There’s been a raft of new premium golf balls this year – but which one should you be putting into play?
Unlike drivers and irons, golf balls aren’t usually reinvented every year – but 2017 has been special. It’s the first year we can remember every where major tour balls had been superseded by a newer, better model before the season even kicked off.
And in case you hadn’t noticed Nike pulled the plug on golf equipment, which has meant 18 tour players hunting down new balls for 2017, which makes it super interesting.
Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson are all playing new balls for 2017. So we thought the time was right to put each new model to the test to see how they compare. In the process we reckon we can give you some valuable buying advice on how to decide which premium tour ball might best suit your own game too.
When it comes to picking between premium tour balls club golfers traditionally struggle making the best choice for their overall game, as too much attention is focused on a single aspect at the expense of all other areas.
So let us show and explain to you what you put on the by making the wrong the decision. Believe us the choice between softer and higher spin, or firmer and less drag can make a dramatic difference to your score and the decision needn’t give you a headache either.
Golf Ball Test: How we did it
We asked the leading golf ball manufacturers to send us their newest 2017 premium tour models. You know, the ones pro’s play with week in week out and club golfers typically pull out for the monthly medal or club champs.
To ensure an accurate strike we got our TG Test pro to hit shots with a driver, 6 iron and PW, so we could see if each manufacturers claims stacked up. We tested indoors (within a controlled environment) on a Foresight GC2 launch monitor and collected data for each shot.
Major misses were rejected, but we monitored how shots launched into the air and what happened during their flight. After some serious number crunching we decided if each was doing as the manufacturer promised and fathomed how it might perform for you.
The tester: Chris Ryan, ProSenior professional at The Belfry and TG’s gear expert.
TaylorMade TP5X: £49.99
Five layers make the TaylorMade TP5X the most complete tour ball ever say TaylorMade. A three-piece core has a progressive compression for maximum energy transfer and a two-piece cover for maximum feel and spin. A 90 compression means the TP5X feels firmer than the TP5, it also launches higher and spins a bit less with the irons.
TaylorMade have pulled off a master stroke with the new TaylorMade TP5 and TP5X, as they’ve simplified the choice between them to a level club-golfers can understand. They say to make your selection based on the feel you desire. If you like softer go for TP5 if you prefer firmer go TP5X.
It’s no secret the majority of TaylorMade’s tour staff (including world #1 Dustin Johnson have gone TP5X, which can be explained by them wanting to be as far down the fairway as possible to give the shortest approaches into greens. As high swing speed players they generate lots of spin anyway so they don’t necessarily need a ball to generate spin for them.
For our test pro the TP5X performed brilliantly delivering his longest average driver carry distance, with very low spin. Six iron performance was similarly strong with only the TP5 going further and wedge spin was first class, even though supposedly the X is a firmer golf ball.
The TP5’s have come out of the stalls fast on tour, chalking up two wins in the first few weeks they’ve been available. It’s a blend of low spin, long distance with every club in the bag. It’s also got the ability to stop on a six-pence and feels great off the putter which is a potent mix for club golfers who like a premium golf ball.
How it compares to the TaylorMade TP5
The TaylorMade TP5 is still a five-layer ball and it’s 83 compression means the TP5 feels softer than the TP5X. Expect a lower launch, more iron spin but the same wedge and greenside spin as the TP5X.
TaylorMade reckon there’s about 6 yards between the TP5 and TP5X when it comes to distance, but our test pro saw a 12 yard increase (with the driver) in favour of the X. The TP5 launched 1.5deg lower (with the driver), and span virtually exactly the same as the TP5X (10 rpm difference) with a wedge as TaylorMade had promised.
Srixon Z-Star XV: £45
The Z-Star’s 4-layer construction has been specifically designed to perform at the highest swing speeds. A 105 compression is firmer than most tour balls but Srixon reckon it ensures maximum distance. Both Z Stars are designed to launch higher with less spin to maximise distance. A new spin skin coating increases friction between the clubface and ball and improved dimple aerodynamics deliver a longer more penetrating ball flight. Greenside spins a little lower compared to the softer Z-Star.
Srixon specifically point out the Z-Star XV is aimed at high swing speeds, so unless you’re the owner of a 105 mph plus driver swing you’d be well advised to give the XV a wide berth. Our test pro recoded his lowest average driver backspin with the XV (2028 rpm) which has to say its geared up for big hitting so long as you’ve got the launch to get it out there.
Off the driver the XV wasn’t quite the longest but it was certainly amongst the pack. Six iron spin was lower than we saw with any other ball which would add up to increased accuracy and if we throw into the mix very solid wedge numbers you have a very solid golf ball for power players. Our test pro was surprised how good the XV felt, particularly off the wedge, feeling he preferred the feedback to his usual Pro V1X.
Srixon sell more two-piece balls in the UK than any other brand. They’ve focused attention on that market for years to give themselves a foot hold to grow into the premium golf ball market. Based on the performance of the Z-Star XV in our tests it’s more than capable of mixing it up with the very best which explains why world #3 Hideki Matsuyama puts them into play on tour.
How it compares to the Srixon Z-Star
The Z-Star’s 3-layer construction has a larger lower compression (88 compression) energetic core to deliver softer feel at mid – high swing speeds. Greenside spins a little higher than the firmer Z-Star XV.
Don’t be lured into thinking the Z-Star XV is the only Srixon ball for power hitters. Last years longest hitter on tour, J.B Holmes played the Z Star and racked up a massive 315 yard average from the tee with it. Our test pro racked up a decent 267 yards of driver carry distance alongside a solid 9000 rpm of wedge spin, and very low iron spin which would increase accuracy.
Callaway Chrome Soft X: £32.99
Some Callaway staff players didn’t put the Chrome Soft in play as they felt it span so little on full shots they couldn’t work shots in the shape they wanted. So Callaway developed the X specifically for them. It’s four-layer construction delivers a firmer feel (90 compression) and launches lower than the Chrome Soft, yet maintains all the same greenside control.
Callaway’s big play with the Chrome Soft X is how it spins more than the standard Chrome Soft, and our data certainly supports their claims. We saw 190 rpm more spin with the driver, 715 rpm more with a six iron and 610 rpm more for full wedge shots. Which all sounds great so long as you don’t want to hit the ball straighter.
More backspin also means more side spin which for club golfers means less accuracy. Obviously for the tour pro’s who want to work shots in a certain shape more spin’s a great thing as it increases your ability to shape shots. Our test pro reckoned the Chrome Soft X is a great all-rounder which offers a fantastic blend of soft feel, great distance and excellent spin in the short game.
Callaway’s trump card with the Chrome Soft isn’t how it’s played on tour or it’s super soft feel, but instead how they’re able to get it too market for just £32.99 a dozen. It’s significantly less than other premium balls, yet the across the board performance is fantastic and right up there alongside the very best.
How it compares to the Callaway Chrome Soft
The ball that reinvented the ball and sparked the whole low compression debate. A four-layer construction and 75 compression give the Chrome Soft an exceptionally soft feel. A dual core increases ball speed whilst lowering spin in the longer clubs to increase distance and accuracy. Greenside spin is the same as the Chrome Soft X.
There’s no doubt the Chrome Soft’s a superb ball for many club golfers. Put aside the price benefit, and look at the low driver and iron spin, plus higher launch and excellent soft feel, all without giving up huge amounts of short game spin, it’s a remarkable package. Our test pro’s high swing speed lost 9 yards of carry distance (with the driver) but picked up 7 yards with the 6 iron, which for us says excellent all round performance for a huge range of golfers.
Titleist Pro V1X: £52
The Pro V1X has a four-piece construction and it’s been redesigned for 2017. A new dual core and improved dimple aerodynamics deliver longer distance, alongside a higher more consistent ball flight. Expect a firmer feel, higher flight and more iron and short game spin than the Pro V1.
The Pro V1 name is synonymous with being the best ball in golf. It’s been the most played golf ball on tour for years and is widely played by decent amateurs. 2017 however sees other ball brands focusing more attention on their line ups so the Pro V1’s up against stiffer competition than ever before.
Hands up though the new Pro V1X handled itself beautifully throughout our tests. A 276 yard average driver carry was just a single yard short of the longest (TaylorMade TP5X) and 3 yards further than the standard Pro V1. The X is our test pro’s usual ball and he reckoned it felt a bit softer than last years model, even though the numbers for both balls across all three clubs was very similar.
You can’t take anything away from Titleist, they do make a top class golf ball. If you’re a Pro V1 devotee trust us your games in safe hands. Thanks to the 2017 changes it’s well worth re-evaluating whether you’re a Pro V1 or Pro V1X player again though.
How it compares to the Titleist Pro V1
The Titleist Pro V1 has a three-piece construction and the 2017 version delivers longer distance, a more penetrating trajectory and what Titleist call a more consistent flight. Expect a very soft feel, lower flight and slightly less iron and short game spin than the new Pro V1X.
In the past the choice between Pro V1 and Pro V1X has been reasonably straight forward. Our test results suggest the choice between the 2017 model’s is much tighter, and could well come down to the feel you prefer. Our test pro reckoned the new Pro V1 felt softer than his usual Pro V1X but with the numbers so tight it begs the question what Pro V1 brings to the party apart from softer feel.
Volvik S4: £49
The ball Bubba Watson’s signed to play on tour. Volvik say a dual power core which includes bismuth metal (which expands 3.5% in volume when hit) provides greater explosiveness from the club face. A more solid inner core reduces spin with the driver and increases spin with the short irons. Volvik say it suits swing speeds from 95 – 120 mph and delivers a high launching trajectory.
It came as a massive shock when world #13 Bubba Watson signed to play Volvik’s pink S4 balls in January 2017. Particularly when you consider he’d won two majors and over $35 million playing a Titleist Pro V1X. But with the big hitting American playing Volvik on tour we thought it was only fair to include it in our test.
Our test pro’s data explains perfectly why Bubba had no hesitation putting the S4 into play. Driver spin was low, iron and wedge spin was high which is perfect for how Bubba likes to shape shots. As good as the numbers are we weren’t huge fans on the fancy pearlescent finish, or the louder sound off the driver even if it was strangely powerful.
Our test pro on average gave up 11 yards off the tee with the Volvik which might well be different at your swing speed. If you’re looking for an alternative premium ball the S4’s certainly won’t let you down, even if it’s not our personal favourite.
Bridgestone Tour B330: £40
A tour ball specifically designed to offer maximum tour distance for swing speeds over 105mph (which Bridgestone say is only 25% of golfers). A 6% larger core gets progressively softer, which Bridgestone say reduces spin and increases ball speed. A new SlipRes cover generates more friction between ball and club and no seam in the cover increases consistency. A dual dimple design reduces drag and promotes a shallower descent for increased rollout.
Bridgestone might have pulled out of the UK market last year, but their golf balls are still available here as Benross have the distribution rights. Bridgestone are the only brand that openly recommend balls based on club speed, so our test pro’s 110mph+ swing speed should have been right up the B330’s street.
The numbers didn’t quite stack up as impressively as some of the other balls though. Our test pro felt the distance promoting B330 felt a bit too firm and clicky especially when compared to some of the other “X type” balls on test. Looking at raw numbers the B330 gave up 10 yards of carry against the very longest, which has to come down to how both the B330 and B330S were the only balls on test to record +2500rpm back spin numbers with the driver.
Take nothing away from Bridgestone, they do make a cracking golf ball. If you believe the rumours they were behind Nike’s and Tiger’s golf balls for years, hence why Tiger signed to play them again before his fourth back surgery. As far as performance goes for our test pro the B330 wasn’t the longest but we will admit to the wedge spin being consistently high, even though the ball felt quite firm.
How it compares to the Bridgestone Tour B330S
It’s specifically designed to offer maximum tour spin for swing speeds over 105mph (which Bridgestone say is only 25% of golfers).
The carry distance numbers between the B330 and B330S likethe Pro V1 and Pro V1X are very similar, even though ones more aimed at distance and the other added spin. Our test pro reckoned the S felt a good deal softer than the B330 and the higher spin numbers with the irons explain perfectly why Tiger choose this ball over the standard B330.
What we learnt…
Picking a golf ball need not give you sleepless nights.
A few years ago the choice between balls was really complicated. Unless you had a solid understanding of how you launched shots into the air with a driver, iron and wedge you couldn’t really make an informed choice to benefit your game. TaylorMade have changed all that with the TP5 and TP5X, bringing the choice down to softer or firmer, it’s as simple as that.
Once you’ve decided whether you want a ball to give you more distance or more spin there’s still a difference between the largest brands tour balls.
Comparing all the “X” type balls our test pro saw 10 yards of difference in carry distance and 13 yards in total distance. That’s over a club of difference when it comes to playing your approach shot into a green, and who doesn’t like standing over a 7 iron instead of a six?
Picking the right ball can make a difference on the golf course.
Obviously every golfer’s results will be different to our test pro’s, but we can’t hide how differently each ball performed in our test. A 12 yard deficit between the firmer TaylorMade TP5X and TP5 and 9 yard gap between the Callaway Chromesoft X and Chromesoft gives a great idea of how much you put on the line by purely choosing a ball for softer feel or more spin.
The difference between the new Pro V1 and Pro V1X was closer than we expected.
We reckon previous versions would have been more discernibly different. With just 3 yards carry distance difference with a driver, 1 yard with a 6 iron and 275 rpm of backspin change with a wedge suggests the two are closely matched, even if the Pro V1 does feel softer. There couldn’t be a better time to reassess if you’re a Pro V1 or Pro V1X player.
Callaway’s Chromesoft is a top ball, yet its significantly cheaper than most premium balls.
We’ve proven Callaway’s Chromesoft balls are absolutely top notch when it comes to performance, but as consumers we’re also likely to factor cost into our buying decision. The Chromesoft and Chromesoft X are £19.01 cheaper per dozen than the most expensive ball on test the Pro V1. Break that down into cost per ball and £2.75 for the Chromesoft looks super attractive compared to the Pro V1 at £4.33.
Lower spin means greater accuracy too.
We talk a lot about spin in golf, but very often the chatter’s around backspin rather than side spin. You have to realise lower spin also means less side spin, which increases accuracy. It’s really interesting how some Callaway players wouldn’t play the original Chromesoft as they felt it took away their ability to shape shots, which actually for club golfers could be a really good thing.
If you’ve never tried an “X” type golf ball there’s never been a better time to give one a whirl.
We, like a lot of golfers were under the impression “X” type balls were only for those with super-fast swing speeds. But it turns out that’s not necessarily the case with the latest breed. When you understand an X ball could give you double digit gains in carry distance without sacrificing short game spin (a number of modern “X” balls do this) it begs the question does extra feel really help me shoot lower scores?
It’s perfectly possible for a ball to be long off the driver, feel great and spin with a wedge too.
It was unthinkable a few years ago, as there was always a choice to be made or trade off to be had between balls. Now you have the ability to choose a ball based on the feel you desire, and know it will perform across the board for you. You can even get soft feeling super long golf balls, so there’s no excuses for giving up distance just to get feel.
And if you’re looking for an insight in to what golf clubs to use this year, which not check out our ultimate golf club guide: Top Gear 2017