Your Golf Ball Questions Answered

Over the past couple of weeks, we asked you to send in your golf ball-related questions. Suffice it to say there were more than we could handle in a single serving—which is awesome—but we picked a couple of handfuls. Here you go. If your question wasn’t answered, keep them coming and maybe we’ll do another one of these again.

Let’s get it.

Q (@richriker): Have we reached peak performance with golf balls? Is it now just about manufacturing cost savings and price points?

A: Balls sure as hell aren’t going to get longer but that’s been true for quite some time. As with all things golf, there is always room for gains through material advancement and companies will continue to tweak launch and spin profiles. Aerodynamics is the least understood area of golf ball design so there’s an opportunity, for example, to provide greater wind stability. You’re also going to see improved ionomer cover blends as brands try and get closer to urethane performance at a lower cost.

Q (@LPCouz): Do brand-new balls from let’s say 3-4 years ago lose performance with the years passing or should we expect the same results from back when they were made?

A: It’s better than it used to be. With balata, the liquid cores evaporate so the balls shrink and get lighter. The modern solid-core ball will typically get firmer over time but will eventually level off. Ten compression points over three years isn’t out of the question. Any time you change a layer (for example, the core gets firmer), you invariably change the relationship between layers so spin properties may change a bit as well.

Q (@craiglongmore): If you could only play one golf ball for the rest of your golfing days, what would it be?

A: Do you happen to know how long I’m going to live? I’m more of a one-day-at-a-time kind of guy. I’m happy with the Titleist Pro V1x Left Dash, so if I’m going to die young, I’ll stick with that. If we’re going to drag this out for another few decades, I might like something just a little softer so I’ll go with the standard Pro V1.

Q (@Golfbaka80): When is your next ball test coming out?

A: I assume you mean robot test. We’re in the planning phase but targeting late summer.

Q (@PHXLivin): At what handicap does it really matter if you’re playing a top tier (ProV1, etc.) ball?

A: I think it always matters and even high-handicap golfers underestimate what they’re capable of from one shot to the next. That said, I know it’s not prudent to spend $40-plus a dozen when you’re losing a handful of balls every round. If you’re serious about golf and have any intention of improving, I’d still be inclined to recommend inexpensive urethane … Costco, bulk Snell or even used balls in good condition from somewhere like LostGolfBalls.com. The greenside performance is a benefit every golfer should be able to appreciate.

Q (@Eize50): Do the pros play a different version?

A: Yes. And no. There are plenty of stories that suggest not everyone plays by the letter of the rules but, in theory anyway, if the side stamp is the same, the ball is the same. That’s not to say there aren’t secret menu items. Nearly every brand has a few Tour-only offerings to address the niche needs of the professional golfer but the preference is always to have as many Tour pros as possible playing the retail ball.

Q (@jweinski): What is the difference in numbers between matte finish vs. regular finish in the same ball type?

A: Assuming that the regular finish ball is of reasonable quality, the biggest difference is that the matte finish ball sucks and the regular ball doesn’t. Maybe that’s a little strong but unless you need the visibility provided by something like a matte red finish, you’re trading shot-to-shot consistency for some sort of color-driven fashion statement. Here’s the deal. When a bit of moisture is introduced, compared to standard glossy finish balls, launch angles will increase more significantly and spin will drop more appreciably. There are enough variables in golf so it’s silly to introduce another one when it’s easily avoidable. Friends don’t let friends drive matte balls.

Q (@SchlickD): How do I determine the best golf ball for me?

A: There are lots of theories but I like a basic common sense approach. What do you want your ball to do that it isn’t doing now? The majority opinion is to start from the green and work back to the driver. I’m a proponent of using a process of elimination. Discerning differences between balls can be tricky and I find it’s easier to identify when a ball isn’t doing what I want it to. While we all love distance off the tee, the Titleist philosophy is to fit the ball to your irons and wedges and the driver to the ball.

Q (@AKHolms57): How many golf balls can GolfSpyT fit in his mouth at one time?

A: Just one. It may surprise you to learn that, in the literal sense, I have a small mouth. Makes going to the dentist even less fun.

Q (@ryan_p_oneal): Is there any real reason to play a ball that’s low compression, given distance is key to gaining strokes and high compression balls always go farther?

A: No.

OK. The fair answer is a bit more nuanced. Let’s first acknowledge that, for a lot of golfers, feel comes first and that’s reason enough to play a soft ball. From a performance perspective, in some cases, the lower spin can offset distance lost to lower compression, especially with your irons. Soft is slower but as clubhead speed decreases, it isn’t always shorter. If you struggle with excessive spin, particularly excessive sidespin, low compression balls (which are invariably low spin) can also help keep you straight off the tee.

There is also a point at which the compression penalty is so minimal as not to matter. Data from our 2019 tests suggests that around 80 mph, soft is only fractions slower and launch and spin become a more significant part of the distance equation.

Golfers should understand that low compression balls are almost always high launch and invariably low spin. If you struggle to generate enough spin, soft probably isn’t for you. It’s also worth noting that similar performance profiles exist in the high compression space so if you’re looking for high launch and low spin, you can always get it without paying a compression penalty.

Q  (@Heyweb2): Does clubhead speed make a difference in the brand of ball I use? Or do other factors matter more?

A: Yes—but not in the way you probably think. Even golfers with slow swing speeds compress the ball at impact so you shouldn’t choose a softer ball because of your swing speed. What golfers need to know is that there is a point at which faster players will over-compress a ball that’s too soft for their swing speed. When that happens, you lose speed. On Tour, you won’t find many balls below 85 compression in play. Average golfers can get away with a bit less but if you’re swinging your driver faster than 100 mph, over-compression is a legitimate concern.

a photo of Titleist AVX golf balls

Q (@ChauncyHarrison): How come AVX doesn’t get talked about more? I’ve always struggled with really high ball flights and spin rates, so AVX has been a massive help in lowering my trajectory. Not sure why it doesn’t get much love.

A: There are a couple of reasons. First, Titleist has two other balls that sell circles around AVX. While AVX would be considered a strong performer for nearly anybody else, between Pro V1 and Pro V1x Titleist sells nearly 10 balls for every one AVX. The other factor is that, as much as it’s marketed to compete with other premium soft offerings (with the implications that it’s for seniors and slower swing speed golfers), the reality of its performance characteristics makes it much more of a niche offering. Other balls in its space tend to be high launch and low spin. As you noted, AVX is low launch with low spin. It works for the guy who hits it too high with excessive spin but that’s not what the average member of the “soft” crowd needs.

The upside of the design is that it’s the rare low-ish compression offering that can work for high swing speed players for whom the low/low combination can offset excessive spin and actually create distance.

Q (@RobertBarber64): Can beginners and weekend golfers actually wedge spin high-priced tour balls enough to make it worth the price of buying them?

A: Yes and yes.

As I mentioned, lower-cost options exist within the “Tour” category. As far as performance goes,  I think it’s important for golfers to recognize that wedge spin comes from quality of contact, not Tour-level speed. A greenside shot (call it 65 yards and in) is basically the same for every golfer. So, if more spin around the green is the objective, ditch the cheap two-piece crap. Apart from visibility needs, golfers with reasonable control off the driver who are currently playing ionomer-covered balls will likely see an appreciable spin increase after switching to a multi-layer ball with a soft urethane cover.