124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

Ball Rollback

Masters 2023: Augusta National chairman sounds ready to support a golf ball rollback if implemented


David Cannon

Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus are on record being in favor of the USGA and R&A’s Model Local Rule (MLM) that would allow elite competitions the ability to require using a ball that goes about 15 yards shorter off the tee, starting in 2026. Those two, powerful as they are, however, can’t implement anything. Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley, however, can. As such, his words during his Wednesday press conference ahead of the 2023 Masters were expected to be perhaps the most significant to date about the distance debate.

Not quite. But they were not insignificant, either.

Ridley was measured in his response to a question regarding the proposed rollback. “A few weeks ago, the R&A and USGA proposed a Model Local Rule that reduces distance at the men’s elite level,” he said. “As the comment period remains open, we will be respectful of the process as the USGA and the R&A consider this important issue. We have been consistent in our support of the governing bodies and we re-state our desire to see distance addressed.”

So not a full-throated endorsement, but a clear hint that if the MLR went into effect, the Masters would likely adopt it.

Ridley’s comments fell in line with those he’s made in previous pre-Masters press conferences. In 2021, for instance, he noted: “We have had a long-standing position of supporting the governing bodies. I was very encouraged when I saw the areas of interest that were published by the USGA and R&A recently. I know there have been varying opinions among players and others, other stakeholders in golf, and that's really how the process should work.

“I would add that as far as I understand what is being studied, that part of the study would be—would not be intended to make it more difficult or to impose regulations that would make it more difficult for higher handicappers to play.

“We are concerned about that issue. Growth of the game is a big issue. But our position would be to support the governing bodies, and then if there is no action taken, for whatever reason, then we need to look at other options with regard to our golf course and what we can do to continue to challenge these great golfers and maintain the design integrity that was initially adopted by Mr. Jones and Mr. MacKenzie.”

As part of the club’s approach and thinking about distance, Ridley did say that he was taking the opinions of players into account. “I do listen to players. We had a great evening last night at the Champions Dinner, and as I do every year, I solicited the input of all of our champions. I told them that we typically don't take a lot of suggestions, but they have the license to feel free to do so.”

Almost two decades ago, then Masters chairman Hootie Johnson noted the club’s concern at the time with distance, suggesting that one day the tournament might take it upon itself to require players to compete with a slowed down “Masters ball” that the club would implement. Ridley, however, did not seem to think it was something the club would take into its own hands:

“I don't think that's a practical solution. I'm very familiar with Hootie Johnson's comments, as you all are, about 20 years ago. I think Hootie was trying to make a point; that that's something that, if we decided we wanted to do it, we could do it. But I don't think it's a practical solution.”

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