It is, fellow hackers, just as we suspected. It's not our feeble
athletic ability, our unwillingness to practice, our tendency to
choke or the fact that our strokes have more movements than
Beethoven that causes us to miss every five-foot putt on the
final green that has $3 riding on it. No, it's not us. I say
again, it's not us. It's the damn ball.
Pause for effect. Eyes blink. Self-worth rises. Marriages are
saved. Better-ball partners speak to each other again. All
because it's the damn ball. According to Wilson Golf, those
missed putts could be caused by golf balls that aren't perfectly
balanced. (Let's get this straight. All of my missed putts--all of
them--are caused by unbalanced golf balls, not ineptitude. Got
that?) The Wilson folks claim to have solved this problem with
the Staff True, a new ball that the company says is perfectly
This is truly important. Being an American is all about having a
good alibi (see O.J.), and the Staff True ball provides one for
helpless hackers who've endured lip-out trauma and countless
trips to Three-Jack City. "We're not saying every golf ball is
bad," said Wilson VP Luke Reese. "We're saying that all golf-ball
manufacturers, including Wilson up until now, have made a lot of
balls that were imbalanced."
In the old days players knew that golf balls were often off
center. They floated them in salt water to test them and marked
the spot that rose to the surface. If the same spot came to the
top when a ball was retested, the ball was off-center. (Rather
than toss those balls out, Ben Hogan would use them to shape his
shots. You're free to try that too.) Since the 1970s short-game
guru Dave Pelz has talked of the harm that unbalanced balls can
do to putting. "To someone who putts the ball where he wants to,
small differences in the roll direction can significantly affect
results. The better you putt, the more of an issue imbalance is."
The way to balance a ball, Wilson says, is to make the density of
the cover match that of the core. Imagine a ball with a lead
center and a plastic cover, and think how much it would wobble if
that core were even slightly off center. If the ball's cover were
also made from lead--bingo, no wobble. Wilson applied that concept
to its Staff True. "It's the first ball that really attacks the
problem," says Pelz. "It's a major breakthrough in golf-ball
Wilson made a big splash at the PGA Merchandise Show in January,
using a robot putter to show how an unbalanced ball veers toward
its heavy side on putts. "We shocked everybody," Reese said.
"People saw that and said, 'I've been playing with these?'"
Wilson also released results of tests that used a robot putter on
a pool-table-like surface to roll 10-foot putts. Some of the
balls tested, including Titleist's Pro V1, had one per dozen or
fewer out of balance. The Strata Tour Ultimate had five out of 12
unbalanced, and Titleist's Tour Distance SF an unseemly 11 out of
Needless to say, others in the golf industry question how big the
issue is. Joe Nauman, senior VP of Acushnet, the maker of
Titleists, contends that manufacturing techniques and quality
control make it unlikely that any weight shift would be
"significant enough to cause a ball to be unbalanced." The
saltwater test, he says, merely identifies whether there is a
weight differential in the ball. "That methodology can detect a
minuscule weight differential. In order for there to be an effect
on performance, it would take a substantial weight differential.
Those substantial weight differentials do not exist in Titleist
Still, Wilson is airing TV spots in which a robot putter misses
with competitors' balls and then makes the same putt with a Staff
True. The spot also supplies a toll-free phone number, apparently
for those who want to sue.
Spalding, which makes Strata balls, did just that, filing court
papers to halt the campaign. Spalding argues that in Wilson's
tests, the balls are oriented to achieve the desired results and
that the tests don't reflect "real world" conditions. Spalding
says its own tests, by independent consultant Arthur D. Little
Inc., show that the Wilson balls don't have the superior putting
qualities Wilson claims. "We were prepared for something like
that," Reese said. "Golf companies tend to sue each other."
So who's right? Wilson Staff True balls cost $54 a dozen. The
truth, as decided by the court, will cost considerably more.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY VICTOR JUHASZ
Even Aristotle might find it difficult to sort through the great
ball debate of '02.