Soft is one of those words that can go either way. It can be a positive attribute when describing, say, landings. Or toilet paper. Or how your new forged irons feel.
It’s not so positive when discussing someone’s midsection, for example. Or their psyche.
When it comes to golf balls, industry trends say soft is something to be valued. A quick search on GlobalGolf.com shows no fewer than 17 balls with Soft somewhere in their name, with many more listing relative softness as a key feature/benefit.
When it comes to owning the soft attribute, a compelling case can be made that Wilson Staff has been, with apologies to Roberta Flack, killing it softly with their balls better than anyone.
Today Wilson is announcing a reboot to its landmark soft ball - the DUO - and trust us; it will be very hard to miss these balls out on the course.
She’s A Rainbow
Wilson broke new ground back in 2011 when it introduced the DUO, a 2-piece, Ionomer-cover distance ball with a mind-blowing, Downy-soft 29-compression. It’s been a big hit for Wilson for two very good reasons – it tends to fly straighter due to minimal driver spin, and its squishy softness makes any iron feel like buttah.
The 2018 DUO line has a few technical tweaks, which we’ll get to in a moment, but lets first address the elephant in the room, and it's a pink elephant at that. These new DUO’s, which are being rebranded as the DUO Soft, come in more colors than a 60’s acid trip.
“We’ve been making colored balls for years, and people seem to be liking brighter and brighter,” says Frank Simonutti, Wilson’s Global Director of Golf Ball Innovation. “Maybe it catches on; maybe it’s a fad. But right now it’s popular, and we really like the bright colors. We think it’s an awesome look.”
The new DUO Soft comes in the standard, traditional white, of course. But if you’re looking to take a walk on the wild side, Wilson is also giving you pink, green, red, yellow and orange, all in a flat matte finish Wilson is calling OPTIX. Take that, Volvik!
“The orange and yellow aren’t far off from our previous DUO orange and yellow,” says Simonutti. “It’s just the matte paint finish is different with a duller look. We liked the yellow and orange so much we went ahead with pink, green and red.”
Wilson is also releasing a DUO Soft designed for women, in a matte white finish it’s calling Women’s White.
Wilson’s DUO Spin ball is also getting a makeover, albeit not as dramatic cosmetically. The old DUO Spin was a 35-compression, 3-piece ball with an Ionomer cover and provided more stopping power on the green than the DUO. Now called the DUO Soft Spin, its technical upgrades are more significant, but it will only be available in normal, boring white.
If you’re into retro badassery, however, the new DUO Soft Spin (as well as the standard white DUO) will now sport the red and black Wilson Staff shield, giving the ball a classy, vintage look. The shield is also on all of the matte DUO’s, but the logo is monochromatic.
Whiter Shade of Pale
So other than color, what’s up with the new DUO’s?
As we mentioned, there are a few minor tech tweaks, but first let’s state the obvious: the DUO’s are not Tour-level balls. They’re not intended to be Tour-level balls, and they’re not meant for the better player (although you sticks will find the DUO Soft Spin worthy of a whack or two). The DUO's are meant for what is traditionally known as the average golfer.
“That’s the guy that shouldn’t be playing the ProV or any Tour ball,” says Simonutti. “The average player wants to be in the fairway. The DUO’s low spin off the driver is straighter, and that makes a difference.”
For the target golfer, that difference is basically the difference between the right side of the fairway and the right rough. Or the right rough and the right forest.
Simonutti also says the notion that low compression balls are longer, especially for low swing speed golfers, is utter nonsense.
“Everyone’s golf ball goes about the same distance,” he says. “We’re legislated by the USGA for overall distance. We did our tests with DUO versus other premium balls, and from longest to shortest – with the exception of one ball (the considerably shorter Aeroburner Soft) – the difference was about four yards. So what’s the difference?”
So if, thanks to USGA limitations, everyone’s ball flies about the same, how can an OEM differentiate?
“Feel is a big deal,” says Simonutti. “To make a ball feel different to be preferred by a golfer is the only thing you can do. What we’ve found, and what the industry has really taken off with, is to make the ball softer. ”
Other than looking like golf-ball-sized Skittles, there are some meaningful technical upgrades to the DUO Soft. While the overall compression is still an industry-low 29, the new DUO Soft has a larger and slightly harder core than before. That harder core is offset by a thinner cover to reduce spin. The 302 seamless dimple pattern remains, but the dimples are shallower for higher launch and more carry.
“When you put a soft core under a hard cover you lower the spin rate of the ball, particularly off your driver or your other higher swing speed shots,” says Simonutti. “Lower spin rates go straighter, and straighter means more fairways. More fairways mean more roll and more roll means more distance. You don’t roll in the rough.”
“That makes your second shot easier. The game’s just a lot more fun from the fairway.”
The Women’s DUO Soft uses the same core at the standard DUO Soft, but the cover is slightly softer for more spin and an even higher flight trajectory.
“It’s still lower spin and straighter flight than competitive balls,” says Simonutti. “The change is just to give an edge to women golfers, as most have lower swing speeds and would benefit more from a higher trajectory.”
The new DUO Soft Spin has a harder core and mantle layer than its predecessor, and a softer cover, which combine to boost compression up about 5 points, from 35 to 40. Simonutti says the changes were made to create more short iron spin separation between the 3-piece DUO Soft Spin and the standard 2-piece DUO Soft. Wilson says the new DUO Soft Spin has a 13% higher spin rate with short irons than does the new DUO, which should be more useful to better players. The old DUO Spin had only had a 7% higher spin rate.
Frank Being Frank
I was able to try the new DUO’s while spending a memorable day golfing with Frank. He freely admits he’s not a very good golfer, but he does have a good time out there, and his game fits the DUO Soft to a T. Frank's been designing golf balls for 27 years - four years for Dunlop/Maxfil and the past 23 for Wilson, so he has some substantial bona fides. And when you get Frank going, what comes out is pretty unfiltered.
“I think the industry does an awful job of telling people what they should play,” he says. “You have companies out there telling people they should play the same ball as the pros. I don’t know, but would any reputable club fitter fit a high handicapper into blades? I don’t think so.”
When it comes to ball-fitting done right, Frank gives credit where credit is due.
“Bridgestone fits most people into the e6 Soft, and that’s a great ball for most players,” he says. “They’re not trying to sell the most expensive ball in their line to high handicappers. Others tell people they should be playing their Tour-level ball. It’s just odd.”
“Taylormade says everyone should be playing the TP5 or the TP5x, and both are great balls. But to be fair, TaylorMade’s other balls aren’t that good. They don’t do a very good job with their Surlyn-cover balls. The TP5’s are solid, but I could show you test results that show the Aeroburner is not that good of a ball.” – Frank Simonutti
“Most manufacturers make good balls,” says Frank. “And every once in a while everyone puts out a dog. It happens. I’ve seen the occasional Titleist, TaylorMade, Callaway and even Wilson dogs over my 23 years here. But in general, we all make good balls. There are professionals everywhere, and I have great respect for what my counterparts do.”
Color My World
So what’s it like to play with balls of many colors? Interesting is a word that comes to mind. If you play these with a regular foursome that thrives on trash talk and would razz the Pope for laying up, you better bring your A-Game.
For a casual round, the color does add a splash of fun to golf, and there’s nothing wrong with fun. It's a game, after all, and games are supposed to be fun. Besides, most of us aren't making our living playing golf, so matte colored balls? Why the hell not? The OPTIX colors also make the DUO Soft very easy to follow in flight, which for these aging eyes is no small blessing. Feel-wise hitting a 29- or 40-compression ball is like hitting a marshmallow – kinda weird at first but after a while it gets addictive.
As for distance, Simonutti is correct: there’s no real distance gain or loss with a low compression ball – the difference is all feel. In cooler temps all balls lose a little performance, but a soft, 2-piece ball such as the DUO will likely lose less performance than a harder, Tour-level ball would.
The DUO Soft Spin does have noticeably more spin around the green than the DUO Soft, but less spin than a Tour-level ball. If you’re used to the stopping power of a urethane-covered multi-layer Tour ball, both DUO balls will require some approach and short game adjustments, but the DUO Soft Spin is at least in the neighborhood.
For the target market – the average, recreational golfer who shouldn't be playing a ProV– the DUO Soft is one of many excellent choices. It's up there with Volvik as the most colorful choice, but is all alone as the softest.
Better players will find the DUO Soft Spin a viable alternative performance-wise to Bridgestone’s e6 Soft or e6 Speed, the Titleist NXT Tour or Srixon’s urethane-covered Q-Star Tour, although the Q-Star Tour does spin a bit more around the green. None, however, approach the DUO Soft Spin's 40-compression.
Price and Availability
The new DUO Soft family of balls (white/colors) will sell for $19.99 a dozen, while the new DUO Soft Spin will retail for $26.99. Both prices remain unchanged from last year's models. They’ll hit the stores and the World Wide Web November 17th.