Tiger Watch

Masters 2023: Tiger Woods backs the golf ball rollback, breaks out balata balls for Rory McIlroy to make a point


Ben Walton

When Tiger Woods speaks, people usually take notice. And when he speaks about a golf ball rollback, it gets even juicier. Woods addressed the hot-button topic Tuesday when talking to the media ahead of his 25th career Masters start. His words are certain to draw further attention after noting he recently hit the modern ball 290 yards on the fly with a persimmon driver and that he brought out a couple of balata balls for Rory McIlroy to try to prep him for possible things to come.

That’s the fun stuff, but Woods was on point about his position favoring the USGA and R&A’s proposed Model Local Rule that would allow the use of a shorter ball for elite competitions.

“If you’re going to do anything about the equipment, I don’t think you can change the size of the heads anymore, just because there are so many out there,” Woods said. “But I still think it’s very much like baseball with aluminum bats [for amateurs] and wooden bats [for professionals]. You can have a difference in the golf ball. Tennis has the same thing. You go to different events and you have different balls. The public doesn’t know that, but the players do.”

Woods referred to “slowing the game down” but asserted the need to do so was because of increased athleticism of golfers.

“Everyone is going to get stronger, bigger and faster as generations go on,” Woods said. “And with technology you’re going to find even if you roll the ball back and get a spinnier golf ball, guys are going to maybe go to a 4-degree driver. You might find a different shaft and you might have that one match up. Yes, I think this should have happened a long time ago. Jack was saying the [Titleist] 384 was going too far in the 1980s. But my take on it is that amateurs should still be able to have fun and still hit the golf ball far but regulate it about how far we hit.”

Woods also spoke to the sustainability issue as reason for getting behind a ball rollback. “Not every golf course can be like Augusta National and move property and move the holes back. There’s only so many golf courses you can do that on. And we still want to be able to play the old, traditional, great golf courses.”


Tiger Woods walks with Justin Thomas during a practice round on Tuesday at Augusta National.

Ben Walton

This is not the first time Woods has broached the topic of a golf ball rollback. In fact, Woods has been in favor of such a move for more than a decade, first calling for one in 2010 at the Deutsche Bank Championship and again in a 2017 podcast interview with UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma.

Still, his words at Augusta National were thoughtful and well expressed, as he appreciated the fact that dealing with increased distance at the pro level wasn’t an easy issue to address, especially given the game’s current popularity.

“Here is the difficulty of the question: The enjoyment of the game,” Woods said. “We have had a big boom in this game with COVID and more people playing the game and it’s more exciting. On tour it’s exciting to see Rory McIlroy hit it 340 yards on every hole. But does it challenge us to separate the guys who can really hit the ball in the middle of the face and control their shots? I think if you roll the ball back a little bit you’ll see better ball strikers will have more of an advantage over the guys who miss it a little bit.”

As for the persimmon driver and balata balls, Woods told a story about being at home last week in Florida playing Medalist G.C. and fooling around with an old persimmon driver. As he was using it, he says he was able to carry drives 290 yards although acknowledging that when he missed it, it wasn’t going very far. His point, however, was that the ability to hit the ball in the middle of the face was rewarded.

Meanwhile, on Monday at Augusta National, Woods brought a couple balata balls out and tossed them over to McIlroy on the practice green, letting him hit a couple of putts with them. “We’re not going to roll the ball back that far, but it’s kinda neat to see the golf ball do different things,” Woods said.

As for how the proposed rule, which currently has a 2026 implementation date, might affect him, Woods said with a smile, “By the time it takes effect I might be long gone.”

Woods is not alone in his position. For years the late Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus each called for throttling things back. Nicklaus, in particular, has been particularly vocal on the topic.

Yet for all of Woods’ comments, the words to watch for will be those of Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley, who is believed to be on the side of the governing bodies. Ridley takes to the podium tomorrow and is sure to be asked the ball question. If his position is in agreement with a rollback, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have players such as Woods and Nicklaus staunchly behind him.

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