This article first appeared in the March 30, 2015 issue of SI GOLF+.
The summer of 2000 will forever be known in the world of golf for Tiger Woods's performances in the majors as well as the Tiger Slam. However, another series of events was unfolding that would change professional golf forever. Back then, wound balata was the de facto ball construction of choice on Tour -- it had been that way for decades -- because of its soft feel and its high spin rate around the greens. But Tiger scrapped his trusty wound balata in May of that year in favor of a new solid-core ball, the Nike Tour Accuracy. A month later Woods would obliterate the field in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
That same month, Titleist R&D folks began supplying prototype solid-core balls for testing to more than 100 PGA Tour pros. In October, 47 players teed up the new solid-core Titleist Pro V1 at the Invensys Classic in Las Vegas. (These urethane-covered, solid-core balls delivered the distance of hard-feeling two-piece balls plus the smooth feel and short-game performance of wound balata.) Then at the Tour Championship, Phil Mickelson offered this salvo during the winner's press conference: "I honestly believe that if you are not playing this golf ball [the Pro V1], then you are at a distinct disadvantage to the entire field." The ball business would never be the same.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Pro V1 franchise, and it continues to dominate on professional tours around the world and at retail. These days, 60% to 70% of the field at any given PGA Tour event tees up the Pro V1 or the Pro V1x (with a similar win percentage). How is it possible that a ball could maintain such a commanding position for so long, both on the professional tours and with consumers? According to Casey Alexander, director of research and a special-situations analyst for Gilford Securities, the sustained success is due to "Titleist management's singular focus that the golf ball is the company's most important product line, an intense focus on Tour validation, and great marketing programs."
The game's pyramid of influence has certainly played a major role in consumer buying habits. "A portfolio of factors contributes to its continued success," adds Leigh Bader, co-owner of Joe and Leigh's Discount Golf Shop in South Easton, Mass., and 3balls.com. "Titleist's leadership campaigns keep it top-of-mind with consumers and retailers. Titleist doesn't rely on one person or a small collection of individuals. The brand is bigger than that. It's about broad performance -- leaders use the product, winners use the product."
With the Pro V1's ever-growing popularity, it will be interesting to see what the next 15 years bring.
CORE COMPETENCIES: Inner Workings of Pro V1, Pro V1x
The 2015 Pro V1 and Pro V1x have the same cover and casing materials, cover thickness and paint job. However, differences in the casing thickness as well as in construction and dimple patterns result in distinct performance attributes. Here is the primary role of each element, plus key advancements over the years.
CORE: Made predominantly from synthetic rubber, it delivers fast ball speeds on full shots. Titleist debuted the ZG manufacturing process for the Pro V1 in 2011 and molded the center of the Pro V1x core in 2013. The result was more consistent hardness within the core and from ball to ball. The new Pro V1 and Pro V1x are billed as the softest-feeling models to date.
CASING: An Ionomer mantle layer boosts ball speeds for more distance off the driver and controls spin on full iron shots.
COVER: Thermoset urethane elastomer can be difficult to work with, but Titleist controls the chemical composition -- and performance -- through a proprietary casting process.
DIMPLE PATTERN: In 2007, Titleist implemented a Staggered Wave parting line to increase dimple coverage for improved aerodynamics. A “spherically tiled tetrahedral” dimple design, introduced in 2011, increased surface coverage to further stabilize flight. Differences in dimple patterns allow the '15 Pro V1x to launch higher and land more steeply than the Pro V1 does.
335: PGA Tour victories using the Pro V1 or Pro V1x from October 2000 through the end of 2014. The closest competitor had 111.
$800 million: Estimated ball sales in the U.S. in 2014, according to the National Golf Foundation.
284,340: Starts for tour pros worldwide using the Pro V1 and Pro V1x in competition from October 2000 through the end of '14. The company with the next most starts had 52,840.
24 million: Pro V1 balls shipped to retail in the first 10 months, starting in December 2000.
28.5: Market share percentage (on-off course) for Pro V1 and Pro V1x combined in January 2015, according to Golf Datatech. The second-highest share for premium-price balls ($40+/ dozen) was 2.5%.