Depending on whom you ask, the timeline and players vary but there’s a version of events leading to the emergence of soft golf balls that goes a little something like this.
Precept made the Lady. Dudes loved it, but you know…ego. And, so, Lady spawned Laddie. By the time Bridgestone made the RX, golf companies had figured out that, performance implications aside, golfers liked soft golf balls. DUO was born. Callaway transitioned from SR-1 to Chrome Soft and in doing so created the ball that changed the ball that Bridgestone had arguably already changed, and well, here we are.
Depending on your affinity for soft golf balls, you can credit or blame preference-driven golfers whose penchant for whacking marshmallows inadvertently created the fresh hell that is the nebulous world of soft balls.
Feel and Compression
Just to bring everyone up to speed here; soft feel is primarily the result of low compression. Compression is a measure of how much a ball deforms under load. The harder the ball, the less it deforms.
Most of you won’t care about that but somebody was going to ask. Discard the info entirely or toss it in your back pocket for trivia night at the country club (is that a thing?). Either way, what I’m guessing you care about is the correlation between compression and how soft (or firm) a golf ball feels.
It’s All Relative
It should be simple but with different brands using different metrics (ball compression versus core compression, for example) and throwing the word soft around like dollar bills at Rachel’s Steakhouse (Google it…or better yet, don’t), feel has become an entirely relative concept made more difficult to quantify by the fact that there’s no agreed-upon starting point.
Did I lose you there? Let’s try it this way:
Define soft. Put a number on it.
I’m sitting on a mountain of golf ball compression data and I can’t do it. What chance does the average golfer have?
Is DUO Soft+ soft? Soft is in the name, so it must be. How about Chrome Soft or Chrome Soft X even? Soft is in the name there, too. Does the X mean extra-soft?
ERC Soft, Soft Response and Supersoft – what could be softer than Supersoft?
Nothing – at least nothing we’ve found so far.
That’s a true story. Credit to Callaway for keeping it simple. It really is super-soft.
Some of the others? Not so much, because they’re not so soft. And that’s before we get into balls where even if soft isn’t in or implied by the name (looking at you, Bridgestone), the box still says soft.
Everything in the OnCore’s ELIXR delivers a soft and pure feel. There’s nothing in the Pro V1 literature about pure-ness but it does offer a very soft feel. The Srixon Z Star…it goes far and feels soft.
If you believe everything you read, then damned near every golf ball is soft.
In reality, the soft balls I’ve mentioned by name span a more than 50-point compression range from 40 (the softest we’ve tested) to a bit over 90. That’s less than half the deformation. Check my math on this one but half of soft most definitely isn’t also soft.
Ball manufacturers have created a world where anything from 40 to 95 compression gets labeled as soft and anything above 95 is really firm. We seldom measure anything above 105, which tells me that the industry’s scale is broken.
Compression Made Simple
|Callaway Supersoft||Extra Soft|
|Wilson DUO Soft+||Extra Soft|
|Titleist Tour Soft||Soft|
|Callaway Chrome Soft||Medium|
|Bridgestone Tour B XS||Medium|
|Titleist Pro V1||Medium|
|Titleist Pro V1x||Firm|
|Titleist Pro V1x Left Dash||Extra Firm|
What is reasonable to say is that the Pro V1, Z Star and Chrome Soft X are legitimately PGA TOUR-soft. Ironically enough, those balls are solidly 20 points firmer than the Titleist Tour Soft.
As it relates to golf balls, soft is, at best, ambiguous. At worst, it’s a horseshit word that golf brands will attach to just about anything because, if they can’t sell you on performance, there’s a reasonable chance they can sell you on feel.
Said another way, some soft golf balls are soft, some soft golf balls aren’t and, from the outside, it sorta (soft) feels like ball manufacturers might be telling you what you want to hear instead of what you need to know. Frankly, that’s not’s not unusual but if you’re a golfer who chases soft feel, there’s a better than good chance you’ve paid for soft and ended up with something else.
That’s not entirely cool so I’m going to take a shot at putting all of this soft stuff in context for you.
As it relates to our feel discussion, there are four categories of golf balls. The first thing to understand is that any notion of a soft golf ball is relative only to the other balls in its category.
PGA TOUR Soft Golf Balls
Let’s start with the top of the food chain – the urethane-covered tour ball. And by “tour ball,” I mean golf balls that are legitimately played on the PGA TOUR – or at least meet the criteria.
While the softest ball in any tournament will vary based on who is in the field, here’s something to think about. In any given week, the Titleist Pro V1 is likely to be the softest ball in play. If Tiger (or Brendan Steele) in in the field, it’s the Bridgestone Tour B XS. Once upon a time, Bridgestone’s S stood for soft, so it must be soft, right?
Not so fast, Sparky.
The XS is fewer than five compression points softer than the Pro V1 and not much softer than a Srixon Z Star. It still qualifies as the softest tour ball but the average golfer isn’t likely to discern any appreciable feel difference between the three and you’re sure as hell not going to mistake any of them for a DUO.
Callaway’s Chrome Soft X – a legitimate tour ball with “soft” in the name – is several compression points firmer than the Pro V1. In fairness to Callaway, soft is kind of the company’s thing and Chrome Firm doesn’t sound like something anyone wants to hit – and that’s coming from a guy who often plays a ball called Left Dash.
I’d be remiss not to mention that balls with urethane covers may feel a bit softer relative to their actual compression when compared to ionomer (the cheaper material that covers most inexpensive golf balls). That’s especially true off the putter but here’s your takeaway – even the softest balls played on the PGA TOUR are still pretty damn firm.
Why do you think that is?
Non-Tour Urethane Soft Golf Balls
I was tempted to call this category Value Urethane but with AVX, Chrome Soft and RX/RXS in the mix, a good bit of the category matches the tour stuff dollar for dollar. If price isn’t the differentiator, what is? Very often it’s, you guessed it, feel.
The compression range for this category runs from about 70 compression on the low end to 80 on the high. That’s a bit softer than anything you’re going to find in the tour category but it’s definitely not super-soft. When you look at everything on the retail shelves, you’re really talking about mid-compression balls.
Premium Ionomer Soft Golf Balls
At the risk of digression, for my two cents, Premium Ionomer is an oxymoron. In the ball world, premium and ionomer/Surlyn are diametrically opposed. As soon as you choose one, you can’t have the other. And yet, somehow, here we are…again.
The signature balls in this category are the Callaway ERC Soft and the Titleist Tour Soft. They’re negligibly (less than five points) softer than what you can find in our non-tour urethane category and, frankly, the greenside performance drop-off from urethane to an ionomer cover isn’t remotely worth the slightly softer feel. I suppose you could argue some benefits around spin reduction but again I’d say there isn’t enough there to warrant trading away the urethane cover.
Your favorite ball might be in this group and, hey, no judgment, but understand that the category exists almost entirely to create a mid-range price point. If 35 bucks is the limit of what you’re willing to spend on a dozen balls, you’re probably better off ordering urethane from the direct-to-consumer menu.
Cheap Ionomer Soft Golf Balls
Cheap isn’t necessarily reflective of quality here but it also isn’t not reflective of quality.
Untangle that with the understanding that in the ball world, you often get exactly what you pay for. But, to keep everyone happy, we can say inexpensive ionomer moving forward. Semantics aside, we’re talking about sub-$30 and sometimes sub-$20 golf balls. If you want soft, welcome home, friend.
The category is filled with the likes of Supersoft, DUO+ Soft, E6, Soft Response, Soft Feel, TruFeel. Does anyone else see a pattern? Sure, you’ve got things like Velocity in the mix but this is where the softest balls live. The softest stuff tops out below 60 compression. That’s not PGA TOUR-soft or non-tour urethane soft; it’s legitimate, for real, soft.
Even that Velocity you’ve convinced yourself is rock hard; it’s about the same compression as AVX. It’s not Tour Soft-soft but it’s softer than PGA TOUR-soft.
Really Soft Feel Costs Less
We’re not having a performance discussion today so there are only two correlations I want you to think about right now.
The first is that lower-compression balls feel softer. That should be obvious. If you want soft feel, you want a low-compression golf ball.
The other one is perhaps a little weird. It turns out there’s a strong correlation between legitimately soft feel and price.
The softest balls – Supersoft, DUO+, E6 – they’re all found in the inexpensive ionomer category. As the cost of soft balls increases, so does compression – balls get firmer. By the time you reach legitimate tour balls and premium prices, there’s an argument to be made that none of the balls are actually soft.
Bottom line – if all you want out of a golf ball is the softest feel possible, there’s absolutely no reason why you should ever spend more than $25 on a dozen balls.
If you want tour performance, you’re going to have to spend more and do it with the understanding that while you might find something soft enough for your tastes, there’s nothing in the category that approaches soft.
I’ll ask again. Why do you think that is?