OurMike Jordan is responsible for over 40 golf ball patents. He began his career at Titleist after graduating from Furman University, where he led the design of many of the products you know and love, and the many things that have made the products you love better. From there he headed the engineering of TaylorMade golf balls. Mike joins us in publishing a series of blog posts that will help you better understand the basics of golf and choose the right ball for your game.
Next on first jersey… Senior Technical Advisor Mike Jordan!
Golf balls 101
“The golf ball is the most important piece of equipment you use when playing golf. You hit every stick in the bag as you go from the tee to the green. If you are playing under USGA rules, you cannot change it in the middle of the hole. Its inherent properties allow you to hit monstrous drives, work tight draws with long irons, bowl darts with wedges, and roll real putts into the hole. So let’s dive deeper into the golf ball and find out how it affects your game.”
Golf ball design
“While specific swing characteristics influence the behavior of a golf ball, golf balls are designed to optimize golfers’ hidden abilities. Your swing speed and spin profile (back and side spin) are key factors in golf ball performance. But the golf ball is designed to maximize Good of your swing while minimizing it bad. If you have slow swing speed, there are golf balls to maximize your distance.
If you have high swing speed but lots of back and side spin, there are golf balls that minimize overspin while maximizing distance. If you are an aggressive striker on the green and tend to generate too much spin that pulls the ball off the green, there are golf balls that minimize greenside spin. A modern golf ball will determine your distance from the tee, how you hit your approach, your attack on the stud and your feel on every shot.
Distance attracts the attention of most golfers and is an integral part of the game.
The long-distance “formula” is high ball speed, low back spin (with limited side spin) and a high launch angle. All golf ball designers work to provide the highest speed allowed by the USGA, and in the last 20+ years golf balls have become very fast! Next is rotation control. There are so many golf balls on the market because of spin control.
Ball compression, construction (core sizes and ply thicknesses) and choice of materials determine the spin profile of a golf ball. Golfers need to find a golf ball designed to maximize the performance of their inherent swing conditions. The firing angle depends on golf ball construction and choice of materials, and like the spin profile, golfers must be aware of maximizing launch through their golf ball selection.
Golf ball control
“The control of a golf ball in flight has changed over the years. When PGA TOUR players used wound balls, they had to manipulate the flight path and trajectory to get the shots they needed. They called it “workability”, maneuvering the ball by generating a lot of spin.
TOUR level golfers can generate and control the amount of spin as the ball travels to get a tight draw, long fade or hit to the back of the green and move the ball back twenty feet into the bowling pin. All that rotation cost them straight-line distance, and they were always vulnerable to a missed shot.
The potential reward was high risk. Golfers were open to new, less risky ways to play. In the late 1990s and early 00s, Spalding, Bridgestone, Callaway, Nike, and Titleist adopted solid three-piece designs to prioritize distance with much lower-spin golf balls that were much more consistent throughout play. Golfers really hit the bombs right in the fairway and then could hit the pin and keep the green.
Today’s golf balls are usable, but much less so than the wound balls of yesteryear. Today, golf ball designers give golfers a choice of how to control the ball through construction (ply thickness) and material selection (Surlyn vs. urethane), with an emphasis on short iron and wedge play. You can still get the ball off the green, but it’s much more difficult today.
Controlled ball flight and aerodynamic efficiency (think dimple design) are critical when considering golf ball control. Taking a great tee shot only to see it blow upwind or get knocked down 30 yards offline is irritating. How a golf ball behaves in the air depends on its design and aerodynamics. Golfers often think that aerodynamics (dimple pattern) is only focused on maximizing distance when it determines how the ball rolls in all windy conditions. Golfers can find a ball with accurate flight, regardless of wind conditions.”
Golf ball feeling
“The touch of a golf ball is an emotional response to what happens when the golf club hits the golf ball. This is 100% determined by golf ball construction (think layers), materials (think Surlyn and urethane) and construction (think compression). A golf ball with a “good” feel is subjective because I may like a harder ball while you want a softer ball. How you perceive the golf ball when you hit it is important and this is a trait you can look for when choosing a golf ball.
Just know that a lot of what you think you feel is how the tee ball looks and how it sounds when you hit it. This is all golf ball designers can influence through their design choices.
This simple overview of golf balls allows you to see how much golf ball design affects your every shot. In this series, we take an in-depth look at every performance- and design-critical component. The goal is to equip you with the knowledge and information you need to find and select the best golf ball to maximize YOUR game.”
OnCore Senior Technical Advisor Mike Jordan has been designing and engineering golf balls for 30 years. He will regularly publish blog posts full of useful information to help you improve your game.