PopSci Battles 'The Beast'

Golf ball test: Can high-tech balls help us outdrive the world's longest driver?

Photograph by John B. Carnett

Photograph by John B. Carnett

Unless you play golf regularly, a ball is a ball. But that doesn't stop makers from promising major improvements in distance or control-or both-with every new introduction. Can golf ball tech help the weekend hacker? To find out, we tested five of the newest.

Our methodology: Compare the balls with previous models from each manufacturer (most cited improvements over their existing balls, not competing ones). We also solicited the help of World Long Drive Champ Sean "The Beast" Fister, who earned the title last fall with a 376-yard bomb.

First stop: the driving range. I hit the five new balls, along with Powerglove.com's illegal Raiders ball-it's heavier, increasing distance-while Sean clubbed scuffed-up range balls (my idea). My hope was to outdrive him, at least a few times. Never happened. Sean consistently launched lopsided balls 340 yards, while my longest drive, with the Raiders ball, traveled 291 yards. Next it was off to the course-nine holes with each new ball, nine with each old one. Along with distance, I tracked greens hit in regulation, putts, and score. Here I saw dramatic differences. The Callaway HX Red, for example, lived up to its fly-farther billing as I knocked one 311 yards. The two other distance balls, the Top-Flite XL3000 and Titleist Pro V1, also landed farther from the tee. The Wilson True and Maxfli A10, meanwhile, both designed for control, hit the green more times in regulation.

Which is best? They're all good-and probably better than previous models. Below, how each stacked up against its company's competition.

-Jon R. Callihan

1. MAXFLI A10
($40 dozen)
Drives: -1.2 yds
Greens: +1
Putts: -2
Score: -4

2. WILSON True
($54 dozen)
Drives: -2.6 yds
Greens: +1
Putts: -2
Score: 0

3. TITLEIST Pro V1
($54 dozen)
Drives: +1.0 yds
Greens: -2
Putts: 0
Score: -2

4. CALLAWAY HX Red
($58 dozen)
Drives: +26.0 yds
Greens: -1
Putts: +1
Score: 0

5. TOP-FLITE XL3000
($20 for 15)
Drives: +2.2 yds
Greens: +1
Putts: -2
Score: -2

Numbers reflect how the new ball compared with the old over 9 holes. DRIVES: Average yardage difference per drive; GREENS: Difference in number hit in "regulation," which assumes a two-putt; PUTTS: Difference after 9 holes; SCORE: Difference after 9 holes