Nike jumped into the golf ball arena a few years ago and has not looked back. The Nike Platinum has enjoyed some success on Tour, and not just by way of Tiger Woods, but other top players like Rory Sabbatini, Stewart Cink, Trevor Immelman, and Paul Casey as well. While Nike's balls may be lagging market leaders Titleist and the Pro V1 duo, the Portland, OR based sports equipment behemoth has fully established themselves in the ball market with no intention of leaving.
With Tiger at the helm they have designed two premium balls for better players: Nike ONE Platinum and the Nike ONE Black (the ONE Gold having been ditched for 2007). Both have gone through a recent makeover to improve upon an already popular ball. I've been a loyal Titleist ball player for years, so I was eager to see how the Nikes would stand up. Read on to see if I'll be playing balls with a swoosh instead of cursive this year.
Design and Technology
Both the Platinum and Black are multi-piece, solid-core golf balls. The Platinum is a four-piece ball; the Black is comprised of three layers. Both covers are made of urethane, a common cover material in the modern ball era.
The Nike Platinum has two layers (commonly called "mantle" layers) between the core and cover. The inner mantle is responsible for transferring power to the core for a lively performance while the outer mantle is more responsible for spin from mid and short irons. The cover, naturally, is the mostly responsible for the feel and spin on less-than-full shots on and around the greens. The Black has a thicker cover and a single mantle layer to transfer a little more speed to the ball, resulting in a little less spin but a little more distance, particularly off the driver.
Of course, these are things we already knew about the Nike balls. So what's changed? First off, Nike has modified the dimple pattern on both balls. The count has decreased from 408 to 336. Nike engineers have also "intensified" the core (whatever that means), and enlarged it in the Black at the expense of a new, thinner mantle.
Additionally, the already softer Platinum's cover has been softened further to increase the feel around the greens. The Black, interestingly, has been firmed up a bit to help reduce spin for players that tend to generate too much. According to Nike and the testing they have done with their pros, all these changes have done the following for each of the balls:
- More feel around the greens
- Better launch angle and carry for long irons
- Reduced spin rates, specifically off of the SQ driver - increasing distance
- Longer off the tee
- Stronger, flatter ball flight
- Less spin even with shallow angle of attack
Feel and Spin
This is probably the area I judge golf balls the hardest. How a ball feels off the face of the club, especially around the green, is more important to my game than any other way to measure a ball.
Of the two, the Platinum is the softer feeling ball. With a few wedge shots and chips around the green it is evident that the Platinum is meant for those players that enjoy putting a little "juice" on the ball. Don't expect a tremendous amount though. I was only able to get a couple of chips to get have the one bounce and stop action I routinely get with even Titleist's lower-spinning Pro V1x.
With fuller wedge shots the amount of spin was similar to the Pro V1x and TaylorMade TP Black, but around the greens the feel was firmer and offered a bit less spin than I'm use to and want in a ball.
The Nike ONE Black ball, as designed, is even firmer around the greens. Chips that I would normally expect to grab with even the firmer TP Black and Pro V1x would roll out with the ONE Black. Fuller swings with irons and wedges sat down quickly, but wouldn't spin back at all. Again, this is by design, but I'm not sure if the ONE Black suits many players. I don't know how many amateurs need a ball that spins quite this little.
Off the putter, the Black has a much harder "click" sound and firmer feel than the Platinum as well. The Platinum felt much softer and was more comparable to the balls I'm use to playing.
Distance and Durability
Understanding and gauging distance is one of the hardest things to do when evaluating a golf ball. Unless, that is, the difference is obvious. With the Nike Platinum and the Nike Black, it really wasn't.
With the Platinum, I didn't really remember any single drive giving me the "wow" factor. After my rounds I think back to every shot, but none stood out with the Platinum. If anything, I thought that the Nike ONE Platinum was a bit shorter than my Pro V1x, which as the "spinnier" ball of the two is to be expected. What I didn't expect was to be a tad short with my irons: I hit a few that came up well short of what I would have expected. All in all, the Platinum left me wanting a bit more.
With the longer, lower-spinning Black, distance wasn't nearly an issue. With its reduced spin, my drives got a bit more roll and were as long as the Pro V1x. Irons also traveled a comparable distance as well. Though there weren't any shots that stood out to me as a prime example of the Black's capabilities, it stood apart from the Platinum in that it at least did not disappoint. It was, to put it another way, about what I expected.
Both balls did impress me in one regard: durability. After a normal round with a Pro V1x I will usually toss it into the shag bag or donate it to some pond or forest. Typically they just don't last more than a round for me. The Nike ONE Platinum and Nike ONE Black seemed to stand up to a good beating more than the premium offerings from Titleist, TaylorMade, and Callaway. After playing nine holes with a Platinum I closely inspected it for any marks or scrapes and could only find a couple areas where the cover had started to shave from some hard-struck wedges. Nike did a good job of developing a ball that can withstand some abuse. If you don't lose many balls, a dozen of either the Black or Platinum balls will go a long way.
The newer versions of the Nike ONE Black and Nike ONE Platinum balls have improved on their predecessors. After reviewing these, I'm still not ready to replace my current ball. I did not see anything in either ball that would benefit my game if I were to switch.
Then again, as a scratch golfer, I'm very particular about golf balls. A friend of mine who plays off 12 says he likes the Platinum and Black balls and can't see a big difference between them or other premium balls. He's right, but the differences are still there - and the differences are in the areas that matter most to me.
Of the two, I liked the feel of the Platinum more. It seems more like a Pro V1x than the firmer Black, which may be the firmest premium ball on the market. Around the greens, the Platinum was much softer and more responsive to spin from wedges on chips and pitches. Even so, it is still lags a bit behind the "other" balls. Not to be picky, but both the Platinum and Black look more firm and have that glossy, glowing white that you normally see in the old Top Flites and harder covered balls. I'm use to the duller, off-white balls.
Nike has a pretty good ball on their hands but still have a bit to go until I consider them great.