The Club/Ball Fitting Matrix: We've Made Contact!
The collision between the golf ball and the golf club, otherwise known as "impact," takes place in a fraction of a second. During that interval, the golf club transfers all of its kinetic energy into the ball, while its alignment at impact acts as "data" that programs the shot the golfer hits then watches with either self-admiring awe or disgust. The previous clubfitting section discussed the importance of fitting a player's golf clubs to his or her strength and swing style. To complete the clubfitting mission, and to optimize their performance on the course, however, golfers must also match their clubs to their golf ball.
Golfers have traditionally picked their golf ball by blasting drivers off the tee and picking the ball they hit the farthest. They generally paid little or no attention to the interaction between driver and ball or how that ball would perform with their irons, wedges, and putters. Today's new thinking about equipment fitting involves finding the best ball/club combination and posits that golfers should begin the fitting process for the golf ball from the green back, not from the tee forward. After they find the ball that performs best for them on and around the greens, they can then fit themselves for a driver that maximizes distance and accuracy with that ball as well. The following sidebar shows you how to do it.
Finding the Optimum Club/Ball Combination
Step 1 Go to the fringe around the green with a few (or several) new golf balls that you want to test. Hit some chip and pitch shots from different lengths and observe the results. The multilayer balls, such as Callaway's HX and Maxfli's M3, will come off the clubface at a relatively low angle. They will hit the green with considerable backspin and "check" noticeably before releasing and rolling toward the cup. Then try a two-piece ball, such as Titleist's Next, and notice how the chips and pitches fly a bit higher, check less when hitting the green, and roll a little more toward the club. (The super-soft low-compression balls, such as the Precept Lady Diamond, will roll the farthest, with the least spin when hitting the green.) Hit some putts and sand shots with these balls as well and observe their performance. Remember not every manufacturer's models of the same type of ball will react exactly alike.
Step 2 Take your same covey of balls and move out in the fairway to the 100-yard marker. Test each product from that point, and observe the trajectory, and the checking and releasing characteristics of each ball after it hits the green. Again, the multilayered balls will feel softer, fly a bit low, and stop or check more on the green than their two-piece counterparts.
Step 3 Now hit your test from the 150-yard marker and use the same criteria to evaluate each ball. The multilayer balls will spin the most and fly the lowest of the three, while biting more and rolling less on the greens. The two-piece balls will fly a bit higher and farther but spin and bite less on landing. Base your choice of ball on the combination of performance qualities that mean the most to you. A golfer who wants a soft feel, but also needs a little more distance, may decide to sacrifice the feel of the multilayer ball and choose a two-piece product. Golfers who base their iron play on shots that hit and bite close to where they land would pick a multilayered ball, even if they have to sacrifice a little trajectory and distance. When you find the ball you like best, you're ready to find the right driver for it in the following way.
If you are lucky to find a launch monitor, look for the following launch conditions when testing a driver. Be sure to test with the same type of ball with which you plan on playing.
A spin rate of between 2,500 and 3,000 rpms
A launch angle of between 11 and 13 degrees
If your drives do not deliver these numbers, you can choose from a couple of remedies available. First, try a driver with a different loft: More loft will increase the launch angle and spin rate, and less loft will lower them toward this ideal range. You also can try a driver whose shaft has a stiffer tip end, which will lower the launch angle and spin rate, or one with a softer-tipped shaft, which will increase the launch angle and spin rate.
If you can't find a launch monitor, you can still fit a driver to your preferred ball by just your eyes. Look for drives that reach their apex or highest point very quickly and then level out and carry far down range. What you do not want to see are drives that start low and then shoot up like a jet plane taking off. Such shots indicate that the driver has added too much spin to the ball, which will result in shorter drives that will hook or slice more as well. Don't worry that your new high-flying drives will lose distance into a headwind. The wind doesn't blow any harder at 75 feet in the air than it does at 20 feet, and a low-spinning drive produces less friction against the wind than a high-spinning ball.
Jim Colbert, Champions Tour player, on the impact of technology on the Champions Tour
Figure 2.5 Jim Colbert (Photo Copyright Paul Lester)
I don't think technology has had an impact on the Champions Tour as far as who wins at Tournaments is concerned, because everybody's got it. They're going to pass the money out at the end of the Tournament whether we shoot 20 under or 20 over. Having said that, the biggest difference I see in technology today is the ball. Certainly it goes farther...My drives today are a little longer than when I was on regular Tour...but mainly it's the ball that doesn't curve as much as the older balls. Subconsciously, though, the curve of my shots is still in there, because at times I find it difficult to aim dead straight. I've gotten so accustomed to seeing the ball move left-to-right or right-to-left, depending on the shot I want to hit. And the balls today really don't curve when you hit them solid.
I don't think it's a good idea to have two separate golf balls, or two equipment standards, one for the Tour pros and another for the amateurs. Commercially, that would be a big mistake and would take a lot of money out of our industry. Not only would the pros lose their endorsement contracts with the equipment makers, but also the average player would lose the benefit of our testing the products they eventually buy and play with. The Tour really is the test ground or laboratory where the manufacturers develop their new clubs and golf balls. Now if they want to slow down the ball a little bit so it doesn't go quite so far, I suppose that would be okay as long as everyone plays with the same slowed-down ball, pros and amateurs. But you have to remember that Tour pros are a very, very small percentage of the golfing population, so people are making a big deal over a small group. Anyway, I like to see our customers, meaning amateur players, get every advantage technology can give them.