Golf ball rollback receives mixed response as PGA Tour oppose governing bodies plan
6th December 2023

Golf balls will be undergoing new testing beginning in 2028

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The R&A and USGA’s plans to rollback the golf ball and reduce the distance they travel have been met with a lukewarm response with the PGA Tour a notable opponent.

The plans from the game’s governing bodies has been put forward in the face of ever-increasing modern driving distances in the professional game. The hope is to tackle issues around the sustainability of golf courses amid fears that some will soon become too small to host tournaments as players hit the ball further.

Initially, both groups proposed the introduction of a Model Local Rule which would have seen pros use different golf balls than recreational golfers, although this received widespread opposition.

However, the R&A and USGA have stuck to their guns and instead will now rollback the golf ball for both professionals and recreation players to appease opponents of a bifurcated game. The new balls are expected to see a reduction in distance of 11-15 yards for professionals, with recreational players only affected by less than five yards.

Speaking after the announcement, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers argued the measures were “proportionate” and will have “minimal” impact on recreational players but not everyone is in agreement.

While welcoming changes to some of March’s initial proposals, the PGA Tour said they still believe the changes to be “disproportional to the rate of increase we see when analysing PGA Tour radar data.” In a letter to players, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan went further, stating: “We do not support today’s announcement…believing a more moderate adjustment is appropriate.”

The plans have also received criticism from some equipment manufacturers. In a statement, David Abeles, TaylorMade CEO said: “As a brand that prioritizes improving product performance for golfers of all skill levels, the decision to proceed with the golf ball rollback is disappointing.

“While appreciative of the opportunity to have a seat at the table and a voice in the debate, we feel like the rollback is simply disconnected from what golfers believe is best for the game.”

Rory McIlroy has been a vocal supporter of the plans

Despite the noted opposition from several groups, USGA CEO Mike Whan has stood behind the plans and urged that loud voices don’t drown out the facts. “There’s going to be a lot of ambulance chasers and alarmists to make this seem so much worse than it really is,” he said, speaking on Golf Channel.

“We’ve run those stats, we ran it by an independent, third-party ball expert and three different ball companies, two of which quickly came back to us and said we agree with your estimate. I don’t want a few loud voices that are trying to get more clicks and more viewers and more phone calls to drive a frenzy that quite frankly just isn’t based in fact.”

And the plans have received plenty of support, most notably from Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. The Northern Irishman, in particular, put out a lengthy statement defending the plans before their official announcement and was again adamant that the proposals were in the best long-term interests of the game.

“There’s all of these environmental factors that come into it – I think that’s the biggest reason we should do this. But, also, from a professional that plays the game, I think it’ll bring back some skills into the pro game that have maybe been lost,” the four-time major champion said, speaking to Sky Sports News after the plans were made official.

“I actually think it will make the pro game more entertaining to watch. I think you’re going to see a different variety of games succeed, it’s not just going to be this bomb and gouge that we see predominantly now when you watch the top level of golf.

“It will bring some of the great, classic courses back into consideration when we go to Major championships. That’s why I’m a big proponent of just making the ball go a little shorter.”

Despite today’s announcement, the plans will still not come into effect in January 2028 for professionals and two years later for recreational players.

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