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One golf ball doesn't fit all -- or does it?

Kiel ChristiansonBy Kiel Christianson,
Senior Writer
Nike Golf - RZN ball
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Nike Golf matches the spectrum of golfers' swings with four versions of the 2014 RZN ball. (Courtesy of Nike Golf)

If you watch golf on TV, you've seen a large bucketful of golf ball commercials from companies like Bridgestone and Srixon, informing you that one ball does not fit all swings.

If you're thinking this might be a trend, you're right. Golf ball manufacturers have always marketed several different models, but only recently have the differing design and performance specs been linked explicitly to different swings. Nike Golf's 2014 line is an example of this marketing strategy.

This trend isn't universal, however. The predominant ball brand, Titleist, has not followed the general move toward pairing certain golf balls with certain swing types.

Let's take a look at the 2014 ball lines from Titleist and Nike Golf to see how they justify their respective arrays of golf ball performance specs and how they position these different balls to appeal to players of various levels.

Nike Golf's RZN balls

The 2014 line of Nike Golf's RZN balls is composed of RZN Platinum, RZN Black, RZN Red and RZN White. Like many other manufacturers, Nike Golf categorizes golf balls in terms of distance and control or feel. Furthermore, different balls are described as being more or less appropriate for players with relatively slower or faster swing speeds.

The four-piece RZN Platinum and RZN Black golf balls ($45/dozen) are classified as "Tour Performance" and targeted at players with higher to moderate swing speeds. The three-piece RZN Red and RZN White balls ($30/dozen) are classified as "Distance Performance" and targeted at players with moderate to lower swing speeds. The basic idea is that players with faster swing speeds will not worry as much about distance as those with slower swing speeds.

What players of this type are more concerned about is spin. If they tend to hit down on the ball, they will create enough spin on their own, and they will also be looking for a little less spin off the tee to promote distance and control, so they'll opt for the lower-spin RZN Black. If their main concern is getting a bit more spin because they tend to not hit down on the ball so much, then the mid-spin RZN Platinum is the ticket.

Players with lower swing speeds tend to want more distance, no matter what, but may differ in terms of their preference in feel around the green. If softness is paramount, then the RZN White is described as the best choice. But if longer carry trumps all, then it's the RZN Red.

Titleist ProV1/x, NXT Tour/S, DT SoLo, Velocity

Bucking the customization trend in golf ball marketing is the undisputed heavyweight champion of golf ball companies, Titleist. In researching this story, I e-mailed Eric Soderstrom, media liaison for Titleist's parent company Acushnet. He asked that I keep in mind that "Pro V1/Pro V1x are designed to be the best option for all players (of all swing speeds, skill levels etc.), with the rest of our line fulfilling other preferences (feel, color, price, prioritization of distance etc.).

"The notion of 'fitting' a golfer to one swing speed is misleading," explained Soderstrom, "as every golfer has a range of swing speeds they use to execute different shots during a round of golf. (For example, your driver swing speed is going to be much faster than, say, your 7-iron swing speed.) The golf ball doesn't know who's hitting it, or what club you're hitting. A golf ball has to perform on every shot, for every swing speed, or else it won't perform for anyone."

Soderstrom added, "Compression also does not work as a golf ball fitting tool. ... Compression cannot be used to predict distance."

The ProV1 and ProV1x are by far the most widely played golf balls on all professional tours, and both have their own solid fan bases. The two top-tier Titleist balls differ mainly in feel and spin, with the ProV1x less "spinny" on the greens.

It's not that the other Titleist balls don't vary in design. One noticeable difference is in dimple patterns: The DT SoLo tops the dimple count at 376, with the ProV1 second at 352, and then the dimple-count goes all the way down to 302 on the NXT models. Also, the NXT Tour S, Velocity and SoLo are all two-piece balls, and the rest are three-piece. And, of course, price points vary dramatically: ProV1/x ($48/dozen), NXT Tour/S ($34/dozen), Velocity ($27/dozen) and DT SoLo ($20/dozen).

The company's point, however, is that if you want the absolute best possible combination of feel and performance for all shots and all swings, then in their view either the ProV1 or ProV1x is the best choice for all golfers. Perhaps it is the near hegemony of the ProV1/x franchise that other golf ball manufacturers are challenging with their customized marketing approach.

In any case, if you are serious about finding the best ball for you, the explosion of launch monitors and golf simulators in pro shops and sporting goods stores allows everyone to hit some balls and compare performance.

Maybe your swing doesn't produce significant differences in spin or ball flight or carry distance. But maybe it does. The only way to find out is to take some time to experiment.

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2014 Titleist golf balls
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Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.

 
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