A large percentage of the UK’s golfers now look towards custom fitting when it comes to purchasing clubs. Simply picking up sticks off the rack and putting them in the bag is no longer the way forward. If you’re 5 foot 8 with a slow, flat swing you’re clearly going to need something very different to someone 6 foot 3 with a fast, upright action.
It used to be something only Tour pros could benefit from, but now all golfers can see the merits of using the correct shaft for their swing speed, the correct length of club and correct lie angle for their set-up. It can dramatically change a handicap golfer’s game.
But there’s one item of equipment that every golfer uses, for every shot from the tee to the cup, yet remarkably few have any idea if it’s right for them – the ball.
How many of us just play a premium ball because we know the brand and simply trust it must be good for us? I know I do. Then, how many will play whatever ball they have handy, or whatever is on sale cheap in the pro-shop?
I must confess, before last Wednesday, I’d never given it much thought. But after spending an hour in the company of Bridgestone technician Joe Di Stefano, my eyes were opened. So many golfers, from top amateurs to high handicappers, are currently using a ball that isn’t suited to their game.
I went down to see Joe at Montrose Golf Club where he was conducting a ball-fitting day with the members. He slotted me in before his first appointment on a warm, sunny morning at the edge of the town’s ancient and famous links.
Joe’s done more than 2,000 fittings for Bridgestone and he believes, in 15 minutes he can change a golfer’s view on the ball forever and, more importantly, transform their game. I liked the sound of that!
So this is how the fitting worked: Joe set up a mat, net and a data-capturing, tracking device. He also positioned a high-speed camera to pick up impact shots.
We discussed my game, strengths and (multiple) weaknesses and the ball I’m currently using. I then had a few warm up shots before hitting five, counting shots into the net with my current ball. You use a driver to do this as it produces the most easily reviewable data on launch angle, speed and spin.
Joe collected the info on the shots as we went. He could see from the data if one had been struck poorly, so we kept going until we had five that had come roughly out of the middle. Surprisingly, it didn’t take too long to get them.
We then had a sit down and a look through the numbers produced. Joe explained where I was compared to the ideal in terms of launch angle and spin rate. Basically, my swing speed is quite quick and my problem lies with creating too much spin. This is really backspin and will reduce the distance I get. But if the club isn’t coming in quite square, increased spin will also make the ball move further right or left.
So, the numbers with my current ball weren’t too bad but Joe was confident he could improve them. We then talked through the products in the Bridgestone range. They have eight ball offerings with different characteristics to suit different swing speeds and differing requirements in terms of feel.
There are the Tour balls – the B330 and B330s – for those with the fastest swing speeds. The former produces maximum distance, while the latter has a slightly softer feel. The B330RX and B330RXS are for good amateur players with a slower swing speed, but a preference for a softer feel. The e5, e6 and e7 are aimed at the higher handicap players and the xFIXx targets the recreational golfer. Having this number of balls in the range means you really need to go through the fitting process or use the on-line facility on the Bridgestone website to get the right one.
Joe was saying one of the problems higher handicappers have is, many think buying a premium, high-compression, ball will give them the best results. But generally, those balls are designed for players with swing speeds of over 105mph. From the data Bridgestone has collected, it turns out that roughly 75% of golfers in the UK have a swing speed of less than 105 mph. If someone only swings at 90 mph then they won’t make the Tour golf balls compress on the face and so won’t get the best results. Joe’s analogy made sense – “To get more distance with your driver, would you rather hit a snooker ball or a tennis ball?”
My swing speed is above 105 mph so one of the Tour balls was going to suit me. Joe recommended the Tour B330, as used by Brandt Snedeker, Davis Love III and Freddie Couples. I went back to the monitor to try it. Again, I hit shots until we had five decent strikes to make a comparison and we looked at the results, side-by-side on the screen. The key difference was in terms of the spin rates. With the B330 I was producing far less, meaning more distance (less lost with backspin) and less lateral movement. The latter would be seriously good news as I’m quite prone to a spot of lateral movement.
The Tour B330 has other interesting and convincing features. The one I was most impressed by is the fact the Bridgestone balls are seamless, unlike many premium offerings. There is no visible line where the dimples meet, meaning more consistency in the strike as, if a ball is struck on the seam it will produce a different flight because the dimple pattern is asymmetrical.
The dimples themselves are interesting too. They feature something Bridgestone calls, “Dual Dimple Technology.” Basically, each larger, shallow dimple has a smaller, deeper inner dimple. The idea is to improve aerodynamics for a better launch and shallower descent. It sounded good, but I couldn’t tell if it was working as I banged balls into the net.
And that was the thing: As Joe said, “The numbers are good, but you can’t really see properly, until you take the ball out on the course.” It was the first round of my Club Championship that night, but I decided it wasn’t the right time for tinkering. Joe agreed that putting a new ball in play for the main event of the year might not be the best idea. So I waited until a bounce round at the start of this week.
I can report now: I’m impressed by the ball. I think it, unquestionably, goes a little further than the one I’m currently playing. I hit a drive on Banchory’s 13th hole, round the corner and over the trees, that ended just 30 yards short of the green – the hole is 390 yards and there was no wind helping. I think it definitely spins less and fewer shots seem to “balloon.”
It all makes good sense, so if Bridgestone is doing a ball-fitting at your club, or in your area, I’d recommend you make an appointment. It will only take 15 minutes and might just change your mind on the importance of the golf ball, and on the type of ball you should be playing.
It’s the third round of the Club Championship tonight and I’m seven off the lead, with (very) vague hopes of moving up. But I’m suitably sold and am going to play the Tour B330. Perhaps it will make all the difference and my game will, indeed, be transformed. The next challenge is to convince the demons in my brain of how good the ball I’m playing is. I could send Joe in for a fitting session… No… the poor lad has a promising career with Bridgestone ahead of him. It wouldn’t be fair.