Does Golf Ball Compression Factor Matter?

Among other exciting things, your package of golf balls probably lists the compression factor. What is it and does it affect your game?

Compression is a Many-Splendored Thing

While we could lay a bunch of scientific gobbledygook on you about golf ball compression, let’s do something even more fun. Imagine this:

You go to the range with one each: Superball™; ordinary nondescript golf ball; a round rock about the size and weight of a golf ball; and a driver you picked up for a couple dollars at a thrift store. You tee up the two balls and the rock and give each your best swing.

Now, imagine the results. Most likely, you pinged the Superball off the moon and it’s now heading for Mars with a 48-hour ETA. The golf ball is somewhere on the range where you would expect it, and if you can’t imagine where the rock went, check the face of your driver.

What happened? The rubber ball, having lots of compressibility, first smooshed up against the driver then sprang forward with all the stored energy in your mighty swing. The golf ball, with its hard shell yet compressible innards, deformed a reasonable amount and also sprang forward. Last and least of all, the rock only went as far as your driver and swing could push it because its as compressed as it will ever be. There’s no smoosh in it.

Okay, here’s the scientific explanation of the compression factor. The numbered rating from the maker defines the deflection/deformation that a golf ball undergoes when subjected to the compressive load of a club hit. Compression transfers the energy of the club to the ball’s flight. The flip side of compression goes by the term of “smash factor,” which is a way of measuring the amount of energy transferred between the clubhead and ball at impact. Let’s summarize in case there’s going to be a test later. “Compression factor” measures how much the ball squished against your club, and “smash factor” measures how much of a whack you delivered.

Why Spin My Head with More Equipment Specs?

Because you never want to blame your game on a lack of experience or talent. Ha! Just kidding. Really, it’s because manufacturers have many new ways to make things, and for some of us, little tweaks here and there can add up to better performance, as we work to perfect our swings and putts, of course. Let’s face it, we can’t all be on the tours, so we play for fun, self-challenge, side bets and the drink cart. Which is to say, compression might just matter to the Little People.

The lower the compression factor, the softer the ball. The higher, the harder. Generally speaking, brands rate compression between 60 and 200 with 60 as the softest and 200 as the hardest. Remembering the Superball, the softer the ball the greater distance potential, which pleases those of us lacking the upper body strength or swing speed to pound one to Kingdom Come. With a higher rating, you need a faster, more powerful swing to get the same distance, all other things being equal.

But Are All Other Things Equal When Choosing a Softer Ball?

Of course not. This is golf we’re talking about. Nothing is supposed to be easy, except access to the drink cart. The bottom line is that you sacrifice some control to get those longer shots. Even if you really are a pro, you probably hit with just a smidgeon of irregularity, and the place of compression on the ball will drive (pun intended) the direction of the ball. Softer balls can exaggerate a hook or slice and give you more funky spin at times when it’s most likely to cause steam to shoot from your ears. A more highly compressed ball offers a little more forgiveness and control if the strike is slightly off the sweet spot, which, for some of us, might be always. And let’s not forget dimples and cores and all the other ingredients in a golf ball that affect flight patterns.

Also, if you can’t stand to stay home on really cold days when your ball will feel just like the rock in our thought experiment, a lower compression rating can make the difference between flying balls and shattered elbows.

Will the compression factor matter to your game? Maybe. It wouldn’t hurt to try different compression ratings to see what works best for you.