Can the Nike Machine usurp the reign of Titleist?
Firstly, here's the most asked (and hated) question in all of golf retail: Which is the best ball?
Over the past thirteen years I have been asked this question more times than I have occasion to scratch, literally. Of course it's the $64,000 question and one without a definitive answer because, as we all know, the player's results always speak for themselves. But how about the companies who make those crazy white round things? Is there one we can count on, year after year to keep us in the game? This review tackles that 'ball' question by examining two top dogs:
- Titleist: the undoubted king of the hill and its oh, so popular: Pro V1x
- Nike: the funky new upstart who dares challenge through the play of the master TW using : ONE Black
The Contenders: brand, spanking new
The Interesting Stuff
I am not going to bore you with the mumbo-jumbo of the manufacturing process because you can Google that anytime. What I will tell you is the things may not be in the official press release. I hope this will give you an insight into the players view of both products.
- Colour: You should be able to pick out the definite colour difference between the two. Both of the covers are made of a substance called 'urethane' (an ester of carbamic acid) which was once used in the treatment of leukemia. Urethane has a soft tackiness to it, almost what some would call 'sticky'. Notice the duller, chalkier finish to the Titleist (pictures taken by same camera, day, time). You can see how the Nike has a real stark whiteness to when compared to the Titleist. You might say that the Pro V1x has a bleached look whereas the ONE Black is ultra-white. This colour difference between companies using the same materials is actually quite common, but the Japanese manufacturers seem to have the whiteness thingy really down pat. And what's that got to do with the Nike ball you ask? Well, *dramatic pause* the ONE Black is made by no other than Bridgestone Golf (Precept)! It should probably come as no surprise however, in that Nike outsource everything.
- Seam: There's is sort of an urban myth amongst amateurs and pro's that it is possible to increase the distance of your shots with a little trick called 'seaming'. Seaming involves positioning the 'seam' of the ball vertically or horizontally to change the launch angle and resistance of the tee shot (don't ask me what they do on the fairway) thus gaining some more yards/metres. Our Pro V1x has a cover made from two halves that are fused together. Where these meet there forms a seam, a sort of flatter line, that is usually marked with the <Pro V1x> branding. The Nike cover however contains no seam due to a process that Bridgestone developed called 'Seamless Injection Technology' that they claim makes the flight and distance of the ball more consistent - no seam = less drag. So who is right? I've tried 'seaming' and I have yet to get it to work @#$* although some players swear by it. Whatever the case, drag definately kills distance so 'seaming' is fun to try. :)
- Flight: Both the ONE Black and the Pro V1x are tailored for the accomplished golfer who wants performance and to hell with the cost. Thus, the ambassadors for this market is the PGA professionals and stars such as Tiger, Vijay, Ernie, etc. A strong player usually prefers a low-flying, low-spinning ball that will keep out of negative airspace such as you would find in windy conditions. I would argue (and usually do) that this type of ball is also perfect for the average golfer as well because it provides the best of both styles: distance, flight and spin. I recommend spending a little more in your golf ball even if you do keep for use on the holes without water. ;)
Our contenders: 18 holes later
- Player: 1 handicapper, 104mph swing speed, 5'10"
- Clubs: Ben Hogan Apex blades, Titleist 975D driver, GBB 13* fairway
- Course: Middle Ridge QLDPar 72, dry conditions, bent greens
- Scores: Pro V1x: 70, Nike ONE Black: 68
- Colour: There is a noticeable difference now between the new and used. While the Pro V1x has retained its chalky whiteness, the Nike has certainly lost its ultra-white state and a good deal of its shininess.
- Wear: This may cause a little controversy but I will claim that the Pro V1x is by far the hardier ball. It has retained its clear coating well and its cover is much less scuffed. The Nike seems definately more susceptible to marking and shearing in the normal course of play although it had fewer hits than the Titleist. The clear coating protecting the urethane cover definately wears faster on the Nike ONE Black.
- Flight: If you are a player chasing a low, piercing ball flight then my bet would be that you would pick the Pro V1x. It launches lower and harder off the tee and from the irons.
- Distance: Overall I think the Nike won this one, but not by a margin that I would say was astonishing. From the irons the Nike launches higher and does carry longer (estimate 7 yards) but off the tee its half a dozen of one and six of the other.
- Feel: This is an important factor for me and for a lot of regular players. The Nike is the clear winner here no question with a lovely, soft, clicky feel from both the fairway and the tee box. The Pro V1x is hard and sharp - a no nonsense type feel. Feel is often overlooked by many players seeking game improvement. I find the Japanese balls display a softer feature that began with the awesome spinning Rextar!
Lets Get Inside
Wrecking what has been created
Without getting ridiculously technical, the balls are constructed with 4-pieces (Pro V1x) and 3-pieces (ONE Black)
- Core: The Pro V1x has what Titleist calls a 'dual core'. This is the grey bit and the pink stuff. As you can see they are perfectly round, amazingly so, with the grey being softer for feel and the pink being firmer for distance. The ONE Black has a single core which Nike says gets softer towards the middle (think soft-boiled egg), effectively giving the same setup as Titleist. I poked the Nike with a tee to see if this was true but I remain sceptical - have to take their word for it. On the Pro V1x side of things the soft-boiled story was validated with the definately noticeable difference in grey and pink with my tee-poking test.
- Mantle or Casing: The next layer towards the cover is called the mantle (like the earth), or as Titleist calls it the 'casing' - greyish on the Pro V1x and aqua/greenish on the Nike. Titleist makes their casing from stuff called 'ionomer', chemisty dohickies made with electrically neutral ions *scratches head* and I'm betting Nike does too. This mantle effectively made redundant the rubber winding on the older balls and was developed to impart less spin and more distance on the ball. Check out the mantle on the Nike - alot thicker. Why? Search me.
- Cover: Already covered but look how thin it is! Should peel right off shouldn't it?! :)
You may have noticed the roundness and mantle comparison. Check out the top left corner of the Nike!? Remember it has gone 18 holes in normal play yet the mantle seems to be squished there. This could be a worry for consistency (like a bruised apple) for Nike. Maybe this is why Titleist makes the mantle so thin. Also, the Pro V1x insides are perfectly round (the pics really do no justice), whereas the Nike is definately lop-sided - see how the mantle gets thicker at the bottom right? Hmm.. the core looks good but the greenish stuff is definately out of whack.
Final thoughts and verdict
A week in golf can be a long time and Titleist has been around alot longer than that. Really, they are the epitome of classic golf branding. It has been said that Titleist could force all other ball-makers out of the market if the really wanted to (yes even the omnipotent Nike) - their foundations are just that strong. Titleist do things with a base of hard earned knowledge and what they do is usually very good. Nike on the other hand is very aggressive in all markets but they are golf newbie's no question. Nike have to outsource their product manufacturing to others and this makes it all the more difficult to have a definitive say in development - something you cannot engineer overnight. They have come a long way in a short time and I think they feel that they can become a top golf icon, but it's a long way off - even with the squillion dollar bankroll. Yes, they have Tiger and some good looking rookies but where would a future star go if all the cash was placed in the hats evenly? I think that the Nike ONE Black is their best ball to date. They admit that the previous models weren't world-beaters. And yes, it is a Bridgestone but with all that power and cash, it is Titleist, with its long standing culture and pure golf outlook that still wields the biggest stick.
Winner this round: Pro V1x