The USGA and the R&A – golfs governing bodies – have announced their plans to roll back the golf ball. They have announced their plan to change the rules to roll back distance in golf (and not just for elite players). This new precedent could potentially make most popular golf balls, played both professionally and recreationally, non-conforming.
In March, the USGA and R&A proposed instituting a Model Local Rule (MLR). This would give tournament organizers the option to require professionals and elite amateurs to play a rolled-back ball, as early as January 2026. However, the vast majority of amateur golfers would see no change to the balls they customarily play. This proposal was not well received. The game was not happy with the Model Local Rule. There was a very strong pushback against it. The PGA Tour was very public about their thoughts, and so was the PGA of America. A number of elite players spoke out on it as well. Having said that, some form of action on distance has been expected since as early as 2020, after the governing bodies released the Distance Insights report. The report addressed their growing concerns on power gains among better players. All these changes are due to the USGA’s belief that it is their responsibility to maintain the long-term future of the game.
Fast forward to today, the revised plan which is intended to begin in 2028, states that for a golf ball to be deemed conforming and be legal for play, it will be tested using a robot that swings a titanium club at 125 mph. It will hit the ball on an 11-degree launch angle with 2,200 rpm of spin. The shot can not exceed the Overall Distance Standard (ODS) of 317 yards of combined carry distance and roll (with a 3-yard tolerance). Currently, balls are being tested at 120 mph with a launch angle of 10 degrees and 2,520 rpm of backspin. The change increases the robot’s clubhead by 5 mph, increases the launch angle by 1 degree, and decreases the spin rate by about 300 rpm.
The longest hitters are expected to see a reduction of as much as 13-15 yards in drive distance. The change in testing speed is expected to have a minimal distance impact of about 5 yards or less for most recreational golfers. Research shows an average swing speed of 93 mph for male golfers and 72 mph for female players.
Why is this plan finally coming to fruition? Longer shots have led to the lengthening of many courses, while leaving others behind. There is more pressure than ever put on courses to adapt. Either way costs are going up. This decision impacts all areas of the sport. There’s the matter of how golf-ball manufacturers will respond, ultimately resulting in engineering and marketing a slower, shorter ball. It also will impact the pros, golf courses, and various other stakeholders.
Opinions are firing on both sides of the argument. Several pros have made their claims on what they believe the impact would be, and shared why they stand on either side of the decision. One of the most outspoken among them being the four-time major champion, Rory McIlroy. He posted a message on X (formerly Twitter), with his perspective on the decision:
I don’t understand the anger about the golf ball roll back. It will make no difference whatsoever to the average golfer and puts golf back on a path of sustainability. It will also help bring back certain skills in the pro game that have been eradicated over the past 2 decades.…
— Rory McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) December 3, 2023
McIlroy is the most notable golf figure to publicly voice his support for the golf-ball rollback plan. Additionally, Jack Nicklaus, the 18-time major winner, has repeatedly stated that distance in the game needs to be checked. In 2020, Nicklaus stated to Golf Channel, “The USGA has got to wake up sooner or later”. His concerns lie mainly with the length of golf courses continuing to grow. “You just can’t keep making golf courses longer. You just don’t have enough land. You don’t have enough money to do it,” he said. He believes fixing the golf ball is a much easier solution rather than each individual course having to redesign a larger course to support the game.
Previously, others in the industry had shared different perspectives, most notably Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, who was not happy about the changes. Chamblee also took to X (formerly Twitter) to announce his disdain for the plan:
I appreciate the governing bodies and what they mean to the game, but on the roll back issue they are not only out of touch with the game they govern, but the people that play it. It is a very small number of people that are in favor of a roll back. Golf course architects of…
— Brandel Chamblee (@chambleebrandel) December 3, 2023
Chamblee’s primary argument is that the rollback plan seems to cater more to a small fraction of golfers worldwide, and that the vast majority of golfers are likely not in favor of reducing distance. Tiger Woods seems to support bifurcation as McIlroy does. He was asked about the plan after his third round at the Hero World Challenge. His response: “As I told you guys, I’ve always been for bifurcation. I’ve always said that. Just like wood bats and metal bats [in baseball].” His thoughts are to dial back the ball for him, for Scottie Scheffler, for Brooks Koepka, for every pro. And no one else. Amateurs can play with what they’ve been playing with. However, this is not what the USGA and the R&A are proposing. The rollback will be for everyone.
Nearly every golf ball being sold today, including the Titleist Pro V1, Callaway Chrome Soft, TaylorMade TP5, Bridgestone Tour B and Srixon Z-Star, would go too far and fail the new test because manufacturers design their balls to go right to the current distance limits. Increasing the test speed by 5 mph and hitting shots at low spin rates and higher launch angles would make all of today’s balls go too far and become non-conforming. However, it has been stated that more than 30 percent of all golf ball models submitted for conformance across the game are likely to be approved with the new regulations.
All golf balls submitted to the USGA for conformance during or after October 2027 will be evaluated using the new protocol. Everyday golfers can continue to use existing golf balls in 2028 and 2029, but they will be considered older-model balls. The rollback will go into effect for everyone January 2030.
What are your thoughts on the golf ball rollback? Leave us a comment below.
Source(s): Golf Digest, Golf.com, & Golfweek
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