Dean Snell knows that golfers have always wanted to play a ball that maximizes distance off the tee. As TaylorMade's senior director of research and development of golf balls, and a 20-year veteran of the ball industry, he also knows that most mid- and high-handicap players think that only better players can derive the benefits that modern multi-layer golf balls offer.
But spend a few minutes talking with Snell, and it becomes clear that he thinks they've got it all wrong.
"If you put a TaylorMade TP Red, TP Black, a Burner TP and a Burner golf ball on a launch monitor with a robot hitting the balls, they would be within 100rpm of each other with a driver," he said. So the distance off the tee between TaylorMade's premium multi-piece balls, the TP Red and TP Black, is going to be about the same as the less expensive Burner TP and Burner balls.
Snell says that what sets them apart from each other is how they react on short-irons, wedge shots and shots from inside 100 yards. In the areas of the game where you want the most control, and for better players, the ability to control trajectory and spin, each ball has been designed to behave differently.
The TaylorMade TP Black has three pieces: an extremely soft, fast core; a thick mantle layer; and a cast Urethane cover. Snell says, "The combination of thick mantle and soft cover pinches on the irons and helps to create a lot of spin on short irons."
However, some tour players who used the ball found that spin, which should help the ball stop quickly on the green, was actually a problem. When attacking pins that were placed in the back portion of a green, some golfers found the ball spun too much.
"They said, 'We can't hold the ball on the greens with full 9-irons and wedges because the ball sucks back too much.'" Snell says. "They had to work on controlling spin by taking half-swings and choking down on longer clubs."
For players who naturally generate a lot of spin, TaylorMade designed the four-piece TP Red, which features a soft, second mantle layer. Snell says the TP Red reacts exactly like the TP Black off the tee, but the second mantle layer reduces spin on short-irons and wedges. The extra mantle layer also lowers the TP Red's compression, making it fly lower than the TP Black on those shots. The combination of a lower trajectory and less spin should make it easier to hit approach shots that release to back pin positions.
TaylorMade's Burner TP is also a three-piece ball, like the TP Black, but its core is slightly larger. Snell says the Burner TP's thermoplastic mantle layer is extremely fast, which should increase ball speed, but it's also soft and resilient to improve feel and increase spin.
"The Burner, a two-piece ball [with a firm Surlyn cover], will actually come off the wedges and short-irons higher and with a little more spin," Snell says. For a golfer who struggles to hit the ball high on approach shots, it's ideal and inexpensive.
To find the perfect ball for you, Snell has a simple solution. "I recommend that people take a sleeve of Burner, Burner TP, TP Red, TP Black a $20, $25 and two $40 golf balls and go to a course and play nine holes."
Ignore the tees and drop all the balls next to the 100-yard marker. Hit short irons, wedges, any shot you might try from that distance. Then do the same thing on second hole, the third hole and so on.
"By the time you get to the ninth hole, you are going to say to yourself, 'I like the way this ball checks. I like the way it acts on bump and runs. I like the way it flies high or low, feels soft or feels firm,'" he says.
"If you walk off the ninth green saying to yourself, 'I can't tell the difference,' then buy the cheapest ball."
Of course, you can, and should, do this test with several different balls from several different brands. Just don't be surprised if the one you like the best is a three- or four-piece ball.