Golf Balls 101: How Design Impacts Performance

The Goal of Golf Ball Design & Construction

If you look at golf balls in a golf store, you’ll notice there are many different kinds of golf balls with fancy names and boxes printed with marketing terms like high compression or low spin or max distance, for example.

And the truth is, golf ball manufacturers design several balls for different types of golfers and different needs.

The main goals in golf are to hit the golf ball far and hit the golf ball accurate. Golfers want to hit long tee shots to start the hole and then around greens, they want controlled distance and trajectory with their golf shots.

But every golfer has a different swing speed and hits the ball differently, so each golfer requires certain attributes of a golf ball construction to match up with their swing and ability.

Things to think about when picking out a golf ball:

  • Spin Rates
  • Feel (soft vs hard)
  • Performance (distance vs accuracy)

Let’s dive deeper into the concepts around golf ball design and picking a ball that suits your golf game best. This guide will help you understand everything you need to know before you go shopping.

Resource: Here’s Coach Foy’s Step by Step Practice Plans & Drills

USGA Golf Ball Requirements

A golf ball’s construction has two main requirements it must adhere to. The first is that the golf ball’s diameter must not be any smaller than 4.3 centimeters (1.7 inches). The second requirement is a golf ball must weigh no more than 1.6 ounces (45.9 grams).

Besides these two requirements, golf balls will vary in their construction. There are different materials used to make the golf balls and different dimple counts on the covers of golf balls. We will explore what all goes into a golf ball construction and the pro’s and con’s.

2 Piece vs 3 Piece Golf Ball Construction

You may have heard some golf balls referred to as 2 piece and other balls referred to as 3 piece. What does this mean?

With a 2 piece golf ball, there will be an inner rubber core that is constructed and then it is covered with an outer layer of material, usually a plastic resin called Surlyn. This outer protective layer is known as the golf ball’s cover. Overtime the cover will take on damage from being hit lots of times with a golf club and begins to wear down.

2 piece golf balls are usually preferred by higher handicap players with slower swing speeds since these balls have a larger core and thinner outer layer, which maximizes the amount of energy the club transfers to the golf ball during the swing. This helps the golfer generate more distance when they can transfer more energy to the golf ball.

With a 3 piece golf ball, there will usually be an extra layer of material that is squeezed in between the cover and the core of the golf ball. The outer cover material for a 3 piece golf ball is either Surlyn or Urethane.

Urethane is a softer material than Surlyn, and is designed to help players get more feel and gain feedback easier on golf shots. However, the drawback of urethane covers is that they aren’t as durable and wear down quicker as compared to Surlyn, which is a highly durable cover.

3 piece golf balls are best suited for high swing speed players. When the golf ball is hit with a high swing speed, every layer of the golf ball is activated to generate the distance you need. With short game shots, hitting the ball with a slower swing speed only activates the outer layer, producing the spin you need to control the shot.

3 piece balls are more dynamic for advanced players so they can achieve optimal distance on tee shots and still maintain control around the greens with short game shots.

Resource: Here’s Coach Foy’s Step by Step Practice Plans & Drills

How Golf Ball Construction Impacts Ball Flight

1. Aerodynamic Lift

One of the goals in golf ball design is to allow the golf ball to hang in the air longer. Rather than create a smooth cover golf ball, it’s been found that dimple patterns create aerodynamic lift, helping the ball stay in the air longer.

In other words, a golf ball’s dimples serve an important role in the ball flight of the ball and that’s why dimples exist rather than use smooth non dimple balls.

The number of dimples on a golf ball will vary, usually between 300 to 500 dimples.

The dimple patterns also vary by manufacturer and have changed throughout the years as research and testing continues to find new ways to unlock optimal performance with dimple pattern design changes.

2. Aerodynamic Drag

Another reason for using dimples instead of a smooth surface is the reduction in aerodynamic drag.

Picture a boat in water, displacing water as it moves through the water and how a boat creates a wake behind it.

This is the same concept with a golf ball flying through “Air.”

As a golf ball flies through the air, it’s is displacing air. Behind the golf ball, a wake is created (disturbed air). It’s been found that dimples help create a much smaller wake of disturbed air behind the golf ball and thus a reduction in aerodynamic drag.

With less air drag on the golf ball, the ball can fly further and longer in the air.

3. Spin Rate

One of the most important metrics a golfer will look at when choosing a golf ball to fit their game is the spin rates produced when hitting different types of golf balls.

Too high of spin rate makes the golf ball climb into the air too high, losing horizontal distance. Hitting a golf ball with too low of spin rate, keeps the ball from getting high enough in the air to maximize horizontal distance.

Finding a golf ball that has optimal spin rate is key to gaining distance. Optimal spin rate will get the ball into the air high enough to maximize distance.

With driver, for example, spin rates will range between 2,000 RPM and 4,000 RPM on average.

Golfers with fast swing speeds tend to put lots of spin on the ball and thus they may require a lower spin golf ball to counter this. Additional ways to reduce spin could also be found through a change in swing technique or changing out the driver shaft to a custom fit shaft.

Resource: Here’s Coach Foy’s Step by Step Practice Plans & Drills

Hard Golf Balls vs Soft Golf Balls

Feel is also important in golf. When you hit a soft golf ball and a hard golf ball, you’ll feel the difference. Certain players prefer one type of feeling over the other and this can help them make a decision when picking out a golf ball to play.

Since beginners have slower swing speeds, they need help getting the ball into the air. This is where compression ratings of a golf ball can come into play. Lower compression is key for getting higher launch and less drag.

In the old days, soft golf balls were known for having low compression ratings, which means it doesn’t take as much swing speed to get them to compress. When the ball compresses (deforms) against the face, you feel that spring like effect where the ball shoots off the face.

Hard golf balls don’t compress as easily and require faster swing speeds to activate compression, thus these balls will have a higher compression rating.

But in today’s world of golf technology, premium golf balls have been designed to feel both soft and hard. They are optimized to produce low spin rates on drives and high spin rates around greens for short game control.

You’ll tend to notice a difference in the feel of a golf ball as you work your way down the scale from more expensive, quality golf balls to more cheap golf balls on the budget spectrum.

How to Pick Out a Golf Ball

A golf ball is the only piece of equipment you will use on every single shot. Picking the right golf ball is super important to giving yourself the best results possible on the golf course.

When it comes to picking out a golf ball to play with, you want to pick one based on the following factors.

  1. Distance
  2. Shot Height
  3. Spin Rate
  4. Feel

Hit several golf balls using a golf launch monitor at the range or indoor simulator device that tracks data from each golf swing.

Use the device to look at distances numbers for each golf ball such as carry, roll, and total distance to help you decide which golf ball you are hitting the farthest.

Ball speed is also a super important metric as this is what determines distance. If you notice that one golf ball brand in particular is creating higher ball speed numbers than the others, this could be your winner.

Also look at shot height. How high is the ball climbing in the air? This statistic is known as Apex and it’s the maximum height point before the ball starts descending down towards the ground.

Spin rate will affect how high the ball goes as well as how much roll distance after it lands. Higher spin shots tend to not roll as far, but they make up distance by traveling farther in the air (carry distance) since the ball goes higher.

Lastly, feel. Make sure the golf ball feels good when you’re hitting it. You want a ball that is easy to control with your short game clubs like wedges and putter.

You also want it to feel good when it comes in contact with the face. How does the ball feel when it compresses against the face and how does it sound?

Best Golf Ball for Slices and Hooks

Golfers who tend to slice or hook the golf ball, will put lots of sidespin on the golf ball by having an open or closed clubface relative to the swing path.

What Causes a Slice?

The more open the club face is compared to the swing path of the club, the more severe the slice will be. This will produce more clockwise sidespin on the golf ball, causing more right to left curve in the air from the golf ball.

What Causes a Hook?

A hooked golf shot results when the clubface is closed in comparison to the swing path of the club. It creates counter clockwise spin on the ball sending the ball flying left.

Which Golf Ball to Choose for Reducing a Slice or Hook?

Golfer’s with a severe slice or hook, can benefit from lower spin golf balls. The lower spin ball construction helps to counter the high spin swing technique, keeping the ball flying straighter and with less severe of a curve.

Remember this rule of thumb: the less sidespin a golf ball has, the less it will curve sideways. Use a lower spin golf ball to reduce the sidespin or fix the swing that produces sidespin.

Once you fix your swing technique and start hitting the ball straighter, then you can reconsider if the low spin ball is still needed or if it’s time to move on to a new golf ball type that produces optimal carry distance and total distance numbers.

Premium Golf Balls

Two of the most popular premium golf balls right now are Titleist Pro V1 and TaylorMade TP5.

Now each ball also comes with an “x” version so you’ll see both Pro V1 and Pro V1x as well as TP5 and TP5x when at a golf store.

What’s the difference between the x version and the non “x” version?

This usually has to do with spin rates.

For the TaylorMade TP5 golf balls, the “x” version of the golf ball is designed to produce lower spin rates. This allows golfers with higher spin numbers on a launch monitor to unlock some increased performance from lowering spin a little bit on their drives. Around greens golfers can benefit from the TP5 version by getting increased spin over the TP5x ball.

It will vary by golfer, but the TP5x golf ball could lower spin 500 RPMs on average as compared to the TP5 golf ball which would have higher spin numbers.

For Titleist, it almost works in reverse. The Titleist Pro V1x is the higher spinning golf ball while Pro V1 is the lower spinning golf ball.

The Pro V1x is designed to spin more to help golfers launch irons and wedges higher and have more control around greens from the increased spin. The Pro V1 is designed for better driver performance since it has a lower spin rate when compared to the “x” version.

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