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PGA Tour players torch governing bodies on golf ball rollback; Keegan Bradley calls it 'stupid' and 'monstrous'

December 02, 2023

Keegan Bradley plays his second shot on the third hole during the third round of the Hero World Challenge.

David Cannon

NASSAU, Bahamas — One of the things Keegan Bradley has done during the offseason is test golf balls. Srixon made him a special set of balls. They were of the potential rollback variety.

So the six-time PGA Tour winner already has some practical experience with what the USGA and R&A might be getting ready to do. Citing industry sources, Golf Digest reported Friday that golf’s governing bodies are expected to announce next week a rule change that would universally roll back golf ball distances. The expected rule change comes after a three-year “Notice and Comment” period with equipment manufacturers and other golf organizations, including the PGA Tour.

It is expected that a new standard for testing the conformity of golf balls would be introduced for elite players and competitions in 2028 and then for recreational players in 2030.

“Srixon made whatever the USGA was saying, and it was 40, 50 yards [shorter] with my driver,” Bradley, 37, said Saturday at the Hero World Challenge. “I was a club or two shorter. I think that the USGA … everything that they do is reactionary. They don't think of a solution. They just think we're going to affect a hundred percent of the population that plays golf. For the amateur world to hit the ball shorter is monstrous. I can't think of anything more stupid than that. I don't think it's very smart at all, especially when golf's growing in popularity literally coming out of COVID."

Among players who were asked about the potential rule change at the Hero World Challenge, no one thought a universal roll back was a good idea. And only tournament host Tiger Woods thinks it would be the right thing to do in the professional game. He and World No. 2 Rory McIlroy have been the biggest proponents of reigning in the ball at the elite level.

“We've been hammering the ball needs to slow down,” Woods, 47, said after a third-round one-under 71 at Albany, “but it has kept speeding up my entire time on tour and here we are. I've always been for bifurcation. I've always said that. Just like wood bats and metal bats [in baseball].”

On Sunday morning, Rory McIlroy took to X (formerly Twitter) with an passionate case for the rollback and against its critics.

Former U.S. Open champion Justin Rose was surprised to hear that the governing bodies were considering an across-the-board change for amateurs as well as professionals.

“I think the way I saw it going was the tour doing one thing [with a model local rule] and maybe major championships doing another. And that puts a lot of pressure on the tour,” Rose, 43, of England, said. “Now if recreational golf is rolling back, too, it doesn't make sense for the tour to stay where we were. Because I think if the amateurs were going to continue to stay where they were, the tour, were going to say, ‘OK, we're going to stay where we are because we want the fan to be able to relate to the tour player.’ That made sense to me. And then obviously if there was a ball for a major championship then so be it, we'd have to learn how to adapt. So that's the way I would've hedged it going. Now it's even a weirder situation. The amateurs are playing the ball that's slower than what we're playing on tour. That doesn't feel right either.”

Rickie Fowler is not a fan of the ruling bodies making any change to the ball at any level. “There are other ways of going about this,” he said, adding that they are "20 years too late" on the issue.

But he is especially opposed to a shorter ball for recreational players. “To take the game and knock it back when it's in the best position it's ever been in, I don't want to see it as the golf ball being necessarily the right move,” Fowler added. “I don't see how when we're at the best place the game has ever been. ‘Oh, you love the game? Yeah. Hey, thanks for joining us over COVID. Now we're going to make you hit it 20 yards shorter. Have fun.' I understand both sides. But looking at it as far as the game and everyone talks about growing the game, I think it's going to be a huge step back.”

Bradley, who already had to adjust his game to a change in equipment rules several years ago when the governing bodies prohibiting an anchored putting stroke, wonders how he and his peers will be forced to adjust their games further.

“I don’t know what the ramifications are going to be with the ball—what they're going to do, what direction they going to go,” he said. “It would have to be a complete overhaul of the equipment that I use, the shafts that I use. Yeah, I mean the amount of change that's happened just in the course of my career is insane.

“I think we constantly get penalized for mistakes they [USGA and R&A] make. Whether if they let the ball go too far, that's not our problem. They [are doing this] to punish not only the professional golfers, but the world of golf for something that they screwed up on. I really think it's one of the dumbest things I've ever heard of.”