(Written By: GolfSpy Matt) Memo to Nike’s marketing department: You make cool ads that go over the head of 99% of golfers. Golfers are simple creatures: tell them that your new ball is longer off the tee and they might try it. Tell them what “RZN IS” and you start to see that foggy, “You’re making me think too hard” look.
Now, whether you get their ads or not, Nike is trying to bring some real innovation to the golf ball market. By using a core made out of RZN instead of rubber, they believe that they can make the “spin slope” steeper. Did I lose you there? I’ll try again: LONGER OFF THE TEE, MORE SPIN AROUND THE GREENS. See how simple that was, Nike?
Of course we can’t just let a claim like that be, we have to test it. Here's what we tested:
And here’s what we found:
Each of the three Nike balls offers a fairly distinct feel. Off of the putter, both 20XI balls have a low-pitched “thud,” though the X is clearly firmer than the S. The Vapor has a much “click-ier” sound and feel.
With the other clubs, the 20XI-S really separates itself as the softest of the three, combining a softer cover with a lower compression. The 20XI-X feels markedly firmer and harder to compress. The Vapor Black feels more similar to the X with a full swing, though it seems to achieve this feeling through a firmer cover and lower compression.
With one exception, all of our testers rated the Vapor the firmest, and the 20XI-S the softest. That one exception rated all of the balls a perfect 10 for softness. He also rated all the balls equally super-high spinning. Whatever he’s drinking…I’d like one, too.
Of the Nike balls tested here, I would say that the Vapor Black was the most durable. At the end of the testing, the ball was scuffed, but not cut or unplayable. The 20XI-X was in similar shape, though a bit more scuffed than the Vapor Black.
The oddity of the group was the 20XI-S. This ball was noticeably scuffed after the 7I testing, long before I even got to the wedges. Despite this early wear, the 20XI-S stayed in basically the same condition for the rest of the testing.
Our testers rated these balls anywhere from a 5 to an 8 on durability. Basically, they aren’t going to explode in a cloud of white shavings after one swing nor will they last forever. Average to above average durability throughout.
With the driver, both the Vapor Black and the 20XI-X showed themselves to be very low spin and practically indistinguishable. The 20XI-S was still very low spin, but slightly higher (300 RPMs) than the Vapor Black and 20XI-X. Standard warning: I tend to produce low driver spin, so you may see larger differences between these balls than I did, though I doubt the order would be different.
Our test group felt that both of the 20XI balls were equally long, with the Vapor lagging a bit. One tester did distinguish between the two 20XI balls: he felt that the 20XI-X could be the longest ball ever at times and substantially shorter other times. He felt that the 20XI-S was more consistent in its length.
As I moved to a long iron, the 20XI-S remained the highest spinning ball. The 20XI-X was in the middle and produced about 500 RPMs less backspin. The Vapor Black was the lowest spinning with a long iron: more than 700 RPMs less than the S and about 300 less than the X.
Regardless of whether they found them to be high or low spinning, our test group found the 20XI balls to be virtually indistinguishable, which meshes with the launch monitor results. Most found the Vapor to be lower spinning, though one saw some ballooning and another rated the Vapor equal to the 20XI’s.
The spin rankings of these three balls remained the same from the 4I to the 7I, though the gaps shifted slightly. The 20XI-S spun only 250 RPMs more than the 20XI-X. This is consistent with what we’ve seen from other ball manufacturers: the differences between balls shrinks in the middle of the set. What stood out was that the Vapor Black spun markedly less than either 20XI ball: over 800 RPMs less than the S and over 600 RPMs less than the X. This is the biggest gap in 7I performance I’ve seen between any two balls yet.
As expected, the 20XI-S was the highest spinning ball with a pitching wedge, producing roughly 500 RPMs more spin than the 20XI-X. The drop off between the 20XI-X and the Vapor Black was significant: almost 1,800 RPMs.
60* Performance – Half Swing
Given the large spin gap on a full pitching wedge, I was expecting the Vapor Black would not spin at all on a half-wedge. I was wrong. The Vapor Black stood up admirably on half-wedge shots, spinning about 200 RPMs less than the 20XI-X. The 20XI-X and the 20XI-S were separated by another 600 RPMs of backspin, with the S spinning more than the X.
Our testers were divided on how these balls perform around the green. Half of them felt that the 20XI-S and 20XI-X offered equal spin around the green. The other half felt that the 20XI-X was more of a “pitch and run” ball where the 20XI-S gave them the option of stopping it on a dime. All the testers did agree that the Vapor was lower spinning than either 20XI.
Both 20XI golf balls retail for $46/dozen and the Vapor Black sells for $25/dozen. For those that want to play a tour-level ball, the 20XI is a comparable value to the ProV1, Penta, and others like it. The Vapor Black is a strong value, in my opinion, for offering a three-piece ball and solid short-game performance at a price usually reserved for a two-piece ball.
The test group generally rated the 20XI balls an average value. The Vapor was seen as an equal or greater value except for one tester who said he felt it wasn’t as good as a Hex Chrome or NXT Tour.
As we’ve seen with most other ball line ups, the tour level ball (20XI) is likely the best fit for players with more club head speed and more need for short game spin. The higher handicap player probably can’t take advantage of the 20XI’s performance, and, at nearly $4 each, losing them would get expensive.
The Vapor is a good fit for the intermediate player looking to move away from the two piece distance balls who doesn’t yet want to spend the big money on a tour ball.
Highbrow marketing aside, Nike has produced a solid line up of golf balls. While we haven’t yet dipped into the comparative testing, I expect that both of the 20XI balls would stand up well in a comparison to any other tour ball, and the Vapor is a good choice for the improving player.
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