What Is Compression In Golf Balls?

How Important Is It? Does Compression Matter In Choosing a Ball?

Golf ball compression at impact
A golf ball deforms, then rebounds into shape, at impact. How much of this 'compression' there is determines how soft or firm the ball feels to the golfer. Pete Fontaine/WireImage/Getty Images

"Compression" is a term applied to golf balls and refers to the amount a ball deforms at impact. Or, to put it more plainly, compression is a measure of how soft or firm a golf ball is:

  • A low-compression golf ball will deform more at impact (it will feel softer);
  • a high-compression ball will deform less at impact (it will feel firmer).

Golf balls are tested for compression and a mathematical formula is applied to generate a numerical value. (This value is sometimes called "compression rating.") Compression can range from 0 to 200, but most golf balls rate anywhere from 60 to 100.

A compression of 90 and higher is considered high-compression; a compression in the 70s or lower is considered low-compression.

However, the trend in the golf ball industry is toward lower-compression (softer feeling) balls, and "ultra-low-compression" balls in the 40s and even 30s are around now, too.

Does Compression Rating Tell You Anything About Ball Performance?

Yes, but perhaps not in the way many golfers believe.

What compression tells you about a golf ball: How soft or firm it will feel at impact. The lower the compression, the softer it will feel; the higher the compression, the firmer it will feel. This difference in feel is something nearly all golfers can notice. You might prefer a softer or a firmer feel, and if you know the compression ratings of balls you're considering buying, you can select one likely to appeal to you.

What compression does not tell you about a golf ball: How much the ball will spin or how far it will go, and how "appropriate" a given ball is for your swing speed.

Technically, compression might have an impact on distance and spin, but ultimately those qualities are determined by the overall characteristics of a golf ball, not just the single factor of compression. And any impact compression rating does have on spin and distance, relative to any other compression rating, is miniscule and outweighed by other factors.

To put it another way, compression considered by itself is not an indicator of how much distance or spin a given golf ball will have.

In its advice to golf ball fitters, Titleist says this: "Compression is solely a test of the relative softness of a golf ball, and a golfer that has a 'feel' preference for a softer ball may prefer a lower compression ball."

Also, and contrary to a formerly universally held belief in golf, there is no correlation between a golfer's swing speed and how much compression he or she "needs." Again, insofar as compression is a consideration in selecting a golf ball, it's about feel.

In its advice to golf pros and fitters, Titleist puts it bluntly:

"There is no performance benefit associated with choosing a ball with a specific compression to match your swing speed."

So What's the Bottom Line On Golf Ball Compression?

The bottom line is this: Compression is an expression of a golf ball's relative softness or firmness, and, therefore, a ball's compression rating can give you an indication of whether its feel will be to your liking.