Picture yourself in a cart on a fairway, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly – it’s the golf ball with kaleidoscope eyes.
No, you’re not hallucinating, nor is your playing partner named Lucy and there are no diamonds in the sky. But we are talking about Wilson’s colorful new replacement for its DUO Urethane ball, the new DUO Professional. Like its predecessor, the DUO Professional straddles that not-so-fine line between low-spinning (and lower priced) distance balls and higher spinning (and premium priced) Tour-level balls.
It’s a peculiar category, but one OEMs feel is worth fighting over: enough performance to appeal to the better player but a price that makes you wonder why you’re spending $45 a dozen for the same balls Tour players use. Wilson is banking on its signature soft feel, combined with a healthy dose of color, to grab its share of this particular market.
A DUO U Overhaul
Wilson released the Duo Urethane (DUO U for short) nearly three years ago, dubbing it the world’s softest urethane-covered ball thanks to its 55 compression. But trying to deliver soft feel with the spin better players want is difficult balancing act because low compression and high spin simply don’t go together.
“To get low compression, you need to have a soft core,” says Frank Simonutti, Wilson’s Global Director of Golf Ball Innovation. “Well, the soft core brings the spin rate down, so you have to find a way to offset that. It’s hard to do on the overall ball.”
The upside of a softer core is lower driver spin, which helps the ball fly straighter (or at least, less crooked). The downside, however, is lower spin on all your other shots, including partial shots, wedge shots or full-iron shots, which translates into less stopping power on the green.
“One of the things we found is it’s very hard to keep the spin rate of a low compression urethane ball at the level of, say, a four-piece ball,” says Simonutti. “So we’ve redesigned the ball – we’ve upped the compression from 55 to 60, we’ve made the core larger, the mantle harder and the cover thinner to allow for more of an increases in spin on lower swing speed shots.”
Specifically, Wilson is replacing the soft HPF material used in the DUO U’s mantle layer with a harder Surlyn layer in the DUO Professional. In addition, the DUO Professional’s urethane cover is roughly 35 to 40% thinner than that of the DUO U, which translates into 6 to 10% more spin compared to the DUO U.
“That thin cover really pinches between the harder mantle and the club head for higher spin rates,” says Simonutti. “The whole point is to get to where the outer layers are taking over the ball with slower swing speed shots. The soft core gets us distance, and soft feel of the driver, and the thin cover/hard mantle combination gives better players the spin they need on approach shots, chips, and pitches.”
As mentioned earlier, the core of the DUO Professional is larger compared to the DUO U – nearly 2/10ths of an inch larger – and is also a bit firmer, leading to the slightly higher compression. As a result, the DUO Professional will spin a wee bit more off the driver compared to the DUO U.
“It’s not going to spin up there with a 4-piece ball off the driver, but it’s very close off the 9-iron and wedges,” says Simonutti. “But a better player may want to fade or draw the ball on demand off the tee, so that extra spin doesn’t hurt.”
Dimple Simple and Candy Colors
Dimple patterns, of course, affect trajectory, as does dimple depth. Deeper dimples give you lower flight, and shallower dimples give you higher flight. While the DUO Professional shares the same seamless 362 dimple pattern as the DUO U, the comparatively higher spin rate of the DUO Professional requires a slightly deeper dimple pattern.
“What we’re looking for is a trajectory that gives us optimum distance,” says Simonutti. “When you design a golf ball, launch angle, spin rate, and ball velocity are all functions of the construction. Now we all know a ball with no dimples doesn’t go anywhere, but dimple pattern and depth optimize trajectory to get the longest possible distance.”
For example, a soft, 2-piece ball such as the DUO Soft is a low spinning ball. To get it up in the air, it requires shallow dimples. The DUO Professional, with 18 to 20% more spin than DUO U, doesn’t need the same help. If you used the same dimple pattern, the higher spinning ball would launch extremely high, to the point of ballooning.
Wilson went all in on colors with the DUO Soft, with 7 matte colors along with the standard white. The DUO Professional isn’t quite as colorful, but you do have more choices than with any other urethane ball.
Along with standard white, the DUO Professional is also available in orange, yellow and green, although in reality, it is kind of hard to tell the difference between the yellow and green. Side by side, you can tell they’re different, but if I tossed you one and asked if it was yellow or green, I’m not sure you could tell with any certainty.
One disappointment is a lack of a matte white option. The matte white DUO Soft, which happens to be billed as the lady’s ball, is the best looking of the bunch in my opinion, and it would have been nice to see the same matte white in a more premium ball. In addition, the white DUO Soft and DUO Spin balls feature a red and black Wilson Staff shield as a logo, while the DUO Professionals feature a straight black shield. Again, not a big deal, but the red and black shield is a seriously badass looking logo.
Price, Availability, and Position
As we discussed earlier, the DUO Professional – along with its brethren, the Srixon Q STAR Tour and TaylorMade Project (a), among others – is sitting in a niche OEMs are trying to cultivate: Urethane covered balls with near-Tour level performance at a more moderate price. It’s potentially a huge market segment, and virtually all of the messaging is that most of us, even if we’re low handicappers, probably don’t need and won’t benefit from Tour-level balls, since we don’t have Tour-level swing speed.
It’s a compelling (and valid) story, but it’s one that doesn’t resonate unless accompanied by a meaningfully lower price. Paying Tour-level prices for a ball that doesn’t quite have Tour-level performance simply does not compute – a conundrum Bridgestone is facing with its arsenal of Tour B balls. The Tour B X and XS are Tour-level, while the RX and RXS don’t have quite the same performance and are aimed at slower swing speed golfers. Four good balls, but the problem is all four are premium-priced at $44.99 (Not for nothing, but you can expect a new Bridgestone ball soon that’ll slide right into this category in terms of both performance and price).
Wilson is positioning itself on the higher end of this market at $34.99/dozen, which is a $5.00/dozen price drop compared to the DUO U (TaylorMade’s Project (a) is $34.99/dozen, Srixon’s Q STAR Tour is $29.99/dozen). Direct-to-consumer companies Snell and Vice are in the same ballpark price-wise, but those balls tend to be closer to – or even equal to – Tour-level performance.
The DUO Professional will be available at retail and on Wilson.com starting Monday, December 3rd.