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 »  Home  »  Magazine Departments  »  Company Profiles  »  An Interview with Dean Snell
An Interview with Dean Snell
By Tom Landers | Published  10/16/2007 | Company Profiles | Unrated
Maybe Lower Scores Are Not Only Just About Distance
Almost every golfer wants to get more distance off the tee and many feel it is the quickest way to lower scores. However, that’s not necessarily true. In fact, the quest for more distance may actually hinder the average golfer’s efforts to improve their scores.

During a recent demonstration of “ball fitting” with Golfing Magazine, Dean Snell, senior director of research and development for TaylorMade-adidas Golf, spoke about the need for a player to use the correct ball for his or her game. He also discussed a range of other topics related to how golfers can take advantage of current golf ball technology to achieve better scores.

GM: How do the players on the PGA Tour determine the right ball for their games?

SNELL: Many Tour players utilize the Trackman computer in a ball fitting process. In fact, Trackman is so popular among our Tour players a few have purchased one for themselves. Trackman works via its built-in Doppler radar technology that records the sound of the ball from the instant the club strikes it through its entire flight down range. Among the data that it computes and provides for each shot are its spin rate, launch angle and trajectory, i.e., the shot’s height and curvature. The players need this information to choose the ball that offers them optimum distance with their drivers and the most control on their iron shots into and around the greens.

In addition, we will take golf balls to them in much tighter ranges of performance, such as six versions of the TP Red for Sergio Garcia to try. Sergio’s good enough to tell the difference between each ball.

A recreational golfer can do the same but, obviously, not with Trackman. He or she can test with a range of balls, which have big differences in spin rate, such as some Tour-level three-piece balls, and a few harder, two-piece distance balls, then see which ball he or she likes best.

If a player can tell that one of the Tour-level balls spins a little bit more on, say, a 100-yard wedge shot to the green, when compared with a hard, two-piece distance ball, and that this ball flies high and far with their driver, then it’s worth it for that player to step up to better ball performance, because it will help them improve their game and scores.

GM: This test obviously proves the well-known fact that almost all of the balls on the market today travel about the same distance off the driver. But how does this impact the average player, and what other issues does it raise?

SNELL: First of all, the fact that today’s balls all travel about the same distance off the driver is something that we’ve confirmed at our test facility in Carlsbad, just as we’ve seen it corroborated by independent testing elsewhere. The reason, of course, is that all the ball manufacturers today have to live inside the performance/distance specifications set by the USGA. But for the average golfer, just as for Tour players, there are other considerations that make up overall golf ball performance.

Let me try to answer the second part of the question. The multi-layer Tour-level golf ball produces the same kind of low spin off the driver, as does a “traditional” two-piece distance ball.  So, again, both of these types of balls perform basically the same way when hit with a driver. All golfers want more distance, so that’s a given. But the Tour ball (which also helps the average player improve their accuracy with the driver, because a ball that spins less also doesn’t hook or slice as much) offers the spin-based scoring benefits on shots into and around the green that our test with Trackman revealed.

When you think about it, a Tour player hits only 14 drives out of the 70 shots or less they play in a round. While the average player, who shoots a 100 also hits the same 14 drivers per round, he or she has another 86 shots during the round on which they can improve. A lot of this improvement can come from the technology built into today’s multi-layer Tour balls, such as our TP Red, TP Black, and Maxfli Tour Fire ball, because they all spin more (and therefore offer better control and performance) on shots hit into and from around the green. The important lesson here is that today’s better golf balls aren’t for the Tour-level, or scratch player alone.

GM:The average player continues to feel that to lower his score, distance is the big factor. How did this idea get planted in golfers’ minds? 

In the past, meaning approximately ten years ago and back, the discussion about balls was indeed 100 percent about distance. “Can this ball go farther than that ball?” This was a legitimate question for those times, because the hard Top-Flite or Pinnacle-type of balls did, indeed, go 20 or 30 yards farther than the wound, liquid center balata-type ball favored by Tour players back then. But the distance gap between golf balls off the driver just doesn’t exist any more, which means that a contemporary discussion about one ball providing more distance than another is in fact irrelevant.

GM: Could you talk a little bit about the overall ball performance of a golf ball?

SNELL: Golf ball performance is not just the distance a ball goes when hit with a driver. If you asked 50 players you’d probably get four or five different answers about what makes up overall ball performance. Distance and spin would be on the list while some of the better players are more concerned about how it comes off the face. In other words, these players would be more feel oriented, meaning does the ball feel softer or firmer. Still other golfers are more visual, and want to see the ball come off their clubs at a specific trajectory. Other shotmakers want balls that allow them to play the bump-and-run, or shots that hit the green and stop quickly, which, in both instances are functions of spin.

GM: So the average golfer should ask the same questions about overall performance of the ball that he uses as does the Tour players?

SNELL: Exactly. Not every player is the same but they all should consider how the ball they are playing fits with their swing and their game. Do they tend to generate a lot of spin or not too much spin? Do they like a soft feeling ball when they chip or pitch or putt, or do they like the feel of a firmer ball better? They might be surprised at how much difference the overall performance of the ball they choose positively influences their shots and scores.

GM: What about the effect of the swing variability of players you mentioned earlier and how does that factor into a player’s selection of the proper golf ball?

SNELL: Take an average golfer, someone who shoots around 90. If they hit 100 drives, the distance differences between their longest and shortest shots will probably be somewhere in the 60- to 100-yard range. A less frequent golfer may hit one tee shot 170 yards and the next one 300 yards. So, when they only hit one ball, then hit one more drive with a different brand ball, then say, “Boy, this second one is the longest,” they are probably wrong. Because there is this significant gap between their longest and shortest drives, they are probably being fooled by randomness, because the distance difference that they think come from the ball is in fact a result of their inconsistent swings.
For players on Tour, the issue isn’t really about distance anyway, because every player at that level has the ability to hit their drivers with high launch, low and with spin. The difference between balls at the Tour level is all about ball speed: how fast does the balls go for a given club head speed. Ball makers are all trying to inch their ball speeds up against the USGA limit and then optimize the launch conditions by fitting a player with the proper combination of driver and ball.   

GM: If the average golfer is probably not going to gain or lose a lot of distance based on all the reasons you explained, is it true overall ball performance then becomes the best measure of which ball to use?

SNELL: Correct, but we must remember that “overall performance” doesn’t by definition mean balls with high spin off the iron shots, because there are a lot of players who may like lower spin off their irons. There are some players that have trouble hitting the ball up in the air or others who hit the ball very high with their irons, where the ball comes down more steeply. That golfer wouldn’t need as much spin from their ball on their iron shots in order to hold the green, because their high trajectory ball flight does that for them. But the best way to simplify things is to say that with iron play, the ball’s launch angle, the amount of spin generated on the ball, and the golfer’s ability to control the distances of their shots are the main considerations for choosing a ball.

One hundred and fifty yards and in is where players take the greatest number of strokes on any given hole, and such shots, therefore, represents the largest portion of their total scores per round.  It stands to reason that they should select a golf ball that helps them reduce that score, and that means a three-piece Tour-level ball.

GM: So, in summary, how should the average golfer go about determining which ball is the best for them?

SNELL: It is player driven. A scratch golfer is probably not going to be interested in a two-piece distance ball like the Maxfli PowerMax, but probably will want to try the multi-layer TaylorMade TP Red or TP Black, or the new multi-layer Maxfli Tour Fire, now used by John Daly on Tour.

If golfers really want to see the differences in golf balls, they would do well to take our five balls, the TaylorMade TP Red, TaylorMade TP Black, the Maxfli Fire, and the soft two-piece Maxfli Noodle and the Maxfli PowerMax, and hit several shots with each ball from 150 yards to the green.

Then they should move in and hit 120-, 100-, and 30-yard shots. Then play some pitch and chip shots with a sand wedge and/or pitching wedge shots from directly around the green. Golfers will be looking for the differences between each ball, in terms of the height of their shots and how the ball spins after it hits the green. They should also pay close attention to the feel of the different balls as they come off their clubfaces.

Finally, one can’t ignore the spread in the price of these balls, from about $12 a dozen for the Maxfli PowerMax to more than $40 a dozen for the TaylorMade TP Red and TP Black. But golfers regularly spend $400 or more on a driver,  $800 and up for a set of irons, and $200 for a putter, plus money on lessons to become better golfers.  Shouldn’t they also take the time to do a complete test to find the best golf ball for their games?