How does Graphene make Callaway Chrome Soft balls better?January 23, 2018 Golf Equipment
There's a new Callaway Chrome Soft golf ball. And it features a Nobel Peace Prize-winning material stronger than diamond and 200 times stronger than steel. Equipment editor James Savage gets the lowdown in his latest Tech Talk
The new Chrome Soft will look pretty much the same as the last version but the introduction of Graphene has helped Callaway unlock some performance benefits.
But what is Graphene? And why has it never been used in a golf ball before? But more importantly, how is it going to help us play better golf?
The Chrome Soft has been Callaway’s most successful-ever golf ball. It has premium performance at a friendly price point.
But the technology in the new Chrome Soft has pushed the price up from around £32 to £38.
But as Dr Alan Hocknell, Callaway’s head of R&D, explains in this week’s Tech Talk, it will be well worth the extra investment.
What is Graphene?
Graphene is an atomic-scale honeycomb lattice made of carbon atoms and was first produced in a laboratory at the University of Manchester in 2004 by Russian-born scientists, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, who went on to be awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work.
Graphene is super-strong – stronger than diamond, 200 times stronger than steel and believed to be the strongest material in the world.
How did you come to use it?
Our golf ball R&D team keep their eyes and ears open for material opportunities all the time.
One of our polymer chemists had read a number of papers on graphene and opened a dialogue with a small number of suppliers who are able to deal with it, and we quickly built a picture of how it might be used in a golf ball.
A lot of the time graphene is not used in its native form – a nano-scale powder – but as an additive that is mixed with other materials.
How did you decide how to use it in the new Chrome Soft?
We had to assess which part of our golf ball we could mix it with to get a strength advantage and where in the golf ball we would want it, bearing in mind that pretty much anything graphene ‘looks at’ turns it black!
Even though it is slightly transparent, the carbon content always comes to the fore if you use enough of it.
We looked at various parts of the golf ball and the functions of each, and we quickly decided that if we were going to use a material that made any part of our golf ball substantially stronger it would be in the outer core, because its role is partly to allow the inner core to be soft.
What we wanted to produce was an outer core that was much stronger, effectively a thinner but stronger ‘crash helmet’ for the inner core and that would allow us to make the inner core bigger.
Remarkably, it’s both stiff and elastic so you can stretch it by an amazing amount – 20-25 percent of its original length – without it breaking, because the flat planes of carbon atoms can flex relatively easily without the atoms breaking apart.”
If you think of this inner core as the engine of the golf ball, the inner of the new Chrome Soft is now bigger and softer because it is protected by the stronger outer core, which allows us to pump up the speed, pump up the spin-reducing characteristic of the soft core, and still retain the soft-feel benefits.
How will the new Chrome Soft help golfers?
Those who are familiar with Chrome Soft will see that we have retained the overall soft feel of the golf ball, although we intentionally have changed the feel when playing shots near the green to make it have a crisper ‘clickier’ sound.
This has been achieved after direct feedback from customers who said they would benefit from greater audio response around the green.
People should also notice higher ball speeds from the driver with both balls, and significantly better distance with mid-irons and approach shots.
Off the driver there is a reduction in spin, relative to the original Chrome Soft, and an increase in speed, without giving up any launch angle – and that’s a recipe for greater overall distance.
All these playing features will be noticeable, particularly to the more astute players.
How do you differentiate between the new Chrome Soft and Chrome Soft X?
The X ball has undergone the bigger transformation of the two. The original Chrome Soft X was intended and designed to have a spin profile similar to some key competitor products.
It was meant to be a ball to allow golfers to transition into a Callaway product and some of the benefits of our soft core technology but, in truth, it wasn’t differentiated enough to give people a reason to switch.
In the new Chrome Soft X we have dramatically reduced its spin profile through the bag so, in many ways, it is similar to the standard Chrome Soft ball of 2017, but what you will find now is a firmer overall feel, while still retaining excellent spin properties around the green.
The differences between both golf balls are mostly focused on feel and then if you have a swing speed in the higher ranges – roughly 105mph and above – you might be an ideal candidate for the X, as its increased firmness will convert more driver head speed to ball speed, compared to standard Chrome Soft.
Can you be ‘custom fitted’ for a new Chrome Soft?
If there was a fitting axiom from us, you should play the softest compression golf ball you feel comfortable with for all aspects of your game because softer golf balls are more forgiving and that is something experts haven’t really talked about before.
When you don’t hit the centre of the face, the softer balls still compress and therefore still convert head speed to ball speed more efficiently than harder golf balls. We have lots of data to prove this.
The new Chrome Soft Golf Balls have ‘added forgiveness’ then?
We want to start to educate people about the forgiveness of their golf ball. Golfers are used to driver and iron forgiveness, but golf ball forgiveness is a very big deal, which hasn’t been reported extensively.
Lower compression balls like Chrome Soft have a real advantage.
It’s why people out on the course, who have no idea of the physics of the golf ball, see a shot creep over the lip of a bunker and get on the green when they know they didn’t quite hit it well enough.
It is the forgiveness factor of the golf ball that they are witnessing, maintaining speed when you don’t hit the centre of the face.”
With the new Chrome Soft cover being softer, is it still durable?
The great thing about urethane is that it becomes more durable the softer it gets – the opposite to Surlyn, the cover material primarily used in less expensive golf balls.
Effectively, the new Chrome Soft is actually more durable and spins more in and around the green than the 2017 product because of the softer cover. It’s a win-win!
Will we see graphene in other Callaway products?
There is actually graphene in the carbon fibre of the Synergy shaft in the Rogue Driver! Shaft manufacturer, Aldila, incorporated it in the development and it forms a role in the resin material of the carbon fibre, in a similar fashion to how it works in our golf ball.
The idea of us putting graphene into other carbon fibre parts is an interesting one. A long time ago we had an all-carbon driver called C4 which had a carbon body and face and was way ahead of its time.
The limitations we had on the carbon materials we were using back then meant that any advantage we found in using materials with a lighter weight, were undone by the amount of carbon fibre that was needed to make the face of the club durable, and when you had to do that, you didn’t get high COR.
But as the world moves on, graphene might open the door to re-visit some carbon applications.
However, incorporating graphene into things that we have to melt in order to get the shapes we want, i.e. titanium or steel, are perhaps not for us just yet.
Can other manufacturers use graphene?
We are in the process of exploring graphene patents in our golf balls, and in specific areas where we think it has a performance advantage. So this is work in progress.
Chrome Soft and Chrome Soft X details
On sale: February 16
More information can be found on the Callaway website.