Monday, July 2, 2012

Technique: Checking balance of golf balls

Been off for a few days as internet/cell access has been limited due to the storms here in the DC area.  The cleanup is still going on but my prep work for future tournaments is still moving on.

Next weekend I'll be participating in the PPA Northern Open in Columbus, IN.  As part of this I've bought a box of the Titelist Pro V1s that I normally use in minigolf tournaments.  Unlike most minigolfers, I prefer a crisp ball out of the box for new tournaments.  Many of the players on tour are using worn down balls that, to them, give better roll and more consistent kick off the rails.  I haven't determined if there is merit to this or if this is mental...

One piece that I do believe in is in the balance check of a golf ball.
Ralph Maltby has a good video explaining his methods here.
I agree with the concepts in his video with the following changes:
1)  One doesn't need a kit.  Warm water and epsom salts work just fine.  Adding a couple drops of jet-dry or dishwashing detergent is optional.
2)  "Perfectly" balanced golf balls are rare.  This is why mechanical devices marking balls always find a spot to mark (referred to in the video).  Virtually all balls, given enough time, will slowly rotate so that the lightest part of the ball lies on top.  What we are concerned with is how quickly the ball moves to this position.
3)  A ball that stops in a different location from the original mark does not necessarily mean that the ball is perfectly balanced.  I haven't run across it often, but some balls make it through the manufacturing process with multiple biases.  If a ball stops on different spots, you need to make sure that small deviations don't roll back to these individual spots.  If it does, you have a ball with multiple biases and it needs to be thrown out.  If the ball keeps coming up at random've found a rare balanced ball.  Put it on a pedastal.  Burn incense.  It's a joyous day to celebrate.

So why should we even care about the balance of a golf ball?  I could refer you to Pelz or others that have measured the impact of a poorly balanced golf ball, but let's take a different tack. 

Lawn bowlers used to throw balls that had weights inserted to have a certain intended bias.  This bias is designed to allow a curve to the path of the ball when thrown on the lawn.  Rob Judson has a great write-up on the mechanics of lawn bowling here that includes the physics of bias.

If we were to place a ball on the ground with the bias pointed out (light or heavy point away from the putter), when it is struck it would behave like the image on Page 9.  The bias on the ball is equivalent to a topping force that will push the ball in the direction of the heaviest point; this is because the center of gravity is to one side of the axis that the ball is rotating.

How much the ball turns and when it takes effect depends on two things:
1)  The amount of the bias.  This is why we are concerned with how quickly the ball returns to the spot in the spin test.  Faster implies more bias.  So we want to keep balls with low amounts of bias.
2)  How hard the putt is struck.  The bias based on the topping force will have more effect at slower ball speeds.  A graphic at the bottom of Page 10 showing impact of bias at different speeds shows this impact.

So we keep balls with low bias and tee them up so that the light spot is on top.  (Heavy on top is equivalent)
The purpose of this is that the heavy and light spots are not on the same axis of rotation when the ball is struck; while it is almost impossible to align them perfectly it does minimize the bias (or topping force) that will pull the ball at slower speeds. 

In the PGA world, this works fine.
In the PPA minigolf world, there are some complications. 

First, as soon as a ball hits a rail the location of the bias is likely no longer on the axis the ball is rolling on.  This is a function of where the bias is located at the point of impact on the rail and the angle of reflection off the rail.  If a ball is randomly not "getting off the rail" one should check its balance; it is possible that this is impacting the shot and a lower biased ball is needed.

Second, any time a spin shot is played (cut or hook) the bias will impact the curve of the ball.  In theory one could take advantage of the bias to increase the impact of the spin.  However, since PPA rules dictate that only one ball is allowed to be used each round* and these shots are not used often, this is not an option.

All in all, PPA minigolfers will want to use a ball with as low a bias as possible.  This is also true for PGA golfers.

So we have that in common...

I still need to think about how this would be used in the World Minigolf Federation minigolf world.  Considering that each ball is about $15-$20, buying multiple balls and spin testing them is not an affordable option.  However, if it is a common ball, a team competing at an event may have five to seven of the same type and might be able to select a ball out of their group that is better than the others.

T-minus 90 hours until my flight out.  Game on.


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