Feedback From USGA's Prototype Ball Testing Event

Lost in the PGA Championship hoopla was Monday's USGA-hosted competition for select Canadian Tour invitees to play modified balls as part of the organization's ongoing golf ball testing.

Prior to the competition, played August 16th at Greystone Golf Club in Milton, Ontario, the event was comprised of a small field organized by tour deputy Dan Halldorson, who you may recall, refused comment a few weeks back when it was revealed the USGA might be conducting tests in Ontario. The field of lucky rollback-ball testers played 18-holes with a small competition and purse featuring something in the neighborhood of $1500 for first place (reportedly it was a 67), coupled with an appearance fee in the $200-300 range.

Before the event, I called the USGA's Dick Rugge to find out more about the testing, but he kindly refused to even acknowledge whether it was taking place to protect the testing process. Naturally, I did not place a follow-up call to confirm the details below since many are subjective views and, well, how can one comment on an event that may or may not be taking place?

But thankfully, there's Facebook.

Your devoted blogger messaged as many players from the field as he could find on the social networking site to ask if they were invited to play in the event and if so, if they would talk about their experiences. But because the USGA had the players sign a non-disclosure agreement specifically mentioning the lowly media, I was (nicely) declined by several.

However, they did talk to their fellow players and friends! (And don't bother USGA, I did not Friend any of these poor souls just in case the Far Hills Police were inspired by their peers in Palo Alto).

Below is a summary based on two sources, with the each noted in describing what their friends experienced. One conversation was with a young Canadian Tour player who spoke to three peers that played in the event, including one present in his car as I interviewed the informant! 

The other source played golf with a tester this week, who offered several details which were shared with me in several exchanges. I know the second player's name, but in order for him to cash his check and not face a lifetime wondering if his U.S. Open entry will be intercepted by the USGA testing department, his name will be withheld. 

Miscellaneous anecdotes from the day:

  • Testing began during the Clublink Jane Rogers Championship, with several Trackman and ShotLink-style devices set up to document play with today's equipment, followed by Monday's event with the shorter ball and further testing.
  • The unmarked ball, described by both sources as having a shallow, odd dimple pattern with "a lot of flat surfacing," typically went about 20 yards shorter with the best hit drives.
  • The ball did not spin much and flew unusually straight, as well as on a lower trajectory according to both sources. The younger Canadian Tour player whose friends also are under-25 types, said his buds described their experience as unenjoyable because the ball did not curve at all and played like a limited flight range ball. One of his peers also said the feel around the greens was "just awful."
  • My other source, on the other hand, reported distinctly different views. An early 30's player of accomplishment, called the experience "unreal." He loved the shotmaking emphasis, the longer irons hit into greens, the overall emphasis on skill despite his misgivings about the straighter flight of the prototype. He also reported that his fellow playing partners were enthusiastic despite some concerns about the ball seemingly wiping away a distance advantage of one longer player in the group while not impacting others as much.
  • The players who enjoyed their experience said their irons flew about one club shorter, which, combined with the distance off the tee lost, meant 2-3 clubs more into greens.He also reported loving shots around the green more and found that he could play all types of shots, both with backspin or of the bump-and-run variety.  "Way better, so fun," was the feedback.
  • There was a tub of the balls for the players to chip and putt with prior to the round, closely guarded by an official. The player whose friend contacted me wanted to take some with him, but was told no by an official. Each group had an observer of some kind and this player was only allowed one ball at a time. However, the player in question snuck one out and a photograph may be forthcoming.
  • One player reported that the ball was made by Bridgestone.
  • Greystone was setup up exactly as it was in the Jane Rogers tournament. The Canadian Tour player who did not compete in the Monday event but played in the Rogers reported that the course is one of the toughest they play on the tour, with greens running 13 feet on the Stimpmeter and a cut this year of five over. He described the design as "very modern-looking" and thought it was an odd selection because of its architecture.
  • The younger player who spoke to his peers said one reported that if he had to play such a ball he'd "probably quit golf."
  • The friend of the older player who contacted me had the chance to hit a few putts with the ball and said it reminded me of the old Titleist Professional. His Canadian Tour player friend concurred. Though the player said the ball "sort of self corrected in flight," saying "it would start to curve one way and then kinda stop. We have often said the same thing about the Pro V."
  • Both sources reported that their friends were repeatedly assured that a ball rollback would not happen anytime soon. The players were told in no uncertain terms that the USGA and R&A were happy with the ball where it is now and there are no plans whatsoever to change ball rules.

  • The older player was said to be "pretty suspicious" of this stance because he thought the amount of effort that went into the testing suggested otherwise. His conclusion, which was shared in a survey of some form that I'm trying to learn more about, was that the idea was "great," that he had "a lot of fun," and while he felt it restored a premium on ball striking, he was not convinced this was the right short ball to use in any form of rollback scenario.

You can also read more player feedback from Ian Andrew here.

I'm going to sit on this for a few hours before I react, but I know you'll have comments!