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 (meaning 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, beginning in the early 2000s and continuing today, is toward lower-compression (softer feeling) balls. Today it is not uncommon to find balls marketed as "ultra-low-compression," with compression ratings in the 40s or even 30s.

Key Takeaways: Golf Ball Compression

  • Compression is a measure of a how soft or firm a golf ball feels at impact.
  • A golf ball's compression is expressed through a number that, for most balls on the market, ranges from the 30s (soft) to around 100 (firm).
  • Golf ball compression does not need to be matched to a golfer's swing and provides no insight about a ball's performance other than its impact feel.

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: What the compression rating tells golfers is how soft or firm the golf ball will feel at impact. The lower the compression rating, the softer the ball 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 are considering buying, you can select one with a compression rating more 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 that a ball's compression rating does have on spin and distance, relative to any other compression rating, is very small 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.