USGA, R&A dialing in on drivers, balls

Governing bodies to continue monitoring 'areas of interest' on distance, focusing on driver heads and how golf balls are tested, in hopes of reducing speed in both

149th Open Championship
Ryan Palmer on the 10th tee during the 1st round of the 2021 British Open at Royal St Georges in Kent, England.

As suspected, the USGA and R&A are not nearly done with their painstaking investigation into reining in distance among elite players, specifically those competing on the world’s professional tours.

On Wednesday, golf’s governing bodies reiterated two "areas of interest" they identified in February 2021 — one involving driver heads and the other, a proposed change to the way balls are tested. Both are aimed at reducing speed with the modern ball and driver.

In October, the USGA and R&A announced a Model Local Rule, that would allow tournament committees to limit the length of any club, excluding putters, to 46 inches, beginning in 2022. Previously, the limit was 48 inches. The PGA Tour instituted the rule on Jan. 1.

Now, the governing bodies want to change the way golf balls are tested, related to conforming with the Overall Distance Standard, which is currently 317 yards, at a clubhead speed of 120 mph. The proposed changes would increase the speed to “at least” 125 mph and to use “optimized launch angle and spin parameters” for each ball tested.

The aim is to better reproduce the conditions of the professional game’s longest hitters. The assumption appears to be that under the proposed new parameters, tour level balls would surpass the 317-yard limit and therefore, no longer be allowed in competition.

The governing bodies also suggest the Initial Velocity Test could be modified or eliminated to provide ball manufacturers "the opportunity for innovation for shorter hitters."

The USGA and R&A also appear to advocate for a reduction of spring-like effect in drivers and a reduction in the limits of moment of inertia (MOI), both in an effort to reduce distance.

The current coefficient of restitution (COR) is 0.83, which means the energy of the ball leaving the clubface can be no more than 83 percent of the energy at impact. A lower COR limit would have an immediate effect on reducing distance but the exact amount is currently only known to the governing bodies and equipment manufacturers.

The governing bodies also want to examine MOI, which is the resistance to twisting on off-center hits. The higher the MOI, the more distance the player gets on hits away from the center of the clubface, which makes the club more forgiving. The current limit is 5900 gm·cm2. By reducing the MOI in drivers used by elite players, the USGA and R&A appear to want more of a premium on center strikes and reduced distance on mis-hits. They also want to examine the elimination of MOI limits for clubs used by recreational golfers.

The USGA and R&A have told the game’s stakeholders they can provide “feedback and research” by Sept. 2.

Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said in a statement, “We have been working through this process carefully and collaboratively with the golf industry and greatly appreciate the constructive feedback we have received. Our thinking on these areas continues to evolve and we believe we are moving in the right direction to maintain the balance between skill and technology in golf that we have said is important. We will continue to work quickly but carefully as we look to resolve this complex and challenging issue for the sport as a whole.”

“We’re moving forward on this important work because we want golf to remain just as strong 50 years from now as it is today,” said Mike Whan, CEO of the USGA, also in a statement. “It energizes all of us to do what is in the best interests in the game and keep it thriving long into the future.”

The USGA and R&A also released their combined 2021 Annual Driving Distance Report. The full report can be found here.