, right? Especially since all are subject to the same U.S. Golf Association limitations on distance and other flight characteristics. But there are lots of ways, Ishii said, to engineer different spin, feel and trajectory combinations so that individual players can find a ball that flies the longest, or otherwise performs the best, for them. For the pros, who know their games so well and hit the ball so consistently, this process is mostly about managing trade-offs.
The kind of distinctions that make a difference to Tour pros would not even be detectable to the vast majority of rank-and-file players. Ishii confirmed, for example, that Tiger Woods plays a version of Nike's One Tour D ball that is not available to the public. The ball is not a secret. It's listed on the U.S. Golf Association website as one of five conforming versions of the One Tour and is marked on its cover with a tiny star between the words "One" and "Tour D." Nike pros Jhonattan Vegas and Charl Shwartzel also use it.
It differs from the standard One Tour D ball only in that it produces a minuscule extra amount of spin around the greens—at the cost of an equally minuscule loss of distance off the tee. "Tiger can tell the difference, because he talks about differences of just a few inches, 6 inches, in how far his short wedge shots go, but not many other people can, even other pros," Ishii said. The third Nike ball used by Tour players, the regular One Tour, has two "custom spec" versions, but to offer all these variations for sale in pro shops would needlessly confuse consumers, Ishii said.
The new Nike ball, by comparison, is downright radical, at least by Tour pro standards. Unlike every other ball in play in the professional ranks, its core is not made of rubber, but rather of a resin that DuPont invented and tweaked to Nike specifications. Because of its compact molecular structure, this resin is much bouncier than rubber, a superball compared with a handball. Fun fact: If the resin core inside the 20XI were the same size as the rubber core of a standard ball, it would fly 20 yards farther.
The core has to be smaller, of course, to comply with USGA regulations. But it nevertheless creates a new set of playing characteristics that the pros have to get used to. In general, the 20IX series balls fly faster and spin less off the driver, spin more off the short irons and maintain their altitude longer than do the Tour One series balls.
On the sixth hole at Doral Tuesday, for example, Vegas drove the X version of the 20IX (there is also an S version) 23 yards farther into a strong headwind than he drove the Tour One D ball he normally plays. On the next hole, however, his downwind drive with the new ball was nine yards shorter than his drive with the old ball, which Ishii said might be expected. Vegas is still on the fence about switching.
"Changing balls is much harder than changing clubs," said Anthony Kim, who's been playing the 20IX-S since December. (The 20IX line won't be available in stores until late April.) "With a new driver, that's basically just one shot you have to understand. But a new ball affects all 14 clubs in your bag, and you have to have confidence in how each of those clubs are going to play."
After watching Francesco Molinari tag a towering six-iron into the wind onto the 12th green Tuesday, with a 20IX-X ball, I asked him how he would have hit the same shot using his old ball. "I would have had to hit it much lower, or else use one more club," he said.
Kim had to re-shaft his driver to accommodate the new ball. Another early-adapting Tour veteran slightly strengthened the loft of his irons. (Woods, said Ishii, will probably switch to the new ball eventually but is waiting until the rest of his game gels more before going through the process.)
Everyday players, with their inconsistent games, can't begin to perceive and take advantage of ball subtleties like the pros can, but the takeaway for me is that ball selection matters more than most of us probably think. If tiny variations in ball characteristics make such a big difference to the pros, it stands to reason that the huge variation in characteristics among the balls that amateurs play should be just as important. As an example, Ishii said, for a player who hits the ball high and reasonably far, a good, midprice, low-spin ball could be a lifesaver, taking as much as 15 yards off a 30-yard slice, compared with a more expensive, high-spin ball. The key, he said, is to know your tendencies, study the fine print on the boxes or seek the help of a pro.
Here's the link anyway - http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703597804576194704248344960.html