On Wednesday, the USGA and R&A made official what Golf Digest first reported last week, that they were enacting a change to their golf ball testing protocols that will make the ball travel shorter.
The rollback would be implemented for golfers of all levels in 2030—different than the bifurcated proposal those governing bodies put forward earlier this year. The USGA and R&A predict a 10-15 yards decrease for golf’s longest hitters, down to 1-5 yards for amateurs.
We have finalized the next step in our years-long effort to address consistent increases in hitting distance and golf’s sustainability.
These changes to the Overall Distance Standard will take effect in January 2028.
— USGA (@USGA) December 6, 2023
Naturally, the rule change caused an eruption from golfers on all sides. Let’s break down some of the most noteworthy reactions.
Golf ball maker Bridgestone Golf issued a statement effectively saying they don’t like it, but they accept it and are moving on.
Bridgestone Golf statement regarding USGA/R&A distance roll back announcement: pic.twitter.com/L290S6nJtX
— Bridgestone Golf (@bridgestonegolf) December 6, 2023
McIlroy has been outspoken in support of his rollback. After a tweet over the weekend, McIlroy joined Sky Sports on Wednesday morning to support the official proposal, saying that it’ll lead to a more “skilled” game.
"I think this change will make the game more skilful again" ?
World number two golfer Rory McIlroy has backed the new changes to rules regarding golf ball specifications which will see a reduce in distance they travel ?️? pic.twitter.com/XamHvgVhBA
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) December 6, 2023
McIlroy’s sponsor, TaylorMade Golf, released a statement on the rollback, expressing opposition but acceptance. On Golf Channel, the company’s CEO David Abeles said: “This decision has been made, and we will move forward.”
The PGA Tour, with a vast majority of players being against the decision, released a statement questioning the specifics of the new testing protocols, saying they aren’t representative of on-course speeds.
Callaway Golf carved out a unique position, expressing disappointment that the USGA moved away from a bifurcated proposal.
PGA of America
The PGA of America released a statement praising the delayed timeline of implementing the new rule, but expressing concerns over a “greater reduction of distance than we would advise” for recreational players.
We appreciate that the USGA and R&A ran a collaborative and patient process over the past several years. We are particularly gratified that they heard our concerns regarding the significant operational challenges bifurcation would have presented and are no longer considering a local rule regarding the ball for elite players. We are also pleased that the proposed change to the ball has been delayed until 2028 for elite players and 2030 for recreational golfers. Given the important role our nearly 30,000 PGA of America Golf Professionals play in the recreational game, having more time to adjust to the new rule is helpful. We remain opposed to any change that may potentially lessen the enjoyment of the game for recreational golfers or diminish the unprecedented momentum the game is enjoying. It appears recreational golfers will see a greater reduction in distance than we would advise. While this decrease has been lessened, we continue to recommend being more moderate on the swing speed change for the golf ball conformance test. At this time, we continue to have concerns and look forward to continuing this important conversation and finding resolution with all of our golf industry partners.
USGA and R&A CEOs Mike Whan and Martin Slumbers
Defending their own proposal on Golf Channel, Slumbers said that the move was designed to “protect the long-term health and sustainability of the game…with the environmental concerns,” while Whan punched back against some of the proposal’s critics:
“There’s gonna be a lot of ambulance chasers and alarmists that are gonna make this thing seem so much worse than it really is. … 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 isn’t based in fact.”
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) December 6, 2023
Main image: Mike Ehrmann