The USGA and R&A have taken the first definitive steps towards a rollback of the golf ball. The comment period will be open until mid-August after which time, presumably, the final decision will be made.

To be clear, absolutely nothing is happening right now—and even if the proposed change is adopted, it won’t take effect until January 2026.

That said, it feels like a certainty that a rollback is coming.

What is the golf ball rollback plan?

In a nutshell, the proposal is a model Local Rule (MLR) based on a change in the Overall Distance Standard (ODS).

It’s the same approach the governing bodies took in limiting (more accurately, providing the choice to limit) driver length to 46 inches.

The ODS is the rule that says a golf ball cannot travel more than 317 yards (+ a 3-yard tolerance) with launch conditions of 120 mph (clubhead speed), 2,520 rpm and a 10-degree launch angle.

The current standard was adopted in 2004.

The golf ball rollback proposal would modify the actual launch conditions to 127 mph and 2,200 rpm with an 11-degree launch angle. The maximum distance of 317 yards (+3) would not change.

If you’re wondering where the new standard comes from, 127 mph represents the top one percent of shots on the PGA TOUR. It doesn’t represent the fastest player on Tour. It’s not a number that any golfer, let alone group of golfers, achieves with regularity.

The launch and spin parameters represent the optimal distance generating numbers for someone with a 127-mph clubhead speed.

One could make an argument that these values are problematic. As noted, nobody on Tour generates 127-mph head speed with regularity. As far as launch and spin are concerned, there’s likely a sizeable gap between optimal and what golfers actually do.

One manufacturer we reached out to told us that they only time they’ve seen someone average 127 mph, the launch angle was around 6-degrees while spin was in the 2800 RPM range. In other cases where golfers have come close to 127, actual spin numbers have always been above 2600. The real-world implications are likely to be distance losses beyond the USGA’s predictions.

Today’s USGA numbers are the stuff of fairy tales.

“Future-proofing” the game

An oft-repeated theme during the USGA’s call to announce the proposed changes is protecting the future of the game. The general idea being that distance might be kind of a problem now, but in 20, 30 or 40 years it could threaten the existence of the game as we know it.

Hyperbolic? Perhaps.

There’s certainly not universal agreement on the extent to which a problem exists today and nothing I’ve seen from the USGA to date includes any information about the theoretical limitations on how fast humans can swing a club (while still maintaining passable accuracy).

The proposal seems to work off the suggestion that speed increases will increase linearly and indefinitely, which is arguably a bit of a stretch.

So, yeah, some of this does have an element of Doomsday Preppers (Governing Bodies Edition) but I believe the USGA and R&A hold a sincere belief that if they get this wrong, the long-term consequences will be dire.

This isn’t about where the game is today; it’s about where it could end up without a course correction.

Environmental responsibility

As has been a frequent refrain, the USGA again cited the need to be environmentally responsible, with the subtext being that longer courses are less sustainable. There’s some obvious nuance in that as a good bit of it depends on the design of the course itself.

I’d argue that a 8,000-yard course in the style of Bandon Dunes is significantly more sustainable than an 8,000-yard TPC Sawgrass.

At some point, it’s on course designers and operators to be more responsible and that’s without touching on the reality that the world has minimal need for 8,000-yard courses anyway. There just aren’t enough Tour stops to justify them.

A golf ball rollback won’t impact recreational golfers*

To its credit, the USGA appears to have listened to the overwhelming feedback that pleaded that it not do anything to negatively impact the recreational part of the game.

That appears to be how it landed on the proposed Model Local Rule. In theory, the objective isn’t to force change but to give organizations and venues the choice of adopting the rule where and when it sees fit.

The proposed MLR isn’t so much a decree as it is a new option within the Rules of Golf.

The USGA and R&A both stated that they would adopt the MLR for their men’s competitions, most notably the U.S. Open and Open Championship. Neither currently sees a need to apply the MLR to the women’s game.

Men’s and women’s professional golf championships hosted by the same organizations playing by different rules. Yeah … that’s not weird at all.

Likewise, it’s unlikely your home course or local muni will implement the MLR. There’s no point. We don’t hit the ball too far. The governing bodies have acknowledged as much (finally).

With all of that said, if the MLR sounds a hell of a lot like bifurcation, well …

“That’s a word that I think has caused some anxiety for governing bodies in the past but in this instance, if somebody wants to call this bifurcation, I’m not going to have an argument over words with them,” says USGA CEO Mike Whan. “Use of a Model Local Rule is something that we’ve done consistently over the years. We’ve always said it gives the game options and in this case we’re just giving the game options.”

That’s fair.

Call it whatever you want. It is what it is. Though it does feel like this isn’t your granddad’s USGA.

I’m old enough to remember when any form of bifurcation was a non-starter.

What does a golf ball rollback mean for most of you?

If you’re the typical recreational golfer, the proposed change means mostly nothing (more on the mostly part in a bit). You’re going to be able to keep playing the same type of balls you’ve always played and it’s a safe bet that manufacturers will continue to churn out new and improved models every year or two.

You’re not going to lose distance and, according to the USGA, there’s a chance you might even gain a few yards as it gives some thought to relaxing the distance standards for slower swing speeds.

What does a golf ball rollback mean for some of you?

If you trend a bit closer to what the industry likes to refer to as an “elite amateur,” if you compete in Open qualifiers, Mid-Ams or anything where pros mingle with amateurs or that serves as a pathway to professional competition or otherwise meets the uncomfortably loose definition of an elite amateur competition, the waters aren’t particularly clear.

The same thing is true at the college level where the NCAA will have a decision to make. Will they or won’t they? And doesn’t make sense to apply the same rules to a guy that hits it 330 and seems destined for the PGA TOUR as it does to a D3 guy hitting it 280 while habitually posting scores in the mid to high 70s?

Ultimately, the challenge in equitable application of the MLR is the result of the unique nature of competitive golf.

In golf, amateurs sometimes compete with pros at the same venues. That doesn’t work particularly well if the rules are different and it doesn’t seem like the governing bodies have a handle on exactly at what level the application of the MLR should start.

While that exact question was posed in the post-announcement chat, it largely went unanswered with the R&A’s Martin Slumbers observing that golf wouldn’t be alone in tackling the challenge: “There are many other sports that have this sort of split model and they seem to find a very clear way of being able to do it and I’m sure we will too.”

Far from a definitive answer, but the upside is there is a bit of lead time to sort it out.

What does a golf ball rollback mean for golf ball manufacturers?


The USGA believes the proposal will lead to a reduction of 15 yards on the average drive.

At the Tour level, while that’s not nothing, it’s not massive. It’s small enough to make me wonder if this is actually worth doing. But again, we’re building for the future here.

Regardless of the actual number of yards lost to a rollback, the proposed MLR will require ball manufacturers to re-engineer absolutely everything of consequence within their current lineups.

With a firm proposal now in play, manufacturers will need to do more testing but, preliminarily, Acushnet (Titleist) believes the only ball in its current lineup that would conform to the new rule is the Pinnacle Soft.

For Callaway, the initial thinking is that everything other than REVA and Supersoft MAX would be non-conforming.

Bridgestone hasn’t been willing to say exactly which of its current offerings would conform, saying only, “Our TOUR B line was built to conform under the current standard.”

I think you get the point.

The ripple here is that none of what would be conforming under a new rule is likely to meet Tour player expectations. The feel is dramatically softer, the flight significantly higher and the spin is, by comparison, non-existent.

Ultimately, it means that every brand that makes a ball for the Tour will need to undertake a full-throttle R&D effort to redesign an entire suite of golf balls that otherwise performs like what the professionals are using right now while still conforming to the new standard.

Consider for a moment that a change to the golf ball impacts the performance of every club in the bag. Reengineering for a rollback is by no means a simple undertaking. Likewise, it’s not an inexpensive one, either.

Manufacturers effectively will be forced to invest a significant amount of money into a golf ball (likely several golf balls because, even at reduced distances, golfers have unique launch and spin requirements) that they can’t sell.

Are you interested in paying $50 a dozen for a ball that’s measurably shorter than what you’re playing right now?

I get the allure of playing what the pros play but it’s a hard pass for me.

Unfortunately, somebody is going to have to eat the extra R&D expenses and the seemingly inevitable likelihood is that part of the cost of developing a new Tour ball will be passed on to the consumer.

So, while the proposed rollback is unlikely to impact the ball you play, it could impact what you pay for it.

What manufacturers have said so far…

While we expect more in the coming days, weeks and months ahead, thus far only Titleist and Bridgestone have released statements.

As the #1 Ball brand on the market, as you’d expect, Titleist isn’t fully on board with any rollback plan. The company has disputed many of the findings in the USGA’s Distance Insights Report so it’s not a shock it has issues with the proposal.

Among other things included in the statement, company CEO David Maher says, “the proposal of a golf ball bifurcation is in many respects a solution in search of a problem.”

The company position is that “a unified set of rules is essential to the game’s allure” and that “bifurcation would be detrimental to golf’s long-term well-being.”

At a minimum, it sure does complicate things.

Bridgestone’s statement wasn’t nearly as pointed, with the key point being that the company is “pleased that the proposed changes do not appear to be aimed at recreational players.”

Me, too.

What does a golf ball rollback mean for the PGA TOUR?

It seems likely the PGA TOUR will adopt the MLR for all competition. Two of the four majors are controlled by the governing bodies. They’re going to use the MLR. Given the efforts involved in almost continuously lengthening the course, it’s logical to think Augusta National will embrace the rollback as well.

The idea of using one ball spec for majors and another for other Tour competitions is, frankly, unfathomable.

Of course, I said the same thing about a different set of rules for the men’s and women’s professional tours but that seems likely to happen … and so here we are.

Whom might benefit from a golf ball rollback?

The list of whom might benefit from a rollback includes course developers who may no longer feel the need to build those largely unnecessary 8,000-yard courses. The USGA and R&A benefit insomuch as they’ll feel like they have taken what they see as the necessary steps to secure the future of the game.

Those are the obvious ones.

Direct-to-consumer golf ball brands could benefit as well. The proposed MLR would create a clear line between golf balls for the pro game and golf balls designed for the rest of us.

It seems unlikely that any DTC brand would see any real benefit from developing a Tour ball (DTC play across all major tours is within a rounding error of 0%) but it would further bolster a common DTC narrative that the big guys are focused only on Tour players while “we” make balls specifically for average golfers (like you).

The wild card is LIV. I don’t have any insight as to what LIV will do with respect to a Model Local Rule but it certainly presents the upstart tour of not just being Golf, but louder, but also Golf, but longer.

If you believe golfers love watching the professionals bomb the ball, assuming the PGA TOUR and Korn Ferry Tours adopt the rule, it’s an area where LIV could score some points.

All of that is speculative and may not play out until the start of 2026 when the rollback rule kicks in.

More to come

Quite obviously, we’re only in the early stages of the rollback discussion. We’re in touch with ball manufactures and hope to get a better sense of what a rolled-back golf ball might look like and the other challenges in designing a Tour ball that, by comparison to the current catalog, sucks by design.

We’re also hoping for additional clarity on how the rule will be applied to “elite amateur competitions,” which will likely start with a clear definition of “elite amateur competitions.”

One thing seems apparent. Despite the USGA and R&A’s best efforts to offer a simple and straightforward solution to the “distance problem,” it’s a long road ahead as manufacturers, Tour operators and, of course, anyone involved in the elite amateur level of the game work to fully understand the real-world implications of the proposed rollback.

And with that, there will be plenty more to say.

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