Welcome back to another edition of #AskMyGolfSpy where readers like you submit your top questions to our experts here at MGS. You can pass along your questions to the team on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or right here in the comments section below!

For the most part, we don’t have any particular theme to these posts. You ask questions about basically anything, and we answer them. This week is a little different. With the USGA and R&A announcing a plan to rollback the golf ball, we’re focusing entirely on your USGA Rollback questions.

Q: Tony, you bring up a good point about the LIV Tour.  What rules govern their play? USGA and R&A? They have their own rulebook? – Kilted Golfer

A: I get called an idiot a lot, so you had me at “you bring up a good point.” Like other professional tours, LIV currently plays under the USGA/R&A rulebook but like those other professional tours, they’re under no obligation to do so.

Given the USGA/R&A’s place as a unifying force, it simply made sense for everyone to play by a single set of rules.

With that particular horse ready to bust out of the barn, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that LIV (assuming it’s still around in 2026) might go in another direction, especially if playing by its own rules has the potential to boost ratings.

To throw a bit more gasoline on the fire, it’s far from a given that the PGA TOUR will adopt the model local rule. We could end up with a situation where USGA and R&A events are the only ones mandating a new ball, in which case it’s possible the governing bodies could scrap this whole idea and go back to the drawing board.

Q: What about the LPGA/women’s game? – Multiple readers

USGA Rollback

A: The USGA and R&A have indicated they have no plans to implement the model local rule at the U.S. Women’s Open or Women’s Open Championship. The thinking is that distance isn’t a problem in the women’s game. With that, the probability is the LPGA Tour would choose not to play under the proposed rule.

Ultimately, that means that, at the professional level, men and women will play by different rules (as it relates to the ball).

Q: Now that the proposed criteria are out, it would be interesting to see how far back you have to go in technology to “find” a historical Tour-level ball that would conform? -Frakk

USGA Rollback

A: Technically not a question but, as we noted in our story on the rollback announcement, there are balls on the market today that would likely conform to the proposed model local rule. We’re talking Pinnacle Soft, Callaway REVA and Supersoft MAX. I’d expect others of similar spec (Wilson DUO, maybe) would conform as well. Spit-balling a bit, but I think we’re looking sub-50 compression, perhaps a bit lower.

As far as the how far back we’d have to go to find a ball that would conform to the new rule and was actually played on Tour …

Looking over the data in the 2020 Distance Insights Report, it’s reasonable to attribute about 15 yards worth of average distance gained to the time between the full the adoption of the solid core ball and the 2004 implementation of the current ODS (Overall Distance Standard) used for testing.

The emergence of the solid core ball resulted in big gains, but effectively, ball distance has been capped since 2004 and, unlike the whole COR/CT thing for driver faces, there isn’t really any gray area. It’s a hard stop.

For what it’s worth because of things like feel preferences and trajectory and spin needs, it’s not like every ball is at the limit anyway, though many are close.

As for your original question, you might be able to find an early-generation solid-core ball that would conform to the new rules (especially if there’s something out there with notably poor aerodynamics) but it’s certainly possible you’d have to go back to balata.

Anticipating the follow-up … No, we’re not going back to balata. While we’re told there may be a machine or two still around, nobody has produced a wound ball in quite some time.

Q: What’s wrong with just having one ball available for everyone? All manufacturers producing one ball of similar specs—that would lead to players only having a manufacturer to pick from, not a multitude of balls from one manufacturer. – Mark

USGA Rollback

A: What’s wrong with just having one driver available for everyone? What about one iron specification? How about everybody uses the same wedges (no grind options) and putter? While we’re at it, why not have everyone wear the same model (and size) of shoes?

What I’m driving at is that “similar” isn’t “same” and, at some point, we have to acknowledge that launch and trajectory and spin—even with a golf ball—are fitting variables.

To illustrate the point, I pulled data from our 2021 Ball Test. Looking only at balls with true Tour-level specifications (urethane covers, compression in the mid-80s or higher), there’s 500-rpm difference between the highest- and lowest-spinning balls (that’s pushing twice what we’d expect to see if we changed driver loft by one degree).

Using peak height as our primary trajectory metric, it’s a difference of 20 feet. That may not sound like a lot but Tour pros are notorious for wanting to flight the ball through specific “windows.” In this case, we’re talking about windows two stories apart.

Off irons, the spin delta is roughly 1,100 rpm with 12 feet between our windows.

My point in all of this is that, just like mandating a single driver spec or even a single shoe model, you’re ultimately providing an advantage to the guys the singular piece of mandated gear, by luck, just happens to fit better.

That’s inherently unfair.

Any time a rule change is being discussed, one of the things I look at is whether the governing bodies are trying to mandate what amounts to a fitting variable. Any rule that does should be a non-starter.

Q: I don’t understand why the golf ball manufacturers are up in arms. They’ve been supplying limited-flight practice balls to ranges for decades. Is it not the same principle? – Ian W

A: It’s not exactly the same.

A limited-flight ball doesn’t fly like a Tour ball. Construction is fundamentally different, as are flight and spin properties. It’s not an easy thing to create a ball that feels, flies and spins like a Tour ball off every club in the bag but flies 15 to 20 yards shorter.

Q: Would it not be much simpler to reduce shaft length? – Ben Tidy

USGA Rollback

A: There’s been plenty of questions around, “Couldn’t they (fill in the blank)?” Everything has been floated from reducing driver CT, shrinking driver heads and limiting tee height to faces that collapse at excessive speed (Peter Kostis) and as Ben brought up, reducing shaft length.

While some of those may be a bit more farfetched than others, any or all of the above would have an impact.

Two things to consider here.

First, from the initial comment period, I think the governing bodies learned pretty quickly that the result of any attempt to restrict the driver would likely be faster/longer fairway woods.

And then what? Then you go after those and very quickly it starts to look like you’re chasing your tail with no particular direction (more so than some would say it already does).

The second thing is that all those proposals are limited to the driver.

The golf ball is the only piece of equipment you use on every shot so while we’ve largely talked about distance in the context of the driver, the proposed rule has the potential to steal distance from every club in the bag.

Q: Is it REALLY going to make ANY difference if the pros drive it 15 yards shorter? Do some extrapolation and they’ll hit a 7-iron, say, six yards shorter? Typical USGA idiot response. Been to any PGA events lately? Gone are the Tim Herrons of the Tour. Most of these guys today are athletes! – Mike

A: See above.

The thinking is the rollback will result in the loss of fifteen or 20 yards (it’s early but the guys at the ball companies I’ve spoken with think 15 yards is underestimating the loss) off the driver. Lose more still off fairway woods and irons (which is possible with a new ball rule) and now you’re in the ballpark of being able to future-proof against distance gains and perhaps play professional golf in a smaller ballpark.

Q: Would it realistically be possible for manufacturers to develop a core that “collapses” when being impacted by a certain amount of force? This would keep performance as-is for slower guys but if you hit the skin off it it’s not gonna go as far. – Steven S

A: They already have. They’re called low-compression or “soft” golf balls.

I’m kidding—but only a little. When a low-compression ball is hit at higher speed than it can support, the core suffers from excessive deformation which results in lower speed and less distance.

Q: Would the USGA Rollback affect handicap calculations? Two different ones?! – Stephane G

A: Good question. I’ll get back to you when the USGA and R&A address the issue and come up with a solid workable solution. I think we’re solidly in the “we’ll figure it out” stage of that particular discussion.

Q: My main issue with the USGA and R&A is that they seem to be mostly interested in setting rules focused on the “elite” golfer. They rarely spend much time and energy setting rules that make golf more enjoyable for the “recreational“ golfer who represent the vast majority of golfers. – Chris C

A: For all the talk of preservation of the game, I’m not convinced it has much to do with golfers at all. I think this is all about preservation of the status quo as it relates to championship venues.

I believe what the governing bodies are ultimately interested in is ensuring that the pro tours will always be able to be able to compete at what are often considered the game’s premier venues such as St Andrews and Augusta and basically anywhere else they view as golf’s hallowed ground.

You know …  your basic “temples of the game” nonsense.

While there is a practical limit to distance, I do think a reasonable argument can be made that some courses are at risk of not being able to support a play style the governing bodies deem worthy of their status. That whole “everyone is hitting driver-wedge on every hole” mythology.

Whether or not that’s real, I actually don’t care. This won’t be a universally popular opinion but Augusta has proven that it can manage and, should the day come the governing bodies decide that a venue like St Andrews can’t match the muscle of the modern tour pro, that’s fine.

Again, I don’t care.

None of that diminishes its status as one of the world’s great courses, neither does it mean it will close its doors.

Let the pros play elsewhere. Those courses are still there for the rest of us.

Q: What would happen if the ball manufacturers refused to comply with the USGA Rollback? – Robin C

A: I don’t see that happening. It would take a level of cooperation (or perhaps collusion) that seems unlikely where being the only guy willing to make a Tour ball—the unofficial official ball—would likely prove advantageous.

If all of the leading brands refused to produce a conforming ball, somebody else would step in.

Q: Can you imagine different events having different rules? That would be a shit show. – Mark (The Golf Addict).

A: The (shit) show hasn’t started yet but it sure looks like tickets will be available soon.

More Questions?

As always, if you have any questions for the MGS crew (and they don’t have to be about the golf ball) – drop them below for a chance to be featured in next week’s #AskMyGolfSpy!

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