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Ball Rollback

Why everyday players? The USGA explains why they switched gears and made the ball rollback for all

December 06, 2023
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Huw Fairclough

OK, the proverbial cat is out of the bag. Everyone is getting shorter starting in 2030. But why? Earlier this year USGA CEO Mike Whan firmly stated, “We don’t see recreational golf obsoleting golf courses any time soon.”

So what changed?

At its base it came down to the fact few were in favor of bifurcating the rules (as the originally proposed Model Local Rule would have done), some might not have abided by the Local Rule and manufacturers and golf associations didn’t want the confusion that would be caused by producing different balls for elite golfers and everyday players.

Thomas Pagel, chief governance office for the USGA spoke to Golf Digest on the topic of why the decision to include a rollback for all levels of golfers.

“While frankly, some of us were uncomfortable because it did enter into the realm of bifurcation, we thought for this issue, for the topic of distance, focusing on the elite level was the proper thing. We then had overwhelming feedback on this concept of bifurcation or Model Local Rule for the golf ball. Some of that feedback came from manufacturers, although I'll be the first to tell you, not every manufacturer had the same feedback. We've heard from the PGA Tour. We've heard from other tours. We've heard from elite players. We've heard from the PGA of America and their members. We've heard from folks like our allied golf associations who talked about the concept of defining elite golfers. Do I use this at my state amateur? Do I use this at my state open? What about my junior amateur? What are you guys going to do for the U.S. Junior Amateur? Then the LPGA I think was faced with the challenge of jeez, do we stay tied to the professional game and use a Model Local Rule or do we stay tied with the recreational game? Everybody was looking at it through their own lens, but the feedback was loud.”

Those practical challenges led to some very frank conversations that, according to Pagel, included some stakeholders saying if there were a Model Local Rule they weren’t going to use it.

“At that point, it becomes a bit of a paper exercise,” said Pagel. “If it's not used, you're not providing a solution for the game. So ultimately, it led us to making a change across the game.”

Still, realizing golfers don’t want to lose anything, the goal was to minimize the impact. Being able to mitigate distance loss off the tee at an estimated one to five yards made the governing bodies more comfortable with the rollback for all direction.

“It’s five yards at most and likely limited to your driver,” Pagel said. “I don't want to minimize people's feelings or concerns about losing even a yard. We all have those concerns. We all want that extra yard or two. But just put this in the practical senses of this would mean, you know, 222 yards instead of 225. And you do have the ability to move tees up. You do have the ability to play forward tees. I would just say trust in the process. Over the next six years, I think we'll find that the sky hasn't fallen, the game is still going to be healthy.”

Part of that is the fact that, according to Pagel, one-third of the balls currently on the conforming list would conform in 2030. In other words, plenty of golfers are already using golf balls that would conform, hence they wouldn’t see any difference.

You may see a difference. You may not. But one thing is now undeniable: We’re all in this together.