Frankly, I’ve become tired of all the promises golf ball manufacturers like to make about how their latest ball goes further, feels softer and spins more. We hear it every year around this time when the new models come out, but very few can actually deliver on their promises. Let’s take a look at the golf balls that lived up to the hype at the 2015 PGA Merchandise Show, and those that didn’t deliver. When you are done, come back up and click here to see the best new golf balls at the 2016 PGA Show!
The Usual Suspects
- Bridgestone E Series – Bridgestone Golf has performed over a quarter million live launch monitor fittings since starting their golf ball fitting program. This feedback from this testing has helped Bridgestone develop golf balls for every type of golfer, and the newest E series balls reflect the ongoing efforts to fit the right golf ball to each golfer. The Bridgestone E5, E6 & E7 golf balls feature WEB Dimple Technology that increases surface coverage by more than 10%. The E5 ball is designed to fly higher for the slower swinger or low ball hitters out there looking for more height. The E6 is softer and designed to spin less for straighter shots, and is the most popular ball in the series. The E6 has consistently been a favorite of testers during Golf Digest’s Hot List ball testing. (Even though we weren’t supposed to know what ball it was, I found out in some cases. Of course if I told you how I found out I would have to kill you.) Finally, the E7’s dimple pattern and construction are optimized for a more piercing ball flight for those who hit the ball high.
- Srixon Z-Star & Z-Star XV – I’ve been playing Srixon golf balls almost exclusively since 2009, when the original Z-Star golf ball arrived. I was bitter when Titleist killed the wound “Tour Prestige” golf ball to focus on producing the new Pro V1, and I struggled to adjust to the solid core golf ball. The softer feel and added spin of the Z-Star helped my game almost immediately, and I haven’t looked back since. The latest Srixon Z-Star and Z-Star XV balls feature a new “Spin Skin” coating on the urethane cover that improves friction between the golf ball and club surface by 20%, according to the company. Players looking for a ball that spins around the green with soft feel off the putter but still remains controllable for flighted tee shots and workability with irons should look no further. Obviously I’m a bit biased, but I still think it’s hard to find a golf ball that performs better than the Z-Star.
- Titleist ProV1 & ProV1x – Every couple of years, Titleist brings us a new version of their flagship ProV1 golf ball. And every two years they promise the same things. Distance! More spin! Softer feel! Just read for yourself from their website – “The new Pro V1 and Pro V1x deliver extraordinary distance and consistent flight. And there’s more short game control, even softer feel and long-lasting durability.” Seriously, how much more “short game control” and softer feel can I have? What does that even mean? All kidding aside, the Titleist ProV1 and ProV1x are the most popular golf ball on the professional tours and with many amateurs for good reason. It’s a great golf ball. What I’m trying to say is, buy with confidence because we all know the new ProV1 will perform, but don’t get too down if you don’t see much improvement in the new ball over last year’s version.
- Nike RZN Black Volt – Speaking of colored golf balls… Nike has developed the RZN Black Volt golf ball in part to go with the new Vapor woods and irons which incorporate a similar yellow trip color scheme. The golf ball is essentially identical to the RZN Black tour ball that features the interlocking RZN core design that is supposed to deliver more energy between the layers for faster ball speeds and longer distance, according to Nike. The ball is softer than previous generations, which is good because the first RZN ball they delivered was hard as a rock. Watch for several Nike staffers to be playing the new RZN Black Volt on tour.
The Up & Comers
- Volvik – The South Korean company that has been making golf balls for over 30 years, and chances are you may not have heard of them! Their golf balls have been used to make over $5 Million, with 10 victories and 70 top ten finishes on men’s and ladies professional tours. Their most popular golf ball is the White Color S3 golf ball and the new White Color S4 was just launched. The S4 improves on the S3 golf ball by having a firmer feel and less spin for faster swing speed players. The original White Color S3 is in play by almost 70 tour pros, and the S4 should be very popular also. Volvik is famous for being the most popular colored golf ball on the market, so the golf balls are not only available in white, but several other bright colors as well.
- Wilson Duo & Duo Spin – Have you ever hit a golf ball with a 29 compression rating? That’s how soft Wilson claims the Duo golf ball is. While “compression” ratings from manufacturer to manufacturer can vary wildly, it’s still a very, very soft golf ball. The main complaint against the Duo was lack of spin, so they are now offering the Wilson Duo Spin ball to fix that problem. With a slightly higher 35 “compression” and softer cover, the Duo Spin is sure to be a hit with golfers who prefer a very soft feel and added spin around the green.
- Hopkins VL Pro – I love Hopkins wedges and have their fantastic 60 degree “channel” grind wedge in the bag as a gamer, but they offer golf balls too, and they are very good. To paraphrase their website, the Hopkins VL Pro golf balls are round, white and they perform just as well or better than the other balls they compete with, for a cheaper price. They sell for $22.99 per dozen and get even cheaper if you buy several dozen.
- OnCore MA 1.0 – A few years back, a startup called OnCore Golf sent me a dozen golf balls to try out that had a hollow, solid metal core. I thought the concept was interesting, but the first batch of balls I got from them didn’t work very well, because the covers were literally falling apart. A bad batch of golf balls had been sent to me in error. Fast forward 3 or 4 years, and OnCore has a new model golf ball called the MA 1.0 (Maximum Accuracy). This time around, the hollow metal core golf balls have been USGA approved. The concept behind the OnCore MA 1.0 is that by having a hollow core, the weight is shifted towards the perimeter of the ball to create a higher moment of inertia, reducing side-spin and leading to straighter shots. Unfortunately, this claim doesn’t seem to make any scientific sense, and I haven’t seen any data to back up their claims. Sure, the ionomer cover of this golf ball won’t provide much extra spin, but you won’t get much feel either. You’d need a urethane cover for that. Having said that, the problem I have is not with the technology or performance claims, but the price. When you offer a distance ball at a $44.99 price point that is normally reserved for tour caliber balls, your ball better deliver. I fail to see how the OnCore MA 1.0 can out perform the class-leading Bridgestone E6, which costs half as much as the OnCore.
To The Victor Go The Spoils
- Callaway Chrome Soft – Callaway took the golf ball market by storm this year with the introduction of their new Chrome Soft golf ball. Any company can add a soft urethane cover to a low compression golf ball, but nobody has found a way to make that ball playable without spinning too much or flying too high – until now. The Callaway Chrome Soft features a resilient, 65 compression “SoftFast” core with mushy thermoplastic urethane cover and Callaway’s hex aerodynamics. As a golfer with tour-level swing speeds, I was worried about two things when testing this ball – over-compression and ballooning ball flight. Over-compression would mean a loss of energy and distance for faster swingers, and ballooning ball flight would be one that flies very high and out of control with too much spin. I experienced neither with the Callaway Chrome Soft. The ball feels soft, yet solid on full swings and flies on a stable mid-high trajectory. Knockdown shots are no problem. The Chrome Soft spins at least as much as other urethane cover balls like the ProV1, Z-Star and Bridgestone B330. In fact, on partial swing wedge shots I seem to get more spin, which makes sense when talking about a softer compression ball. I tried to dislike this ball, but I can’t. This is a great golf ball. My feelings were justified a week after my own testing when I learned that several Callaway staffers would put the ball in play on tour, including none other than Phil Mickelson. The feedback so far has been very favorable. Now is the time for you to try this ball. You’ll love it too.