Would you buy a golf ball if you didn’t know what it really was or how it was supposed to perform? What if you knew stock was going to run out quickly or that you might never be able to buy it again?
Would you spend $40 for the sake of curiosity?
It’s a scenario that doesn’t lend itself well to the idea that you should play the same ball every shot all season long, but that’s exactly what we’re discussing today. And while it sounds like it could be the next chapter in the Kirkland saga, we’re actually talking about something new and potentially groundbreaking from Titleist.
We could also, however, just as easily be talking about a product or technology that will never again see the light of day. It could go either way, and I suppose that’s what makes the Titleist EXP•01 golf ball so intriguing.
What is EXP•01?
To understand what EXP•01 is, it helps to start with the EXP part. EXP is short for experimental or perhaps exploratory. I’m sure Titleist is okay with either. As the name suggests, it’s a new ball platform that aims to take next-generation technology directly out of the Titleist R&D department and put it into the hands of dedicated golfers. Titleist develops all sorts of golf ball concepts, and while many of them make it out of the lab, when something looks promising, it wants to involve golfers earlier in the validation process.
To that end, Titleist is launching EXP•01. The 01 part should be obvious enough; it’s the 1st of what could prove to be many EXP balls launched in the coming months, years, or decades. Folks, we could be in this for the long haul. While every indication is that EXP•01 is more AVX/ProV1 than it is TruFeel/Velocity, Michael Mahoney, Titleist’s VP of Golf Ball Marketing, says the EXP platform won’t be limited to the tour lineup. As the EXP program ramps up in earnest, you should expect everything from 2-piece ionomer to 4-piece urethane. We might even see things unlike anything we’ve seen before. Again…this is an experimental platform.
It’s for precisely that reason that Titleist is being deliberately vague about the performance specifications for EXP•01. It’s providing a few clues to perhaps point us in the right direction, but the ultimate goal is to generate genuine feedback from golfers and to hopefully better understand the real-world viability of whatever bits of technology it happens to be exploring. By telling us more than it needs to, it would run the risk of introducing confirmation bias into the equation. Titleist would much rather leave it on you to find what you find and report back.
What We Know about EXP•01
Our #FindItCut it cutaways reveal that EXP•01 is a 3-piece design that’s generally consistent with ProV1 or AVX. The primary point of focus appears to be what Titleist calls an MTR Developmental Cover System. It’s particularly noteworthy that it’s billed as short game spin enhancing (maybe Titleist is telling us what to look for). That’s the type of language you’ll find on nearly any sleeve of balls, but it’s particularly relevant here given that Bridgestone is expected to roll out new spin enhanced Tour B models early next year. Bryson DeChambeau has put a prototype of the ball into play, and the chief benefit is purportedly significantly higher greenside spin (more than 700 RPM on shots as short as 15-yards). The golf equipment industry is obsessed with being first, so Titleist may see value in being first to bring a new cover technology to the masses…or at least a small portion thereof.
It’s also important to recognize with USGA rules being what they are (and chatter about a rollback), there’s not much room left to innovate on the inside of a golf ball. We’re in an era where a good bit of what gets billed as game-changing is little more than recycled technology, compression shifts, and tweaked spin curves. Given those realities, it shouldn’t come as any particular surprise that paint (more colors and more patterns) is now one of the most leveraged talking points in the golf ball world.
I’m not going to apologize for mocking paint passed off as innovation, but I’d be remiss to gloss over the fact that the cover (regardless of how it’s painted) is perhaps the final frontier in golf ball design and a critical battleground that could separate brands who do legitimate materials (and design) research from a growing list of factory resellers with trendy logos and questionable stories.
I’m not betting on a sea change the magnitude of what we saw when the industry shifted from wound to solid core construction, but if a brand can differentiate the performance of its golf ball cover – whether that’s significantly more spin or substantially better performance in wet conditions, or some other method entirely – and build a bulletproof patent around it, it could set the clock back on all of its competitors. In short, it would take something special. By no means am I suggesting EXP•01 will prove to be that thing, but that’s absolutely the type of thinking going on inside big ball brands right now.
My point in all of this is that if you test EXP•01, it makes sense to focus on the cover, not just because Titleist suggests you should, but rather because it’s arguably the only opportunity left for genuine performance improvement. I should also mention that the cover is appreciably different to the touch than Titleist’s current urethane models. It’s been mistaken for Ionomer a time or two already.
In addition to the MTR Developmental Cover System, there are two other bits of technology detailed on the EXP•01 sleeve.
Innovative Core Technology – “The high-speed core construction and specialized casing layer deliver low spin on long game shots for greater distance and tight dispersion.”
That’s boilerplate, mostly generic ball language. The low spin characteristics could suggest something more in line with AVX than ProV1, while the speed story potentially speaks to a higher compression ball.
Proprietary 346 Dimple Pattern – “Through our testing, the proprietary aerodynamic package has demonstrated an optimized flight profile for peak performance.”
So again, the cover matters. The 346-dimple pattern isn’t found on any other current Titleist ball, and it’s worth mentioning that while some brands reuse the same dimple pattern throughout their lineup, Titleist’s dimple patterns tend to be unique to each model. The goal is to best pair what’s on the inside with what’s on the outside. The USGA’s testing procedures account for distance derived from dimples, but improving stability throughout the entire flight is something ball companies continue to explore and where there may be a legitimate opportunity to improve performance.
Get ‘Em While They’re Hot
EXP builds on past Titleist release platforms. You may recall that Titleist first launched AVX in a limited release form. That was different in that the performance was already a known commodity. The purpose of the sunbelt-only launch was to gauge consumer response and ultimately decide where it should fit in the lineup and how much it should cost.
This release is perhaps more similar to the white box prototype balls sent to Team Titleist members. That program also solicits direct feedback from golfers, but in those cases, the balls are much further along in the development process. EXP aims to reach a broader segment of golfers with technology that’s earlier in the development phase.
Titleist isn’t saying how limited EXP•01 will be, but I’d wager every last box will sell – many of them to its competitors who will no doubt appreciate the advance look at next-generation (maybe) Titleist technology every bit as much as golfers will enjoy testing it.
I’ve done some experimenting with the new ball and have my own ideas about what Titleist might be up to. For those interested in experimenting for themselves, EXP•01 is available now (and for a limited time) in golf shops in the USA and Canada. It’s also available through My Titleist on Titleist.com. Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) is $39.99/dozen.
If you the Titleist EXP•01 them, be sure to come back here and let us know what you find.