After years of deliberation, it seems that the USGA/R&A plan to roll back the golf ball is coming to fruition.
And while we don’t yet have every detail, there are a few things you need to know about the potential implications on the professional and, more importantly, the amateur game.
What We Know:
The rollback is being handed down to professionals and amateurs by the USGA and R&A
The USGA (the governing body for golf in the United States) and the R&A (which governs the rest of the world except Canada) are, essentially, the gatekeepers of golf. Both have control over golf equipment (i.e., what conforms and is legal for tournament use), as well as the general rules of the sport.
All golfers will lose distance
The original plan laid out in March called for adopting a “modified local rule” that would limit the rollback of the golf ball in professional and elite amateur events. At the time, the governing bodies stated that data did not support rolling back the ball for amateurs.
Somewhere along the way, things changed. Deciding that bifurcation (different equipment rules for pros and amateurs) was worse than taking distance from everyone, the governing bodies plan to roll back the ball for everyone.
While we don’t know exactly how much, you will undoubtedly see a loss in distance in conjunction with the rollback. Often overlooked in the discussion is that the loss of distance won’t be isolated to your driver. You will almost certainly lose distance with the majority of clubs.
The USGA and R&A plan to send a notice to ball manufacturers on Tuesday
The ball manufacturers we’ve spoken to expect to receive the official notice of the rule change on Tuesday. Once the formal notice has been issued and the manufacturers have a chance to run the calculations, we’ll have a much better sense of the real-world implications.
What We Don’t Know:
How long do we have until the golf ball rollback takes full effect?
According to a report from Golf Digest’s Mike Stachura, the rollback will go into effect in 2028 for professionals and 2030 for amateurs. We have every expectation that will hold true in the official notice.
Whether manufacturers will acquiesce
While it wouldn’t surprise us to hear of many golf ball manufacturers opposing the rollback, it’s unclear at this time whether they will pursue legal action against the USGA and R&A.
There is precedent (PING and groove rule controversy) and it’s certainly not out of the question here.
Barring a change of course from the governing bodies, the options on the table are to either file lawsuits or acquiesce to the new guidelines.
What constitutes a conforming golf ball?
The entire premise surrounding the ball rollback is the criterion that a golf ball must meet in order to be considered conforming. The likelihood is that the test speed will increase by at least five mph while leaving the distance limit unchanged at 317 yards.
This means that, inevitably, golf balls will have to become slower and shorter to comply with the new limit. Other test parameters (launch and spin) will also influence the real-world distance implications.
What Does the Golf Ball Rollback Mean For You?
In short, the rollback will affect most of your clubs.
You will see noticeable distance loss. Said one equipment manufacturer’s representative about their player test of a distance-limited prototype ball, “Every golfer noticed and nobody liked it.”
As for the professional ranks, the thinking is that the rollback may be easily overcome through increased speed training. That would be pretty much on par for the USGA/R&A and their most recent rule changes (groove rule, anchoring). Those changes have had negligible impact at the professional level but have worked to the detriment of average golfers.
Read more about the true impacts of the golf ball rollback here.