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|Nike Golf's 20XI offerings for 2013 are staunch competition for ProV1s. (Courtesy of Nike Golf)|
If there is one 800-pound gorilla in the golf equipment business, it is the Titleist ProV1.
When the ProV1 was introduced in 2001, it revolutionized the golf ball industry. The ball was so successful, it immediately became the gold standard for golf balls. And it wasn't just marketing: The ProV1 performed so well some "links legends" grew up around it, including that you could get an extra 20 yards if you "seamed" it on the tee (lined it up so the cover seam was perpendicular to the driver face).
But maybe it wasn't a legend. In a 2002 pro-am, I heard Phil Mickelson explain this seaming trick to his amateur partners.
Anyway, despite the raging success that was the ProV1, it soon became apparent that the extreme softness and high spin of the ProV1 was not for everyone. Higher handicappers who got too much spin and not enough distance off the tee found that it tended to balloon when swing speeds were too slow. Better players who spun their short irons a lot found it hard to control on the greens.
Enter the ProV1x, a slightly harder ball with less spin. Since then, new versions of ProV1s have appeared every odd-numbered year. And here it is, another odd-numbered year.
So how do you improve the most popular ball on the market? The 2013 ProV1 is the softest ever, according to Titleist, and the ProV1x has even less spin off the tee and goes even farther. Both balls will produce a somewhat lower trajectory than previous models, with a penetrating flight.
One improvement I personally am glad to see is a better paint, as some of my older ProVs have in the past seemed to turn a bit dull or yellow after exposure to sunlight. (The ones I haven't lost after a couple of holes, that is.) Titleist said the new models won't have this problem.
After experimenting with balls at the lower end of the price spectrum, Nike Golf's 20XI and 20XI X have taken on the ProV1s at the top of the market. Nike's balls are directly comparable to the ProV1s, with the 20XI softer and spinnier, and the 20XI X a bit firmer and longer.
According to Nike Golf, the moment of inertia on these balls is the highest on the market, which supposedly improves control. Both balls are softer than last year's models, with larger cores made out of a proprietary resin. Nike also claims lower, more penetrating ball flight with generally lower spin, so that is clearly a trend this year.
One of the big stories at the 2013 PGA Merchandise Show was the reinvigorated presence of Wilson on the golf equipment scene. There was a day -- several decades ago now -- when Wilson was one of the top golf companies in the world.
After meandering away from golf for a while, Wilson is back, and one of the most exciting balls on the market this year is the Wilson Staff Duo.
With a price point toward the lower end of the range, the Duo is notable in two respects. First, it is the lowest compression ball on the market: 40 compression. Second, despite this low compression, it is not, according to Wilson, only for players with low swing-speeds. Like the higher-priced competition above, the Duo claims lower spin, despite the softness. To be honest, I'm not quite sure how this is accomplished, but the dimple pattern has something to do with it.
The test that the Wilson folks were demonstrating at the PGA Show, though, was the bounce test: Hold the Duo and any other ball side-by-side at shoulder height and let them drop. See which one bounces higher. I've been doing this with the Duo and several other balls from several different heights, and so far, the Duo has bounced higher -- sometimes only a few centimeters higher but higher nonetheless. I'm not sure if this implies greater distance on the course but am eager to try it.
Wilson Staff's FG Tour, a more expensive ball than the Duo, is no slouch itself, though it doesn't bounce higher than its less expensive sibling, either. It is billed to have PGA Tour spin and feel.
Club manufacturers have had a mixed record introducing their own golf balls. Callaway is a clear success, and TaylorMade has a small but loyal following. But Ping's namesake balls were short-lived.
This year, two small equipment companies have introduced balls. Orlimar, one of the original low-profile fairway wood innovators, is rolling out its 318UC. It is a three-piece urethane ball claimed to produce "graduated" spin, increasing from tee to green.
The boutique putter maker Rife has teamed up with Innovex, who will label its relatively little-known ball with the Rife name.
Both of these new entries, and the Duo, compare themselves in some way or another to ProV1s, of course. When you're No. 1, everyone comes gunning for you.
March 18, 2013
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, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.
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