Golf ball fitting is complex.
A bit ago, I posted a thread on Twitter addressing the topic. The text of this post comes mostly from that. I made a few changes here or there to try and add a bit of clarity but, frankly, instead of continuing to dumb down ball fitting, I thought it was time we collectively acknowledged the complexity.
That means I can’t provide easy answers. I can’t tell you what ball to play (unless you’re Scott Beckwith, who should definitely play a first-generation OnCore ELIXR) but I’m hoping I can at least get you thinking about golf ball fitting in a more complete way.
And so here we go.
Is golf ball fitting much different than club fitting?
For all the talk of complexity, fitting for golf balls isn’t much different than fitting for golf clubs. The devil is in overcoming the bad information golfers have been fed for years (e.g., you need match compression to your swing speed) and the limitations of most fitting environments.
When fitting for clubs, most fitters will key on ball speed, trajectory (launch angle, peak height and descent angle) and spin.
While “feel” is often a bigger talking point with a ball than with clubs, the key metrics for a ball fitting are the same as they are for clubs.
One ripple is that a proper ball fitting is a bit like getting fitted for a full bag of clubs. You want to see how it performs around the green (short wedges), on approach shots (irons) and off the tee (driver).
The right ball for you will perform well in every situation and that’s where the complexity comes in. That’s problematic. More than a decade of writing about golf equipment has taught me that golfers seldom embrace complexity.
It’s hard to fault ball makers too much for this. It’s not much different than the approach shaft companies have taken. Conversations around torque, EI profiles and stiffness in specific parts of the shafts are infinitely more meaningful than how things are often described but, again, it’s complex and so shafts are either low-, mid- or high-launch and that’s always paired with low or mid spin.
(Weird how nobody ever describes their shaft offering as high spin, right? I digress.)
Likewise, club fitting sometimes gets simplified because, even if golfers don’t know anything else about their swing, they have an idea of how fast they swing.
I suspect that’s exactly why the internet is filled with references to “the right ball for your swing speed.” It’s a simple idea that, in theory, allows you to match something you know (your swing speed) with a ball with a compression value that will work for you.
The problem is that’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.
The mythology of compression-based ball fitting
At the risk of repeating myself for the 10,000th time, there is no “right compression” for your swing speed. Get that thought out of your head and don’t ever let it back in.
Despite what you’ve been led to believe, slower swing-speed players very often benefit from higher-compression balls.
With few exceptions, firmer balls spin more and, very often, slower players are lacking spin. Fun fact: Titleist fits more golfers into Pro V1x than any other ball in its lineup.
Because the Pro V1x launches relatively high and spins and, as it turns out, many slower swing speed players have trouble hitting the ball in the air and generating spin.
Would a slow swing player be better off with a Chrome Soft X than a Chrome Soft or with a TP5 instead of a Tour Response?
In many cases, yes. Yeah, I know: “But I don’t like the way it feels.”
What about faster players?
It is absolutely true that most faster players will lose driver distance with a low-compression “soft” golf ball due to the core over-compressing at higher speed. That said, there is an element of distance that’s tied to spin and so there is a small percentage of high-speed, high-spin swingers (call it 2,800-plus rpm with the driver) who can benefit from the low spin benefits that come with a low-compression ball.
The same group may also benefit from a lower-spinning high-compression ball like the Pro V1x Left Dash—a good bit of that boils down to the ideal trajectory.
A proper ball fitting can help you sort that out.
Off irons, low-compression balls will often be a bit longer (largely due to the low spin characteristics). Worth a quick mention: low-compression balls are invariably low-spin. It’s the consequence of all the layers needing to be at least somewhat soft.
As a quick reminder, spin in the golf ball is a result of having a soft layer over a firmer one. The greater the difference in firmness between two adjoining layers, the more the ball will spin. When everything needs to be kinda soft (as they do in a low-compression ball), you don’t get the same firmness difference between layers and you get less spin because of it.
Most low-compression “soft” balls also offer higher trajectory. Higher flight with steeper descent angles is the lever that gets pulled to offset the low spin properties. Without the higher flight, low-spin (soft) balls would be unplayable for most.
There are exceptions. AVX tends to fly lower than other lower-spin balls. It’s not great for everyone but it’s the exception that proves the rule. If you swing fast and hit the ball high with too much spin, AVX might be ideal.
Nope, there’s still no right ball for your swing speed
So ultimately, compression provides clues about a ball’s performance but it’s by no means the definitive fitting variable. You should not be trying to match your swing speed to the right compression. At least not in a vacuum.
Fitting a ball by compression alone would be like getting fitted for irons (or even wedges) and looking at nothing but ball speed. No fitter worth his salt would ever do that.
A good ball fitting focuses on flight and spin. The recommended approach is to start at the green and work back to the tee. Basically, just make sure greenside (15-35 yards) spin is adequate and go from there.
FYI, ionomer/Surlyn spin rates simply can’t match urethane. If greenside spin matters, you need urethane.
A good rule of thumb is to fit the ball to your irons and fit your driver to the ball. So, again, if you’re focused exclusively on compression and ball speed off one club, you’re missing the plot. The trajectory and spin properties need to be right (or as right as they can be) throughout the bag.
With that in mind, my advice is to play the fastest ball you can find off the driver that delivers the proper flight and spin characteristics through the rest of the bag.
You should definitely not be trading the performance you need for the feel you want. If you must, you can trade a little speed for the feel you like but don’t compromise on trajectory and spin because you like the way a ball feels.
Soft is slow, but is it straight?
As an aside, a lower-spin ball will typically be straighter off the driver. It’s part of the reason why soft balls are sometimes marketed as more forgiving. For golfers who need straighter flight, every little bit helps but, at the same time, in terms of actual yards offline, it’s not a lot.
It’s why when ball manufacturers talk about how much straighter their golf balls are than a competitor’s, they use percentages. Four yards straighter 250-plus yards down the fairway isn’t nearly as impressive as “40% Straighter!”.
With a low-compression ball, you’re also going to be giving up spin in the iron game. Again, a little straighter but not ideal for holding greens especially if you don’t have the speed to hit the ball high enough to achieve a steep descent angle.
You need to see it fly
The final ripple: Trajectory/flight is driven almost entirely by the dimple pattern and to fully understand how a ball flies you need to observe the full flight.
What that means is that without the help of a well-designed trajectory model for every golf ball in the fitting matrix, you can’t properly fit a ball indoors. In that situation, you’re effectively normalizing dimple performance across all balls and that’s just not real.
Peak height, how far down range the ball reaches that height and how long the ball actually stays in the air as well as how the ball reacts to wind are significantly influenced by the actual dimple pattern.
But I’m not good enough
Before I wrap this up, I want to address one of the things I hear over and over again when I talk about golf ball fitting. Golfers love to say, “I’m not good enough to tell the difference.”
How many of you in the “I’m not good enough” crowd would also say, “I’m not good enough to tell the difference between one driver and another”?
Are differences in ball performance more subtle? Perhaps, even likely, but here’s what I’d say. We’re all familiar with the philosophical question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a sound?”
Ball performance is a bit more like, “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody sees it, did it still fall down?”
Yes, yes, it did. My point is that whether you’re good/consistent enough to tell the difference almost doesn’t matter. The differences between balls are unquestionably real and even if you’re “not good enough” to see them, every golfer can appreciate (and benefit from) them.
In summary …
So yeah, ball fitting is complex, it requires specific conditions to be done properly and attempts to simplify the process have led to a ton of misinformation that gets repeated over and over again.
As the idea of ball fitting gains momentum, hopefully that will change and it will become easier for golfers to get properly fitted for their ball.
Until then, PING’s Ballnamic tool isn’t a bad place to start, especially if you can’t personally test the 40 or so balls that could be right for you. Our semi-annual ball tests (we’re in the planning phase of the ’23 test) should provide insight as well. And, of course, there’s also a quality/consistency element at play which is where #BallLab comes in.
That’s a topic for another day.
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Eide Pål Otto4 weeks ago
Good article. Also suggest TXG video testing Ballnamic. Have played ProV1x yellow last two-three years but struggle with too high driver spin ([email protected] 90+mph). Tried Ballnamic which suggested Chrome S X or C LS. Like them but surprised with easy scuffing compared to V1x yellows. Anyone experienced similar?
James C4 weeks ago
The Pro V1x yellow is the most durable tour ball you can buy. It’s even tougher than the same ball in white. Nothing else is going to hold up as well as that.
I’ve played a lot of Chrome Soft X LS and it’s pretty durable but not quite at the same level.
alex4 weeks ago
“Because the Pro V1x launches relatively high and spins and, as it turns out, many slower swing speed players have trouble hitting the ball in the air and generating spin.
Would a slow swing player be better off with a Chrome Soft X than a Chrome Soft or with a TP5 instead of a Tour Response?”
What I have trouble wrapping my head around is that the MGS Best driver for slow swing speeds tend to be lower spinning drivers.
James C4 weeks ago
The best advice in the article is to fit the ball to your irons & fit your driver to the ball. There’s so much adjustability in drivers now that this is 100% the best approach.
Find a ball that hits the right window and right amount of stopping power for your irons. You can easily tweak your driver to make it behave to your liking.
Adam4 weeks ago
I’m curious to see where manufacturers go from here, not only with balls, but clubs and woods as well. It seems to me that a lot of iron manufacturers have attained the highest COR allowable, so where do they go from here? Same with golf balls. Have manufacturers peaked when it comes to creating the best ball possible? I’m beginning to wonder.
Marc4 weeks ago
Great topic to cover. i assume most of but balls more frequently than clubs. I just did a $20 ball fitting at golf galaxy, with indoor trackman as the only option in February, and it confirmed I was definitely playing the wrong ball.
Despite what most online charts and fittings would say with my mid 90s to low 100s driver swing speed the numbers clearly showed I should be playing the X version of any ball. Top 3 performers in testing were Pro V1x, Maxfli Tour X and TP5x.
daja4 weeks ago
I play mostly once a week, occasionally 2x, I have no idea what my driver swing speed is, but I’m pretty sure I swing my irons at a different speed than my driver. That being said, I tend to like a 3 piece ball for sound, feel and performance. Brand is in the equation in as much as I’d rather spend 35-40 bucks for a dozen instead of 50+ and I do not lose many balls in a season ( April-Nov on Long Island) so playing Titeist could be an option for me as opposed to Maxfli or Snell, but I doubt Titleist will be a major game improvement if any at all. .
Will4 weeks ago
Good article, especially the “I’m not good enough” comment. Been doing very thorough ball testing in the off season last two years. Even though my swing speed has dropped to about 87, I still find the ProV1 left dash the best ball, but the regular ProV1 comes in down the list, below Titleist Velocity, Maxfli Tour, and even Wilson DuoSoft. Doesn’t fit the theory but that’s what works for me.
Jeff4 weeks ago
“Fit Your driver to the ball.” If you’re on tour, sure. But not so easy for us mere mortals. It’s an ever shifting landscape with both balls and clubs being updated yearly. It’s almost becoming like wine vintages. 2022 was a GREAT year for this ball, but 2023 was an off year. To a point the whole industry is overcomplicating everything.
Tom Terrific4 weeks ago
Tony, great write-up, you bout covered every vital aspect of ball fitting in very few words… Kudos,! However, I live at 7600′ elevation in Southern Rockies, in New Mexico near Santa Fe and things are a little different up here, like cold balls, especially on sunny mornings, also balls fly higher and longer flight up here. I agree with Urethane covers but hit a 100 compression ball at cold temps and it feels like Hockey Pucks so I use tour response and Tour Speed which both feel soft and spin well with my 88 mph drive and regular flex Apex DCB Irons. I know every thing you have described helps us, my GHIN is a 6 so I must be doing something right. Supersoft are good in freezing temps too…. I know you do not have enough room to address particular cases so keep up the best comments on the Webb!! PS I shoot my age.
Dave Tutelman4 weeks ago
Great article, Tony! I’m sending a link to a bunch of friends who need it. Hope they believe it.
TR1PTIK4 weeks ago
Did Ballnamic recently and was surprised at the results (to some extent) but given that my launch and spin numbers from my most recent TrackMan session were uncharacteristically high I took them with a grain of salt. I was a 93% match for the ball I prefer (Maxfli Tour) and adjusting launch and spin to what I’d more often expect only increased that match. I still think $39 might be a bit much for the service but to do it once per season to make sure you’re not playing a ball that absolutely DOESN’T fit makes it a little easier to stomach.
Pat Brown4 weeks ago
Ballnamic is excellent. Used it last year and will pay again when all the new balls are in the mix. Extremely happy with the results and played a ball that I probably wouldn’t have tried all year in Srixon z star diamond. Excellent ball.
Mike4 weeks ago
I’ve been testing balls using Arccos data and of course real live on course observations and it’s been tough. Some balls are great off the driver (ProV1, Tour BX) but I struggle to hold greens with them a bit and the feel is ok. When I switch to a Tour BXS or ProV1X is get better feel and spin but the driver suffers. I’ve experienced the same with the Vice Pro Plus vs the Vice Pro, chrome soft and X., tp5 and tp5x and so on and so forth. Seems like the search continues lol
Alex4 weeks ago
I got a Balnamic 25% off coupon– they let me choose my current ball (including year), and they gave me recommendations (as a slower swing player) based on what I wanted- for me, longer distance, piercing ball flight and greenside spin. It suggested Chromesoft X, Bridgestone BX, RX, and occasionally Pro V1X left dash. I got a dozen AAAAA Chromesoft X off eBay, to see if they are onto something.
Titleist online test suggested Pro v1. For me, it will come down to how the ball survives after a round. Yellow Pro V1s are indestructible while Bridgestone RX are pretty easy to scuff. We’ll see how the Chromesoft X will survive. And I willl use the 4 for 3 deal to make a purchase.
Joseph Greenberg1 month ago
That is a brilliant piece of writing with enough mnemonic phrases to steer we heathens through ball matrix. Very grateful Titleist brought out true unicorn AVX.
SNOWMAN1 month ago
I may be an anomaly here but in regards to “many slower swing speed players have trouble hitting the ball in the air and generating spin” I have a driver speed in the 80s and generate ball speeds 110-120.. I just went through a full bag check up with my fitter and had to drop my 9° driver to 8° and drop the lie by -2.5° because I generate a lot of spin. At the beginning of the session I was punching 3800-4200 rpm which is insanely high for a swing speed so slow, but it has to do with my swing path and impact point.
I play in a generally cooler climate compared to most.. I learned decades ago that playing higher compression balls (Titleist DT 100s in the 1980s) on cold days were like hitting rocks, and spin city, even for the twigs we used back then. I’ve been using ProV1’s this past season about 95% of the time and gave others a chance, but I can’t find any other ball that fits the balance, other than maybe TaylorMade TP5.
There is no perfect ball out there. Everyone has different needs, no matter the swing speed, trajectory, or skill. Play different balls until you get one that brings the best balance.
Charles Abinante1 month ago
I read ALL of your articles…some apply, some don’t. Be I appreciate that you out there helping all of the golfers and hackers! Yes sir! Chuck
Ring O' Fire1 month ago
Where to begin? I know, I know… datacratic. Do most amateurs really play the wrong ball? Yes and no. They’re either smart and play cheap balls because they lose so many or they are dumb and play expensive balls (a waste of money) and then spend too much time looking for them out in the weeds and trees. These two profiles usually have a very poor swing from tee to green. No ball is going to help them in any meaningful way. Skilled – proficient amateurs play top-quality balls (more expensive) – fitted or not and rarely lose them. These players typically have not been fitted to a ball either but through trial and error usually narrow it down to a ball or two that performs best for them. You know it when you see it…. and feel it as well – from tee through the green. Like you, I have personally known guys that have said they were fitted to X ball. However, their poor swing/execution didn’t improve their final result – scoring. Most amateurs I contend, aren’t concerned about ball fitting or even club fitting that much. They’re more interested in getting outdoors with their buddies and having a good time., drinking some beer, flirting with the cart girl, gambling, and yucking it up. (I enjoy that too!) They hope they will somehow have that magic day and break 90. I hope they do. Perhaps if they get a ball fitting it will provide them with a few memories of how they “crushed one” on 14 or hit a green on 12 or got up and down on 7 making a 50′ putt for a rare birdie. Now, that’s fitting!!
DuckHead1 month ago
The soft is slow mantra is tired and somewhat misleading. Soft is slower (in some instances) is more accurate. With my swing speed of 100-105 the 5 yards I might give up on a drive with a softer urethane ball I gain back with my 7 iron due to the lower spin profile. I have a descent angle that will stop the ball on the green with minimal roll out. So that’s a push. Bottom line: I’ve tried many of the multi layer urethane offerings in compression range of 60-100 and they all perform reasonably well. Could I benefit from a ball fitting? Maybe. But as a 6 hdcp I doubt Titleist is going to fly me out to their ball fitting facility.
My favorite gollf balls are the ones I find under the Christmas tree. This year it’s Pro V1s!
mackdaddy94 weeks ago
I had the same results with the Chrome Soft Shorter drives and longer iron shots. I only dumped them because of inconsistency. Some would just fly crazy. I haven’t gone back since they made the investment into their factory. I am really loving the Srixon Z Star Divide.
Brad1 month ago
I play Vice for the past year after seeing about the same performance as proV1 balls. It’s not perfect but it’s close enough FWIW
WYBob1 month ago
Very good article, Tony. Full of insightful information. One variable you did not mention is where someone plays and its impact on ball performance. Things like altitude, air density, average playing temperature, moisture, erc. can have a significant impact on ball performance. The ball I play now at 6000 feet above sea level is different than the ball I played at 650 feet above sea level. I now test any ball I am considering on course in the conditions (temperature/wind/altitute) I will be primarily playing in. Just something for folks to consider.
Dan1 month ago
I did ballnamic. For the recommended balls I went to the manufacturers website & do their fitting. Of course the recommend a different model.
CD1 month ago
About when do you plan the ball test? If spring I may wait to buy balls but if later, I’ll go ahead and buy. I use your raw data, weight it for what I want to see in a ball and then try to pick the ball that should be good for me in my $ range. I’ve been hitting the Oncore Elixr the past two years and have been real happy with it. I’m not sure if their new Elixr will spec out as well.
Flsw191 month ago
Did ballnamic in top was the Vice Pro Plus that I normally play, the recommendations included two Bridgestone X and XS, and Maxfli Tour X. The major weakness of ProPlus is lost distance in wind, but offset by workability.
Scott Kalina1 month ago
I did Ballnamic last winter, just after getting fit for new clubs. Chrome Soft X was my top recommendation, and I enjoyed paying it last season. My 2nd and 3rd suggestions were Maxfli Tour X and Volvik S4. I was previously playing Volvik S3. Ballnamic was well worth the price.
13jas1 month ago
Ive been playin ProV 1x or the TP5x on really fast greens I find that they jump off the putter 2much. So I`ve went 2 the Bridgestone BRXS. I hope it helps, I admit I`m concerned about wind w the new ball
WBN4 weeks ago
If the B RXS spins too much, try the B RX. I’ve been playing that ball for the last few years and really like it. It seems to be less affected by the wind and we play in wind constantly.
don1 month ago
39$ to suggest what ball I should play?
Dan1 month ago
totally agree $39 for a online ball fitting? Cannot be as accurate as a in person fitting. Ballnamic needs to rethink the $39 price.
Mike Harmon1 month ago
Nice article on ball fitting. Would like to be considered as a tester
Mike Harmon Denver
JC1 month ago
Great analysis, plenty of things to learn from and think about.
My only concern is that ball manufacturers’ fitting always lead you to the high end of their offering.
Strange, no ?
Six8Pete1 month ago
nit picking here but “Our semi-annual ball tests” means twice a year.
do you really want to go through that pain????
i think you meant biennial
dave1 month ago
my cs is about 93-94 on average. your last ball test showed 4 piece balls preformed quite well., and that’s what I’ve been playing. got fitted for a driver. the fitter wants me to hit prov1x or equivalent for spin. did ballnamic and was fit into a chromesoft x or bridgestone tour x. so i couldn’t agree with you more(i bet that makes you happy)!!
Don1 month ago
Since I play once a week, a golf ball is a golf ball as long as it is not a Top Flite or a Taylor Made.
Scott1 month ago
With all due respect, that’s just not true. I’d say if you are a once or twice a year player or someone extremely strapped for money then a golf ball is just a golf ball. Like Tony said, different balls are better for different swings. You may not notice a difference because you don’t play a full round with one type. Just like he mentions on here, since I’m a high swing speed with a lot of spin, Pro V1x and Kirklands are my kryptonite; I stick with Pro V1, AVX, or Maxfli Tour for more fairways. Low priced 2-piece “distance” balls will never bite unless they plug.
TR1PTIK4 weeks ago
As someone who also plays once a week (if I’m lucky), I can tell you with absolute certainty that no two golf balls are the same and I can tell the difference on-course. Perhaps you just don’t care that much and that’s fine, but frequency of play has nothing to do with it if you actually focus any attention on how a ball performs. So rather than say, “a golf ball is a golf ball” perhaps it’d be more accurate to say, “I don’t care and I’ll play what I want.”