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 balanced.
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 design."
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 12.
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 balls."
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.