On Tuesday, the R&A and USGA announced their plans to introduce a “golf ball roll back” for elite competitions in 2026. According to the R&A and USPA, on the professional scene “over the last 20 years hitting distance has increased on average by around one yard per year” and we’ve seen many courses that host the big events extend holes in an effort to compensate for the increased hitting distance.
A particularly long drive by Bryson DeChambeau made everyone take notice – he smashed a 417-yard drive on the par 5 fifth hole at Whistling Straits in the 2021 Ryder Cup. This year Rory McIlroy leads the PGA Tour’s driving distance statistics with an average of 326.6 yards and a total of 83 players boast an average of 300 yards or more. By contrast, in 1999 John Daly led the stats with an average of 305.6 yards – and he was out on his own.
The powers that be are proposing a new “Model Local Rule” that would give competition organisers an option to require “use of golf balls that are tested under modified launch conditions to address the impacts of hitting distance in golf.” Basically, this means that the professionals wouldn’t be able to use their current balls and experts reckon that drives might travel 20 yards less with the balls that meet the proposed requirements. However, this is only for elite men’s competitions – the recreational golfer will not be affected! Phew!!!
This announcement has caused uproar, more so in the USA than locally. Some of the pros have spoken out – DeChambeau said “I think it’s the most atrocious thing that you could possibly do to the game of golf.” He added: “I think it’s the most unimaginative, uninspiring, game-cutting thing you could do. Everybody wants to see people hit it farther. That’s part of the reason why a lot of people like what I do. It’s part of the reason a lot of people don’t like what I do.”
DeChambeau isn’t exactly Mr Popular these days, however others, such as Justin Thomas, voiced their disappointment of the proposed changes.
Safe to say Justin Thomas is not a fan of the proposed golf ball rollback. pic.twitter.com/s5CK83HUAI
— Golf Monthly (@GolfMonthly) March 15, 2023
Acushnet, parent company of the world’s number one golf ball manufacturer Titleist, has unsurprisingly come out strongly against the proposed Model Local Rule
The company had previously said, “The game’s growth and global appeal are linked to unification. Bifurcation of the rules breaks that link.”
Bifurcation? That word kept appearing in reports and tweets last week – “the division of something into two branches or parts”. Commentators issued statement after statement claiming that two different types of regulations for balls would mean club golfers would no longer be able to identify with the professionals. How many club golfers average 300-yards with their driver?
I’m not condoning the proposed change, however I’m interested to read that, Titleist, and no doubt TaylorMade, Srixon, Callaway et al, are concerned that we won’t be able to compare ourselves to Rory, Shane, Bryson and Cameron if we’re playing with a different ball? I would need to be playing with a remote-controlled ball to even contemplate comparing my golf to theirs!
Apparently Titleist also said “In addition, multiple versions of golf ball models in the market would be confusing to golfers.” Well, they’ve already got 12 different ball models for sale at the moment… including six different types of ProV1. I’m already confused!
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