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Find the right golf ball for you

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The 2005 Masters. Hole No. 16. Tiger Woods.

Tiger chips well above the pin. His ball starts rolling toward the hole, stops for a second on the edge, makes one final revolution, which shows the Nike swoosh, and falls in for the improbable birdie.

“If anybody thinks because of the Nike logo that’s why it went in, they’re crazy,” Eagle-Vail Golf Club pro Ben Welsh said.

True, that was probably more Tiger than the ball, but try telling that to Nike. Moments like that are why the company pays the most recognizable figure in golf to use its equipment.

And make no mistake, the golf ball industry is big business. According to Judy Thompson of the National Golf Foundation, golfers spent approximately $855 million on golf balls in 2002, the last time the organization did such a study.

But when average local golfers head to the sporting good store or their pro shop of choice, are they spending their money wisely?

Probably not.

“For the average player, you probably don’t have to spend $13 per sleeve (for three balls),” Cotton Ranch head pro Stephen O’Brien said.

O’Brien is talking about the Titleist Pro V1, the most popular ball in golf. Ask local pros. The empty shelves Wednesday at Sports Authority, previously known as Gart’s Sports, in Avon, where the store just had a sale, said so. Spend some time in the rough at your favorite course, and you’re likely to come out with a handful.

There’s a reason all the pros interviewed for this story prefer the Pro V1 or a similar high-end model. Golf is their livelihood. The Pro V1 is made for the Top Flite, er, top-flight player, not the average golfer.

“It depends. There’s the Pro V1X (the Pro V1 with extra distance) and the Pro V1,” Vail golf club head pro Brent Redman said. “I hit the Pro V1 further, whereas most of my assistants hit the Pro V1X further because they may have more club-head speed.”

“The most expensive ball is not always the best ball,” Welsh said. “They are the best ball for the better player, but the expensive ones are designed for higher club-head speed and better players. But the novice player is actually going to get more performance from a ball that is easier to compress.”

Clocking your swing

The key factor in determining the right golf ball for you is the speed of your swing. Pro V1’s are designed for golfers who swing the club at more than 100 mph.

At that speed, a Pro V1 will spin properly, providing the lovely distance off your drive and the deft touch around the green that you see displayed each weekend on the PGA Tour on your TV.

But if your swing speed isn’t in triple digits, odds are you aren’t getting what you paid for out of the Pro V1, which normally goes for $44.95 per dozen at Sports Authority, and usually higher at your pro shop of choice.

“The Pro V1 has a little more spin,” Eagle Ranch head pro Alice Plain said. “But if you don’t have the swing speed, you’ll probably lose distance because it will spin too much.”

“People think they swing harder than they do, so they think that a ball is going to be too soft,” said Welsh, who’s been clocked between 112-115 mph. “It’s not going to be too soft until you’re on tour. You’ve got to swing over 100 mph before a ball’s too soft.”

That having been said, there is something as far as having confidence in the ball you’re playing, a placebo effect of sorts.

“A lot of people feel that way and that’s why there’s so much brand recognition with golf balls,” Welsh said. “They think they play better with a Titleist because it’s a Titleist. Everybody’s different. My dad used to say he played better with a MaxFli golf ball. It didn’t matter what kind of MaxFli he had. He played better. If that works, it’s great.”

Compression is your friend

Confidence is key in golf, but a ball suited to your swing and game will serve you better in the long run. Titleist, Nike (Black and Platinum, $39.99 per dozen at Sports Authority) and Callaway (HX Tour, $50 suggested retail price for 12 on its Web site) all have premium balls. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to stop playing those brands.

Most of the companies which make tour-style models also make golf balls for suited for the lower-speed swingers. Not only are they more suited for your game, but they fit your wallet better.

The Titleist NXT ($24.99 at Sports Authority), Nike Power Distance ($15.99) and the Callaway HX Hot ($32 suggested retail on its site) are all balls that are well-suited to the double-digit handicap who plays on the weekend.

The magic formula with these models is that they compress more upon impact for a slower swinger ” the average golfer swings from 75-90 mph. With a higher compression rate, the amateur golfer can get the proper spin on impact and have the necessary feel for the short game.

Crystal balls also fall under this category. Crystals like the Noodle Ice ($24.99) and Top Flight Quartz (available at pro shops) are balls with a translucent exterior. This enables the ball to give on the impact of the club.

“The average player probably wants to find not a super-hard distance ball and maybe not a super-soft ball,” O’Brien said. “Most of the golfers out there are not over 100 mph swing speed, so a softer lower compression ball like the crystal, a low compression ball, that’s a really good ball for the average golfer. The reason for that the lower compression actually helps slower swing speeds.

“Now when I say lower, I don’t necessarily mean women. I mean 95 (mph) and under, which is the majority of the golfers. Nike Power Distance and Nike Power Soft are real good balls because they’re a combination of that. It’ll get them some distance and it’s a great value and it’s priced at 18 bucks a dozen. It’s a good workable ball for the average player.”

Swing slow

This story started with a simple question. A mediocre golfer usually found at Eagle-Vail, I asked Welsh what ball I should try. Having had the misfortune of seeing me play ” my swing couldn’t speed on Interstate 70 ” he suggested the regular Noodle ($15.99) or Precept Laddie ($14.99).

Last weekend, I played with both, and found the Laddie to my liking. Having played Top Flight, better known as Top Rock on most loops for its utter lack of feel, I really liked the Laddie.

Having played Eagle-Vail so much in my time in the county ” to the point that some people think I work at the course, instead of at the Daily ” I know how far I hit usually on a certain hole. My new friend the Precept was definitely longer and felt pretty good greenside.

For those with slower swings, the Titleist DT SoLo (short for soft and long) at $19.99 per box or Nike Mojos at $15.99 are definitely worth a try.

“I would encourage people to try different things,” Welsh said. “You might be a 20-handicap, but like how the Pro V1 feels, or that it mentally makes your game better. At the same time, you might not need it. I would encourage people to try different stuff and not be lulled into thinking there’s only one way to go.”

All this having been said, a lesson with your local PGA pro is a good idea. Golf balls, even those more tailored to your swing, will find the rough. While you’re there looking for your ball, be sure to look for those Pro V1s.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or cfreud@vaildaily.com.

What should you play?

The best golf ball for you is based on your club speed. High-level models are made for expert players with faster swings, while other types are much better for players with slower approaches.

Fast (100 mph-plus): Titleist Pro V1 and Pro V1X, Nike Black or Platinum and Callaway HX Tour.

Average (75-100 mph plus): Titleist NXT. Nike Power Distance and Power Soft, Noodle Ice, Top Flight Quartz and Callaway Hot.

Slow (75 mph and below): Precept Laddie Extreme, Noodle, Titleist DT Solo and Nike Mojo.

Don’t: Top Flight XLs, 2000s and 3000s and Pinnacles.

Vail, Colorado


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