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What to make of the proposed golf ball rollback

While some readers of The First Call say leave well enough alone, others believe changes to the ball — and even course setup and equipment — would bring strategy back

US Open Championship 2020
The USGA and R&A have proposed a Model Local Rule that is essentially the rolling back the distance on golf balls. If adopted, the proposal would take effect on Jan. 1, 2026.

Question of the week [March 20-26]: What are your thoughts on the USGA's and R&A's proposed rollback on golf balls for elite competitions?

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The past few weeks have convinced me that professional golfers have no idea as to what makes the sport entertaining.

Exhibit 1: No cut. "[Fans] want to know they can see their favorite golfer on the weekend." No, we don't. Not if he didn't play well enough to earn being there. We want to see the guys playing the best, and often that's a guy who just squeaked into the field by making the cut. Plus, there's the whole drama of who is making or not making the cut. Golf should always be a meritocracy.

Exhibit 2: "People love to see us bomb it." Again, that's fun, but not so the result is that you bypass the architect's design so that you hit a wedge into the green. Driver-wedge golf is boring. I want to see the ball distance controlled so that those traps and rough come more into play and golfers have to hit shots with longer irons or hybrids and take on the course design. 

Terry Fraser
Huntsville, Alabama

On one hand, isn't the new ball rule a little late by maybe 20-plus years, coming now that courses are built out to 8,000-plus yards.

On the other hand, are the new ball rules just a failure by golf course architects to build a better golf course — or maybe just use some of the greatest existing courses as models, think Pebble, Merion and St. Andrews.

And lastly, aren't we all glad that politicians are born with only two hands.

Peter Croppo
Bayfield, Ontario

A solution looking for a problem.

Dave Gebhardt, PGA
Carson City, Nevada

The issue boils down to the fact that older courses that the USGA and R&A love to have host their tournaments, will fall out of favor because they are landlocked and cannot expand to accommodate today's pro and elite golfers.

It used to be that golf holes more than 475 yards in length were deemed par 5s. And, frankly, for most recreational golfers, a 475-yard hole is still a 3-shot hole. But for the top 1% of players, it's a driver and 8-iron.  The alternative is to design and build courses that approach 8,000 yards in total length. To do this will mean these courses will be farther away from urban areas, which the USGA is attracting to take up golf.  

My first rounds of golf were spent at a semi-private golf club with two 18-hole courses that were just over 6,000 yards in length. It even hosted PGA Tour tournaments in the late 1950s. Last year the site was bulldozed for a subdivision. If we don't do something, other courses will see a similar fate.

Mark Kazich
Darien, Illinois

Don’t roll back the ball, tighten fairways and increase the reward for accuracy over distance.

Tom Trump
Key Largo, Florida

My gut reaction to a ball rollback for tour players by the USGA and R&A is why do they care? It’s not like the longer hitters are winning every tournament, or scores are going lower and lower each year. Long hitters didn’t keep Zach Johnson, Corey Pavin or Jim Furyk and a bunch of others from winning a few tournaments.

Kevin Peyton
San Jose, California

Absolutely not, the ball should not be rolled back. The best option would be to make the course conditions tougher — high rough, more doglegs, trees, bunkers and tough pin locations on the green. Make professional players use all of their clubs in the bag, not just driver and wedge into the green.

Ray Talavera

These guys are the best in the world.

If they are all playing under the same specs, then it seems to me they will adapt as we see week after week when they play different courses. Hitting one or two clubs more might add a stroke or two, but it will still be incredible golf

Jay Rogerd
St Louis, Missouri

The rollback for a few events might be worth trying. See how it changes strategy for the players. I’d like to see it.

Steve Sartori
Plymouth, Wisconsin

Johnny Miller of course has the best idea. He said, "Just let the ball spin more." which is a very good idea. Hit it as far as you want if you can keep it straight.

Richard Berger
Los Angeles, California

I think the rollback is probably a good first step to addressing the distance issue. As long as it's applied equally to all the elite level players, it shouldn't cause any major problems, other than in the heads of some of the players. 

For me, an avid 10 handicap golfer, it won't affect me at all. The manufacturers are already producing some special tour balls that I don't play, so why should I care what the elite pros are playing? Do kids playing Little League baseball have less interest in the game because the pros use wood bats instead of aluminum?  I don't think so. 

Who knows, it might even make the game more enjoyable to watch if the pros can't carry every fairway trap and might actually have to hit three shots into an occasional par-5. Oh the horror.

John Abercrombie
Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Golf is best served by one set of rules that applies to all players. There should be no special ball rule for the pros. 

Phil Proger
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

I would say no to rolling back the golf ball.

Athlete's have always found ways to get stronger, golfers included.

We don't need to make the courses longer. Take the drivers out of the elite players' hands by making the landing area (300-plus yards?) a little more penal with hazards or very narrow fairways lined by thick rough. If they can hit it long and straight, then kudos to them. Let the best (or luckiest) win.

John Matulik
Lemont, Illinois

I have no problems with the USGA and R&A rolling back golf balls for elite competitions, whether for professional or amateur. The sport of elite golf competition is 1% of the game of golf.

The vast majority of golfers have absolutely no problem with length. As a golf marshal at a 36-hole daily-fee golf course, it is rare that I see a foursome or twosome on the back tee. And as we are not in the middle of a subdivision, wild golf balls are a threat to golfers, not homes or walkers.

If the PGA Tour wants to play on a historical course that is hemmed in, playing it as designed, where a par 5 is two long shots and then a short approach and two putts (for most players), then it should require them to play a short and spinning ball. They will complain they can’t get to the par 5 in two and I’ll smile.

Mark Chatfield
Houston, Texas

Sometimes the simple and cheap solution is deemed not a good option. Probably because it's embarrassing to have spent many years studying it.

The simple solution is to limit the height of the tee. Perhaps to 1 or 1-1/2 inch. That will reduce the drives with no equipment changes.

I'm a retired  engineer who worked for years in decision making and problem solving. And, yes, a hacker who hits in the 90s who listens to all the golf podcasts on Sirius radio.

Barry Schwartz
Albuquerque, New Mexico

The USGA and R&A proposal completely lacks any scientific logic.

It will only serve to increase the dominance of the long hitters on tours.

For example: 

Player A has a swing speed of over 125 MPH, can easily hit over 300-plus yards and reaches most par 5s in two, and many times with a iron. On long par 3s (220-plus) he is hitting a 6 or 7 iron.  

Player B has a swing speed of 115 MPH and hits ball 280-plus off the tee and hardly hits par 5s in two — or if he does is hitting fairway wood with a dispersion not nearly as good as a player hitting an iron. On long par 3s he has to hit 3 or 4 iron, hybrid or fairway wood 5 to reach. Again his dispersion is worse than Player A hitting an iron.

Decreasing the distance a golf ball travels will cause Player B to have to hit even more long irons, hybrids and woods to hit GIR.  These clubs all have more dispersion error than players hitting an iron. Player A will still be hitting an iron in just one or two clubs lower.  The gap between these players will probably increase even more.  

The revised golf ball will not decrease swing speed, and the gap between long hitters and average hitters will either remain the same or increase.

Secondly, did track and field officials increase the length of how far professional athletes run because they are running faster? No they recognize the human athletes get better due training, diet and technology. Do they make baseball or football fields longer due to better athletes? No, again.   

If an athlete practices hard, works out, studies his game and has a great coach then why shouldn't they be rewarded with better scores. Get rid of wide fairways, little rough and huge greens; have more trees, build British-style pot bunkers and faster sloped greens if you want to improve the game. Just don't penalize the average tour pro by making him play a game with less chance of hitting a GIR. 

Mike Sickels 
Yuba City, California

I firmly believe rolling the golf ball distance back is the right thing to do. Pros are making older courses obsolete, driving over doglegs and fairway bunkers. Golf should be more about shot making than just power. 

Bo McBee
Woodlands, Texas

I'm for the roll back. Otherwise, many beloved courses will become obsolete on the Tour. Iconic courses will have to be stretched out to 8,000 yards to remain competitive. This will mean higher costs, more watering, more maintenance and more fertilizer. This isn't environmentally sound nor is it cost effective. 

Mind you, this is all for less than 1% of the golfers in the world who will only play the respective course once a year. In the case of a U.S. Open site, maybe once every seven to 10 years. No, instead let's make a ball that eliminates the necessity of this and keeps courses that are playing between 6,800 and 7,300 yards relevant.  

My question is, how are they going to do that? Will they limit the number of dimples? Roll back improvements to the core? Further, will they give those specifications to the manufacturers who then come out with Tour-compliant balls from Callaway, TaylorMade or Titleist? I'll bet from a manufacturing standpoint golf companies love the idea. They are always looking for new products to bring online to increase sales.   

John Donovan
Big Lake, Minnesota

This had to happen. Organizations that run golf events need the ability to establish the boundaries of competition. It’s not a mandate from the Rules authorities. It’s a management decision.

Plus, there is zero affect on club or recreational golf.

Tony Austin
Orlando, Florida

I have two problems with this proposal:

1. A young scratch golfer will try and qualify for the U.S. Open. Will he have to use the MLR ball? If so, he will have no experience with it, so he will be at a huge disadvantage.

2. I'm 77, a 6 handicap, fabulous putter and a short-game wizard. I watch the Tours to compare my game with theirs. With them playing a different ball, then there is no longer any relevance, so interest will not be as acute.

Larry Guli
Waxhaw, North Carolina

I think rolling back the golf ball distance is the simplest solution to the players overpowering the existing golf courses. Many of the courses can't be made longer, so working with the golf ball would seem to be a simple solution. The longest hitters are still going to hit longer than the other players, but they will be forced to play the course the way the layout dictates.

Bob Norris
Cincinnati, Ohio

Players on the PGA Tour are a unique segment of the golf world — a segment that has no relevance in terms of the distance they hit today. I mean, 190-yard 9-irons?  330-yard drives? To read pro golfers say words to the effect, “Everyone wants to see us hit it long,” begs the question: If that’s the case, why isn’t ESPN clamoring to show the multiple different Long Drive competitions?  Roll the ball back, bring back historic courses that are no longer relevant and get the distance back under control.

Tommy Jennings
Winder, Georgia

All the USGA and R&A have to do is make the rough tougher. Let it grow so the players just can’t grip it and rip it. Go back to position golf, where the ball has to be in a certain position for your next shot. We’re about out of acreage to keep lengthening the courses. 

Mike Herbert
Hammond, Louisiana

I am not a fan of the proposed golf ball rollback for elite pro and amateur competitions. We’re talking about less than 1% of all golfers. In the U.S., we are talking about only 50-100 golf courses for one week a year at the pro tour level. If we’re looking at protecting these courses 20-40 years from now, as the powers that be say is necessary, from long drives, give them some long rough. Not the 1-2 inch complimentary first cut.

Plus, we’re looking at swing speeds of 127 MPH as a benchmark that no one currently averages. Pros, amateurs, and fans love the long ball. Why take it away? As golf is at its all-time peak in play and fan interest. Athletes are bigger, faster, stronger. The football field is not expanding to 110 yards and the basketball goal is not rising to 12 feet. The longest hitters today will still be the longest if they roll the ball back. Leave well enough alone and lets all continue to enjoy this great game and appreciate what these great athletes are accomplishing. 

Barry Duckworth
Knoxville, Tennessee 

It has been said that golf is an aspirational game. What other sport plays with the same equipment and on the same fields of competition?

How to neutralize distance? Just do what the PGA Tour did at Innisbrook this past weekend for the Valspar Championship — deepen the rough, narrow the fairways, tighten the pin placements and firm up the greens, and 10-under wins.

They were actually hitting less than driver on several holes. That was fun golf to watch.  Par was good and eagles rare, but not impossible.

Tom Bohardt
Naples, Florida

My thoughts on the golf ball change for pros is that they should just leave it the way it is. Other sports do not change equipment for pros vs. amateurs. I play ice hockey — same skates, stick and puck. Amateur baseball uses the same balls and bats. Same with basketball, the net isn't lowered for amateurs. Keep golf the way it is — same balls and equipment for pros and amateurs. 

Steve Craven
Peabody, Massachusetts

They could stop everything where it is now and control the scores with rough, pot bunkers, fast, firm, small greens or a roll back. I'm not a fan of the rollback because one thing the fans want to see is something they can't do. 

Of course, we know distance takes up acreage. The problem now is the lack of action in 2000 when Titleist released the P1V. The other option is a universal ball. Every sport plays with the same ball, puck etc. Last, if the end result is to rein in distance, why not ban all woods and hybrids and have irons only?

Michael Schurman
Durham, Ontario

Not totally sure just what an "elite competition" is, but assuming all professional tournaments are "elite," then I could see the tours saying "No thanks, we will allow our golfers to play the some old 'hot ball.'" Fans want to see birdies and distance. Assuming the USGA and R&A define "elite competitions," then the competitors in such tournaments and qualifiers would use the rolled back ball. So I would guess that those practicing for these events would also use the rolled back ball. I am beginning to see a mass coming about here.

At the normal, run-of-the-mill public or private golf course? The Competition Committee there would designate whether or not to require usage of the rolled back ball in club competitions. Otherwise, for the friendly games, Nassaus, etc. at these facilities the game ball would be decided by those making up the game. Now? The mess has become very clear.

I assume the ball makers (Titleist, Taylormade, etc.) wouldn't mind getting another sort of profit center with another type of ball being introduced into the marketplace, except there wouldn't be any additional balls sold. Now, all is clear as mud.

Suggestion: Why don't the USGA and R&A folks just cool it. Let common sense prevail just this one time.   

Tom Powers
Bradenton, Florida

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