Golf Ball Seams and Balance
Hi Dr. Putt:
Not all balls have a seam, or at least a visible one. For example the new ball that is just coming out on the market from Natural Golf is advertised as seamless. But most do.
Should you care? As Dr. Putt tells his students, the answer to nearly all questions is "it depends."
Dr. Putt assumes that you draw an "aim line" on your balls to help in alignment and aim -- an excellent practice, about which Dr. Putt has letters posted in Dear Dr. Putt. See the letter on marking the ball.
One can more easily draw a straight line on the seam than elsewhere. And, if as you note, the other markings on the ball are not consistent with the seam, one may be distracted by lines and words that run in different directions. Some day some really smart ball manufacturer will provide an aim line on the ball (and combine that with the balance considerations that follow in this letter).
An additional advantage, at least on short putts, is that if the ball is struck on the seam by the putter, there is no dimple to possibly cause misdirection. As Dave Pelz has shown (see p. 211 in the Putting Bible), when the ball is not compressed, as is the case on very short putts, hitting the edge of a dimple can cause the ball to come off the face at odd angles, odd enough to miss. What Pelz does not say is that the new soft inserts, which allow the face to compress on short putts rather than the ball, takes care of most of this problem. But just to be safe, one could try to strike the ball on a seam or a flat place on the ball's surface between dimples. Pelz advocates marking such a spot on the ball.
There are some claims that balls will roll in a more true fashion if they are lined up so that the seam aims at the target. That would be true if the golf ball were perfectly balanced or if the heavy spot were on the seam. But balls are often out of balance. And balance is a more important factor than the seam.
Again, Pelz has shown this (p.207), and has a couple of articles on it in recent monthly national golf publications. He says he has tested a lot of balls and found that most are pretty well balanced, but he does not say which balls are in or out of balance.
Dr. Putt has tested a variety of new and used balls to see how frequently they are in or out of balance. Here is what he found. ALL the used balls in his bag were out of balance. So once played with for a few holes, the ball is likely to become out of balance.
On new balls, the results were mixed. The relatively inexpensive Top Flight XL-3000's were out of balance more than half of the time (9 of 15 were out). Dr. Putt also tested a sleeve of the very expensive Titleist Pro V1's and all three were out of balance. Then he tested the Wilson Staff True Distance ball, which is advertised as being in balance. And all three in the sleeve tested were in balance. Will they stay in balance? Dr. Putt will report on this later, retesting the balls after each 9 holes played.
What is the bottom line on ball balance? Most balls you buy or play with are probably out of balance. And as Pelz has shown, it can make a difference. The difference is most obvious on very fast and smooth greens where other factors like grain and bumps do not mask the effects of balance. So if you are in an important round of golf on fast and smooth greens, play with balls that are in balance or have their heavy point on the seam. Then you can draw an aim line on the seam and feel much more confident about getting a true roll.
Of course you must first determine whether your golf balls are in balance. Here is how to do that.
First you must have what is called "heavy water." Add epson salts to luke warm water until a golf ball will float in it. (It took about eight ounces for the bowl shown in the photo below.) Then add a few drops of Jet Dry (which is used in dishwashers to keep the glasses from having water spots). This will make the ball easier to mark after it comes to rest. You will also need a waterproof pen, like a Sharpie.
Gently hold the ball under the water and spin it, letting it float to the top until it comes to rest without touching the side of the bowl. This may take several attempts. But you will see pretty quickly if the ball is out of balance. If it is, the same point (the light side of the ball) will be exposed. Lightly mark the spot that is exposed. Repeat several times to see if the same point is coming up consistently. If you get points that are far apart, the ball is in balance. If all your marks are close together, you have a ball that is out of balance. The closer the points are to each other, the more it is out of balance. Average them out and mark that spot. Remember, this is the light side of the ball. The point directly opposite is the heavy side of the ball.
Then draw your aim line through the light spot that you marked. Draw it in whatever direction the dimples best allow along with consideration of logos and other things printed on the ball (Dr. Putt uses a Sharpie permanent marker for this). Regardless of which direction you draw it, the heavy spot will still be on the bottom and not affect the roll of the ball.
You now have a ball that is ready to play with, at least for a few holes until you have pounded it out of balance!
Dr. Putt probably told you far more than you want to know. If you are not a really really serious player and do not want to go to all this trouble, just find the best place on the seam that you can (if you can find a seam) and mark an aim line on the ball. Dr. Putt usually finds a place that is clear of any other markings or logos so that they are not seen when standing over the ball.
Best of luck and please stay on touch.