Golf is a battle, and before you head off to battle, you need all of your weapons ready. Perhaps the most important weapon in your bag is the ball you choose to play. Today, let’s examine the big difference between three-piece and four-piece golf balls and what you should be playing.
Different golf balls produce different results, so it is imperative to make the selection that will elevate your game and help you go low. For better players, the choice really starts with whether you want to use a 3 or 4 piece ball.
For beginners and high handicappers, the choice should be between a 2 and 3 piece ball. They should perform a lot better for you, and if you’re curious about the difference, read our article on 2 piece vs 3 piece golf balls.
When we talk about three and four-piece golf balls, we’re talking about the layers that make up the ball, much like the different layers of this spinning planet we’re on.
The layers can be composed of different types of materials that produce differing results amongst swing types, swing paths, and general preferences. The more precise the fit, the better the results will be, much like a new pair of sneakers.
If you feel confused about which ball would better suit your game, don’t worry. I decided to put myself through the golf ball fitting process to figure out which was best for my game.
While there are many different ball manufacturers to choose from, I’ve always been a Titleist guy, so I went with a Pro V1 vs a Pro V1x as a baseline of comparison. The Pro V1 is a three-piece ball and the Pro V1X is a four-piece ball.
This video from Titleist featuring Michael Breed features swings with both balls in front of a TrackMan. The instant results really help when deciding which ball to go with. Take a look here:
I suppose there are more differences than just a red number or a black number. Let’s see what we’ve found through the ball fitting process.
3 Piece vs 4 Piece: Distance
Both the Pro V1 and the Pro V1x had similar results for distance. If there was one that outperformed the other, it was the X that added a smidge of distance, but that is so dependent on swing speed.
Because the composition of the Pro V1x features that additional layer, it takes more force from a greater swing speed to compact all of the layers, which allows the retraction afterward to propel the golf ball.
If you have a swing speed that is fast enough for that extra layer, it will add a few extra yards of carry distance to your shots. Probably not much, but I’m sure you’d take any yards you can get. You can see the best golf balls for high swing speeds here.
If you are the average golfer like me, you might not have the swing speed to activate the real benefits of that extra layer in the ball. I find that with my swing speed, I get similar distances from both types of ball, so the other factors play a larger role in the decision.
3 Piece vs 4 Piece: Spin
When it comes to spin, the four-piece ball had higher spin rates across the board. If you checked out the Titleist video, you noticed that three clubs were tested. Here are the results of spin from both the three-piece Pro V1 and the four-piece Pro V1x with a wedge, 6 iron, and driver:
|Pro V1 (3 piece)||Pro V1x (4 piece)|
|Wedge||9,300 RPM||9,800 RPM|
|6 iron||5,200 RPM||5,200 RPM|
|Driver||2,000 RPM||2,300 RPM|
The results show a clear picture with the four-piece Pro V1x adding spin to each shot, with the exception of the 6 iron. The spin rate would likely increase for the 6 iron with more shots taken over time, but for the sake of decision making, the four-piece ball clearly adds more spin than a three-piece ball.
Deciding what ball to play really comes down to what you’re looking for. Do you want straighter shots from the tee and fairway? Do your wedge shots bite the green enough? A 3 piece ball might be the way to go.
The opposite is the case for a 4 piece ball. Higher spin rates will cause the ball to spin, which could be good, but it can also cause more sidespin. More sidespin can cause a bigger hook or slice, which you probably don’t want. Learn how backspin and sidespin affect your golf ball.
3 Piece vs 4 Piece: Feel
The feel of the golf ball relates to the firmness or softness of the ball. This is perhaps the aspect of the decision that all comes down to personal preference.
A softer ball feels really good when we pure it. For me, that pure shot is rare, so when it works, it is rewarding. The firm–feeling golf balls might not feel as nice when struck, but will continue to roll a bit more after landing.
After some research of my own at the local range, it was clear that the three-piece ball has a significantly softer feel. Greenside especially, I felt as if there was less of a chance to blade a chip with the softer ball. As more time goes by in the process, I feel as though I am leaning toward the Pro V1.
3 Piece vs 4 Piece: Forgiveness
Forgiveness is important because, as @ManoloTeachesGolf tells us, we all suck. It’s okay! A ball with forgiveness that suits you can help keep the wheels from falling off during your round.
But what does this mean in terms of the golf balls that we have been discussing?
The three-piece Pro V1 had a much lower apex inflight compared to the X, as the four-piece compression added quite more loft. This means that you’ll probably have more forgiveness and straighter golf shots with a 3 piece ball.
Take a second to think about what you want to see from your ball flight.
If you want a soaring shot with a high apex and have the swing speed to go along with it, the four-piece is the way to go. If you have a tendency to slice or hook, perhaps the ball would be better served with less flight. It’s all about preference.
3 Piece vs 4 Piece: Price
Price differences between the two types of balls seem comparable, with only a few more dollars going to the four-piece set. Within that range, either is attainable, though the Titleist balls that I have been speaking about can get rather expensive.
RELATED: Cheap vs Expensive Golf Ball Test
There are other popular 3 piece balls that are a bit cheaper such as the Taylormade Tour Response, Callaway Chrome Soft, or Bridgestone Tour B RX. Check out our golf ball layers chart to see more examples.
3 Piece vs 4 Piece: Durability
In terms of durability, the extra layer to the four-piece ball definitely adds to the durability factor. The firmness of the outer cover also extends the longevity of the ball compared to the three-piece.
That being said, out of all the deciding factors, this seems to be the most inconsequential. Don’t let durability stop you from going with a three-piece ball because you want to extend the life of the ball (you’ll probably lose it before you need to replace it).
Now, it’s time to head to the pro shop and make a choice. If you have access to a launch monitor or a simulator, try out a sleeve of each. It’s tough to make the decision without getting a real feel for each.
For me, it’s the Pro V1. It just works for me. I really like the drop-and-stop greenside play and the softer feel. Will it help drop some strokes from my scorecard? Please let it be so!
Should You Play A 3 Or 4 Piece Golf Ball?
As a general rule, a 3 piece golf ball is great for low to mid handicaps who like a softer feeling ball but don’t want more spin on their shots. 4 piece balls are designed for players with swing speeds above 105 MPH who want more spin.
In most cases, people reading this will probably like a 3 piece ball more. You’ll get enough spin, you’ll have more forgiveness, and it’ll most likely feel better at impact.
RELATED: Best Golf Balls For Mid Handicappers
If you’re a beginner, high handicap, or maybe even a mid handicap, you might even be able to play a 2 piece ball. If you’re curious, learn more about the best golf balls for average golfers.
Just because you see people on TV playing a certain ball doesn’t mean you should play it too. Let your ego go and focus on playing what’s right for your game right now. Your scorecard will thank you.
Note. This article is part of the series on the different types of golf balls. If you want to know more about all the different golf balls and what makes each of them different, you should go check that out.
- Do Low Or High Compression Balls Go Further?
- Best Low Spin Golf Balls
- What Golf Balls Do The Pros Use?
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