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There's more to picking the right golf ball for you than meets the eye.
There's more to picking the right golf ball for you than meets the eye. (.)

Choosing the right golf ball: What kind should you be playing?

Kelly KlecknerBy Kelly Kleckner,
Class A LPGA Teaching Professional

I receive questions all year on what type of golf ball my students should use and when. I thought I would share with you some things about the golf ball that you may already know and some things perhaps you don't know. You may be as surprised as I was!

Choosing the right golf ball: Weight

The ball can't be heavier than 1.62 ounces. Any heavier, and it would probably travel farther.

Choosing the right golf ball: Size

The ball can't be smaller than 1.68 inches in diameter. If a ball was made smaller than this, it could be advantageous in the wind.

Choosing the right golf ball: Covers

Top-grade balls sold in most pro shops are made with either Surlyn or Balata covers. Thus, giving a different "feel" to the ball, and in different weather conditions can affect the distance it travels. Surlyn covers are made from a composition of synthetic thermoplastics and are very durable. They can either be compression or injection molded around the core. Surlyn covers are used on approximately eighty percent of all golf balls manufactured. Balata balls get their name from Balata gum, a milky substance from the bully tree found mainly in South America. Balata covers are compression-molded, and offer elasticity which adds to loft, distance, and spin. The spin characteristic is what causes it to "bite" and is preferred by most players on the tour.

Choosing the right golf ball: Cores

There are two types of Surlyn covered balls: a solid rubber core, and one with a solid synthetic core. The solid rubber core has rubber windings like the balata covered ball. This provides more spin and a softer feel than a two-piece Surlyn ball, but with the added durability as well. The two-piece solid ball is made with a solid synthetic core providing maximum durability, but it sacrifices elasticity and spin due to its hardness. The traditional balata ball has a liquid-filled rubber core around which is tightly wound rubber thread. The balata offers the most distance off the tee, but lacks durability of the Surlyn covered balls as well as its increased chance of cutting if not hit squarely.

Choosing the right golf ball: Compression

Most balls found in your pro shop range from 80-100 compression. Compression was first used in the thirties as a measure of the rubber thread windings. Compression was measured as the amount a ball would deflect under a load. The tighter the windings such as the 100's, the harder the ball, less deflection, and the further it would go upon being struck. Thus, the higher the compression the more clubhead speed becomes a factor to achieve maximum distance. Higher clubhead speeds generally prefer 100's, but as we were informed putting covers, cores, weather, and all else equal these golfers may achieve equal distance hitting an 80, or 90 as opposed to a 100. We get used to the "feel" and that's generally what we stick with. The 80's and 90's have a softer feel and therefore golfers with slower swing speeds can achieve their maximum distance with these compressions.

Choosing the right golf ball: Weather and compression

It's definitely true that balls harden when placed in a cold environment. Tests resulting from studying ball speed, spin, and angle of launch in cold conditions show a variety of results depending on the materials of the core and cover. The carry of a wound balata ball would lose at least ten yards on a cold (0 degree C) day compared to a day of at least 23 degree day-mainly due to the loss of speed. If the ball is at 0 degrees C, the air is likely to be at that temperature as well. Denser air will cut a further five to seven yards off the distance. The two-piece ball however is less affected by the cold. Therefore, when playing in cold conditions keep a few balls inside overnight or use a two-piece ball.

Choosing the right golf ball: Temperature and distance

An estimate for a two-piece ball to be affected by each twelve to sixteen degree temperature drop is only one yard where as it is two to five times that for a thread wound ball. The reason is due to their core composition. A two-piece ball has a center composed of mainly polybutadiene rubber. A wound ball on the other hand, has tightly wound rubber threads of natural or synthetic polyisoprene rubber. Polyisoprene will crystallize and freeze versus the resilient polybutadiene that does not.

Choosing the right golf ball: Shelf life

Many people won't play their balls if they've been on the shelf for more than two years, however studies have shown you could could play them with very little difference up to ten years. Most two-piece balls become slightly harder and slower over time. A hard, thick ball maintains its properties longer than a soft thin covered ball. A two-piece may lose one percent performance per year. A wound ball however, will lose about two percent performance per year.

Hopefully this information will help you in deciding what ball suits you according to conditions and your ability as a golfer!

Thanks to the following for helping me with information: National Golf Foundation, PGA of America, and Spalding Sports Worldwide.

LPGA Professional Kelly Kleckner teaches at Cherokee Ridge Golf Course in Colorado Springs, Colo. She played collegiate golf for Colorado State University, and is the founder and director of the LPGA Girls Golf Club for the area. She coaches and teaches private and semi-private lessons all year. For more information call 719-576-9176.

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