The Equipment Insider

Bridgestone Golf's cure for COVID-19 cabin fever

Bridgestone Golf's Tour B XS-TW golf ball let's you play like Tiger Woods — sort of — while its VFIT video analysis system finds your ideal golf ball fit

Congratulations on being socially distant, as required by law. Don’t tell anyone you practiced that before the virus, too — that’ll be our little secret.

So your golf course, your driving range, your TopGolf, and your big-box store with the golf simulator are closed. What can you do for your golf game during this dark time?

Bridgestone Golf has two things.

One is the new Tour B XS-TW golf ball ($44.99 per dozen). You may be able to guess what the TW stands for in that label — Tiger Woods. A tipoff is Tiger’s face on the box. The Tour B XS-TW is the exact ball that Tiger plays, now available to the public. All the balls have the same number on them — 1 — because that’s the number Woods plays. More on that later.

Bridgestone’s second item is more timely. As golf ball quality has improved — this is the Golden Age of golf balls — it’s gotten tougher to make sure you’re playing the ball that’s right for you. There are more golf ball options, like flavors of ice cream, that suit players of different skill levels.

Bridgestone Tour B golf ball
Bridgestone Golf's new Tour B family of golf balls features for distinct models, plus a limited edition Tiger Woods offering.

Bridgestone’s solution while you’re sheltered in place is for you to use your cell phone camera to shoot a slow-motion video of your swing, fill out a questionnaire about your game and submit both on the website, BridgestoneGolf.com. The company’s experts apply a proprietary algorithm to the footage and decipher your clubhead speed, ball speed, spin, carry distance, and all that.

Then a living, breathing expert, not a computer, assesses your swing from the video, checks your questionnaire answers about handicap, ball flight, trajectory and what you’re looking for in a golf ball’s performance, and makes a recommendation.

If it sounds like a dating website, that’s just a coincidence, but don’t you want to love your golf ball? Of course. Within 24 hours, Bridgestone will send you a suggestion on which of their products are a fit for you. This video fitting, or VFIT as Bridgestone calls it, is a process that’s been five years in the making.

“We found that camera phones were getting really good at seeing the swing and the ball, so we started working on this,” said Adam Rehberg, Bridgestone’s golf ball fitting manager. “And it’s not just an algorithm that figures everything out, a person gets involved. We’ve also got a ball-fitting database of 350,000 consumers, so we can cross-reference you against them.

“Say you’re a 5 handicap who hits it high and likes to draw the ball and hits it a certain distance, we may find 5,000 people in our database who match your description. We see what they were fitted for, we analyze your personal swing information and make a selection.”

Back in the ancient days of the 1990s, for example, many recreational golfers had two basic choices in golf balls — balata or surlyn. Now, the top manufacturers offer multiple options.

“It sort of is like picking an ice cream flavor,” Rehberg said. “At Bridgestone, we have four different urethane balls with different hardness and different feel. Over a clubhead speed of 105, you get a firmer and faster core. Under 105, you get a core that reacts fast for your speed. We have evolved a long way from having one choice in a category.”

Ball-fitting has become nearly as important as shaft selection, clubhead weight, loft and lie. As Rehberg points out, “We feel the ball is even more important because you hit it on every shot.”

Rehberg and other Bridgestone experts see some interesting swings on the videos sent in. He likes the ones where it’s snowing outside — yes, some die-hards in colder climes video themselves swinging outdoors — and the snowfall, like the golfer’s swing, is in mesmerizing slo-mo. Sometimes, he said, there may be a child in a swing in the background or a player shooting a video during an actual round.

“Right now, we’re practicing good social distancing and we’re staying away from each other,” Rehberg said. “A lot of courses have close, so some folks are making some swings, sending them in and getting themselves fitted since all of our demo days have been cancelled. A lot of folks have cabin fever right now.”

Fans of Tiger Woods who aren’t as selective about their golf ball choice, even though they should be, may simply want to play the ball their guy does. Now they can with the Tour B XS-TW.

“This is the first time in a long while he’s played a retail ball that’s available to the public,” said Elliot Mellow, Bridgestone’s golf ball marketing director. “We were selling the Tour B SX last year and the consumer sentiment was, ‘That’s not really Tiger’s ball.’ Almost in jest, we said, ‘No, this isn’t really his ball. His has his name stamped on it.’ That was the only difference.”

The ball feels good because of its unique cover material, which Bridgestone calls Reactiv. The name describes how the cover material reacts to different types of golf shots. It took five years to get it right.

“This is a step beyond urethane,” Mellow said. “It actually firms up when hit by a driver and becomes faster while on a touch shot, like a wedge, the ball’s cover stays on the face longer in the grooves. It started as a small idea in talking with Tiger and then he pushed us beyond where we thought he could go.

“Obviously, he is one of the best-known people in the world and a great endorser but he’s actually been very valuable as someone working with our R&D team.”

It was a poorly-kept secret during Tiger’s Nike equipment years that Nike’s balls were made by Bridgestone. So Bridgestone has a long history of designing balls to Tiger’s specifications. Some of those were built to provide high spin around the greens and off the tee, which wouldn’t have made sense to sell to the average consumer then.

The development of the Reactiv cover changed that. “It allows lower spin, so it allows us to make a ball the greatest of all time and the weekend warrior can fit into,” Mellow said. “I don’t think there was ever a time when Tiger had the mindset, ‘This is my ball only.’ It just didn’t fit anybody else. Now the ball has evolved.”

Woods grew up playing a balata ball, like most players his age. As a tour player, he wants a high-spinning ball so he can take the spin off when he needs to, like on a shot around the greens. Mellow said many younger players, like Bryson DeChambeau, also a Bridgestone user, prefer a lower-
spinning ball because they prefer to add spin when they need it.

The Tour B XS-TW balls have “TIGER” stamped on the side while the packing commemorates his Masters victory last year, his 15th major.

All four of Bridgestone’s balls use the Reactiv urethane cover. The three-piece Tour B X and Tour B XS are for driver swing speeds above 105 mph. The XS feels a little softer (think XS for Extra Soft). The three-piece Tour B RX and Tour B RXS are for driver swing speeds under 105 mph, which includes most of the rest of us, although Fred Couples uses it on PGA Tour Champions.

Got cabin fever? Get out and shoot some swing video.

Sign up to receive the Morning Read newsletter, along with Where To Golf Next and The Equipment Insider.


Related Stories
|