5 valuable insights we learned from our golf ball robotic testing

It’s hard to believe our latest round of robotic testing is in the books. With a massive assist from Golf Laboratories’ swing robot, we’ve been able to conduct testing on drivers, fairway woods, hybrids (data coming soon), irons, wedges and golf balls. Looking strictly at the categories we tested, I’d argue golf ball provided some of the most interesting insights.

It’s easy to look at a golf ball and wonder if playing a different model could really improve your game, but as we saw during testing, it’s possible to take your game to the next level with the proper ball. Below are 5 things we learned looking strictly at the ball data.

Refine, not redefine

If there’s one thing you take from ball testing, let it be this: a golf ball will refine your game, not redefine it. Sure, if you’re going from two-piece Surlyn to four-piece urethane you’ll notice an uptick in spin and feel around the green. But a ball isn’t designed to help you shave 5 strokes off your game. It’s meant to help you take a spin rate that’s a couple hundred RPMs on the high side and get it into a more optimal range, or lower launch and add spin on wedge shots. Both things are possible with many of the balls we tested.

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If I was going to prioritize the way to building the ultimate driver, it’d start with the clubhead, followed by the shaft and ball in that order. Get fit for the club that helps your game the most, and then make the final refinements to launch and spin.

Prioritize short-game spin

Looking strictly at the numbers, the spin rate delta on a 50-yard wedge shot with the robot was noticeably larger than the driver — to the tune of 3,300 RPMs for the wedge and 600 RPMs with the driver. Those are the extremes at the top and bottom of the spin spectrum, but it highlights the importance of knowing your golf ball and prioritizing the short game during testing.

The large majority of pros start testing on the putting green and around the short game area, so starting closer to the green and working back isn’t a fresh take. And it’s also important to note that out of the 40 balls we tested, 31 had a spin rate of over 6,300 RPMs on the wedge shot. What that tells me is even if you don’t know the ins and outs of your ball, it’s still possible you’re playing a model with ample spin — provided it has a urethane cover.

Urethane is the way to more spin

Speaking of urethane, we found the spin rate divide between urethane and surlyn golf balls to be significant on 50-yard wedge shots. The benefits of a urethane cover are numerous, but one of the most obvious is how much easier it makes spinning a wedge shot. Unlike balata balls of the past, urethane is more durable and allows the grooves to grip the cover without leaving a nasty scuff mark. The addition of multiple layers allows a Tour-level ball to decouple launch and spin as well, depending on the club you’re hitting, for a best-of-all-worlds option.

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The firmer Surlyn offerings tend to be at a lower price point and generally sacrifice greenside spin for more distance. Depending on needs and where your game is currently at, it might make sense to start with Surlyn and graduate to urethane when you start finding the green on a more consistent basis. That’s one way to look at it. However you decide to proceed, just know the data confirms urethane is where you’ll find more short-game spin. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for.

Don’t fixate on finding a ball for your driver

I understand the driver is the sexy club in the bag. Hitting bombs is important, but if you think a golf ball is going to help you generate groundbreaking numbers — you might want to think again. As we mentioned above, the spin rate delta from the highest to lowest was just 600 RPMs. Of those 40 models tested, more than half had a spin rate between 2,500 and 2,800 RPMs. Launch changed less than 1 degree across all 40 balls. These deltas are incredibly small. Then again, we have a robot hitting the ball to strip away biases during testing.

I’m not going to say all balls are created equal in these areas, but expect to see incremental improvement (as I mentioned above) once you add the right golf ball to the equation with a well-fit driver.

Leveled launch

Without a doubt, the driver launch angle surprised me the most during testing. Considering all of the different covers and internal constructions we tested, I expected the launch angle delta to be greater than 1 degree. But it wasn’t. So what to make of golf balls from all different price points and constructions producing nearly the exact same 10-degree launch angle? It comes down to a lack of grooves on the face. Until you get to the 7- or 8-iron, where the grooves grip the cover to impart different launch characteristics, tight deltas are the norm during robotic testing.

As I mentioned at the top, it’s all about incremental improvements when you add in the right golf ball. Those incremental improvements could be a total game-changer for many golfers, but if you need to change launch and spin in a big way, it’s very likely going to come from using the correct head and shaft.

Want to overhaul your bag for 2023? Find a fitting location near you at True Spec Golf.

JWall

Jonathan Wall

Golf.com Editor

Jonathan Wall is GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com’s Managing Editor for Equipment. Prior to joining the staff at the end of 2018, he spent 6 years covering equipment for the PGA Tour. He can be reached at jonathan.wall@golf.com.