I know we shouldn’t care what the pros play, and our equipment choices shouldn’t be influenced by what the pros play but the reality is many of us do care and many of our choices are influenced. Bridgestone Golf is currently reaping some benefit from that caring and influence, as its Tour staff has won seven of the last 16 PGA Tournaments. For you scoring at home, that’s a 44% clip.
That hot streak, plus the return of Dan Murphy as CEO, has given a bit of life and direction to the Bridgestone brand. Murphy took over last fall and is being tasked with reversing a downtrend trend in ball sales and market share and with breathing new life into Bridgestone’s moribund equipment business.
The Tour streak – and the stellar play of Tiger, Bryson DeChambeau and Matt Kuchar – is giving Bridgestone’s ball sales a bit of a boost, and today’s release of the new, mid-priced e12 SOFT and e12 SPEED should provide another jolt.
New Ball, Reshuffled Deck
Some e12 basics: it’s a 3-piece, Surlyn covered ball featuring Bridgestone’s Gradational Compression Core, which is soft in the middle for feel and gets progressively firmer for more distance. It’s a completely new ball for Bridgestone and is not a replacement for the 2-year old e6.
“We can joke all day long that e12 is twice as good as e6, but that’s not where the name comes from,” says Elliott Mellow, Bridgestone’s Golf Ball Marketing Manager. “The name actually comes from our 12 years of ball fitting and the data we’ve collected that led us to make this ball. Lest we forget, Bridgestone essentially invented the idea of ball fitting and has collected millions of swings worth of data, which is an R&D gold mine. The data told Bridgestone it had a problem, but also pointed toward a solution.
“What we found was e6 did a great job providing soft feel and managing driver spin,” says Mellow. “But to a certain degree we were sacrificing ball speed by over managing spin by making the ball too soft. We wanted to keep a soft core, but we identified we’d have to get our velocity from a different part of the golf ball.
That would be the extra layer in e12, which Bridgestone is calling the Active Acceleration Mantle.
“Historically the golf ball has one engine – the core. That’s where the speed comes from,” says Mellow. “We went with a denser chemical compound for the new mantle, and it allows us to do a couple of things: it gives us a secondary engine – a turbo-booster if you will – where we’re getting added speed. The other benefit is since we’re not relying solely on the core for speed, we could soften it a touch to enhance the feel.Bridgestone has never been one to talk much about compression, saying different OEMs will measure compression in different ways. That said, the company confirmed that by their own methodology, The e SOFT has a compression of 50, while the e12 SPEED is around 75 which, no matter how you measure, are both reasonably soft.
“The target player for e12 certainly appreciates a soft feel, and there are certainly golf balls on the market that deliver soft feel,” says Mellow. “But we want to deliver soft feel with the added performance benefit of distance, as well.”
Spin and Urethane Snobbery
So with e12, what you have is a 3-piece Surlyn covered ball. Surlyn does not – nor should you expect it to – spin anything like a urethane ball. While that’s a benefit off the tee, it’s something you’ll have to deal with as you get closer to the green.
That said, Mellow asserts its test players have been pleasantly surprised by e12’s spin.
“By no means does e12 spin as much as a urethane ball,” says Mellow. “But it definitely spins more than a traditional Surlyn ball does. With this firmer mantle layer, if you’re punching down on this with a short iron or wedge, it’s creating added friction, which increases RPM.”
Does this ball spin enough to appeal to a spin-obsessed, hardcore lover of urethane?
Bridgestone says its testers have been blown away with how e12 spins – for a Surlyn ball. It’s just not going to check up like a urethane ball will around the green.
“We did some blind field testing based on sound and vibration, and e12 was perceived as the best feeling ball,” says Mellow. “By no means are we pounding our chests touting it’s better than a urethane ball for spin. That’s simply not the case, but I’d put it head to head against any Surlyn ball.”
As for which ball is right for which player, Bridgestone is making the distinction as Swing Speed: the e12 SPEED is recommended for swings speeds over 105 MPH, and the e12 SOFT for those under 105 MPH.
The Return of Ball Fitting
As mentioned earlier, Bridgestone is credited with bringing ball fitting to the golfing masses through its green grass ball fitting program – over 350,000 individual golfers have been fit by Bridgestone going back 12 years. Over the last two years, however, live ball fittings have been marginalized, replaced by a ball fitting tool on Bridgestone’s website as well as the B-Fit ball fitting app.
“Those tools have reached over 2 million people combined with the ball fitting message,” says Mellow. “But it’s not the same consultive approach. With Dan Murphy coming back, we want to bring back the grassroots effort and fit golfers in person. Historically, seven out of every ten golfers saw a performance improvement after hitting a Bridgestone.”
The program will be relaunched this spring with a couple of key enhancements. You’ll start out as before: getting a performance baseline using your own ball and the driver, and then compare using a Bridgestone.
“There were critics who asked how can you fit a golf ball based on one club used 14 times per round,” admits Mellow. “We’re acknowledging those critics and adding a short iron comparison between your ball and a Bridgestone, and then – depending on the player’s skill level and the facility that we’re at – we’ll set up a short game spin test as well.”
The majority of Bridgestone’s ball fitting events will be green grass focused and scheduled through local sales reps. You’ll also see them at larger demo days which may also include the Bridgestone Tour trailer when it’s in the neighborhood.
Final Thoughts, Price, Position
In baseball, if you go 7 for 16, you’re batting .437 and that is officially a hot streak. In golf, that’s a bit tougher to pull off if you’re a Bridgestone because A: your Tour staff is much smaller compared to the others, and B: you’re competing against a boatload of other players. Claiming credit for Tour wins is often one of those yeah, right things – hell, when water bottle manufacturers start sending press releases, the madness must stop. But for the #4 ball manufacturer, you do have the right to crow a little.
“We’ve been working with our Tour players pretty heavily with ball testing, more so than normally over the past 18 months,” says Mellow. “Just to make sure they’re dialed in. They’re getting new clubs in play, new shafts in play, and we need to make sure our golf ball is optimizing their games.”
Mellow says both Tiger and DeChambeau are heavily involved in R&D, and their contributions are leading to a new Tour B ball coming out in early 2020. In fact, Mellow tells MyGolfSpy that when Tiger tested the prototype, said “get that ball ready for next week, I want to play it now.”
“We’re on to a technology that we believe potentially transcends the golf ball category,” Mellow adds. “If you think wound core to solid core, balata to urethane, the same type of transcending technology is in the pipeline for Bridgestone. We can’t wait for 2020 to get here.”
But back to the e12, Bridgestone is reshuffling its deck a bit. As we mentioned earlier, e6 SOFT and e6 SPEED are not going away, but they will be less expensive: Bridgestone is dropping the price to $21 a dozen, down from $26.99 a dozen. The new e12 SOFT and e12 SPEED are completely new balls for Bridgestone and are priced at $29.99 a dozen.
“At $30, it’s the most innovation Bridgestone has put into that price point in quite some time,” says Mellow. “We view the Active Acceleration Mantle as a flagship technology. Most companies introduce new technology in its Tour balls and let that tech trickle down over time. We’re deciding to make a push and regrab the distance-performance category.”
That’s all well and good, but it is going head-to-head in price with Srixon’s Q-STAR Tour, a 3-piece ball with urethane cover for $29.99.
“At that price point, you still see high-performing balls, but the target player is slightly different,” Mellow says. “That player understands the importance of ball fitting, and they understand a Tour ball doesn’t fit everyone.”
Bridgestone is keeping up with the other soft ball industry trend: the e12 SOFT will be available in colors: Matte Green, Matte Red, and Matte Yellow along with standard white. The e12 SPEED will be available on white only.
They hit the stores February 15th.