Proposed rule for golf balls sparks controversy:
(CNN) The R&A and the United States Golf Association (USGA) held a press conference Tuesday to announce their proposals to reduce the distances golf balls can travel in elite tournaments.
In response, some of golf’s elite gasped.
Ahead of the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship, world No. 15 Sam Burns described the plans as “pretty silly,” with Justin Thomas’ self-described “rand” on the subject lasting more than three minutes.
“You’re trying to find a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist … to me it’s so bad for the game of golf,” Thomas told reporters.
Bryson DeChambeau’s criticism was even more scathing. The 2020 US Open champion, known for his driving distances, described the proposals as a “big handicap” for other hard-hitting players.
“If you could say I’m the polar opposite of 1,000, I would be that,” DeChambeau told LIV Golf’s website ahead of Tuesday’s Saudi Arabia-backed tour event in Tucson, Arizona.
“I think it’s the most terrifying thing you can do to the game of golf. It’s not about rolling back golf balls – it’s about making golf courses more difficult.
“I think it’s the most unimaginative, uninspiring and groundbreaking thing you can do. Everyone wants to see people keep beating it.
“It’s one of the reasons a lot of people like what I do. It’s part of the reason a lot of people don’t like what I do. I’m all about equality. I’m not concerned with justice on this front. “
What are the suggestions?
Under the proposed R&A and USGA rules, tournament organizers would have the option to require golfers to use balls tested under modified launch conditions to limit the perceived problem of increasing shot lengths.
The gradual increase in shot distances over the past two decades and subsequent lengthening of golf courses “threaten the long-term sustainability of golf and undermine the fundamental principles that a broad and balanced range of playing ability should remain the primary factor in success in golf,” states in a press release from the two governing bodies.
The proposals – which are expected to take effect in 2026 if passed – would reduce shot distances by an average of 14 to 15 yards for the longest clubs with the fastest clubhead speeds, the statement added.
“Shot distances at the elite level of the game have steadily increased over the last 20, 40 and 60 years. It’s been two decades since we last revised our ball distance testing standards,” said Mike Whan, CEO of the USGA.
“Predictable, sustained increases will become a major issue for next-gen if not addressed soon. We’re taking the next steps in that process, with a focus on doing the right thing across the game.”
The new measures – dubbed the “Model Local Rule” (MLR) – will apply to elite competitions only, with recreational golf unaffected.
Whan and his counterpart Martin Slumbers, R&A CEOs, said the MLR would be applied to their bodies’ events, including the US Open and Open Championship majors.
“At the core of our proposal is a desire to minimize the impact on a thriving recreational game,” added Slumbers.
“We believe the proposed model local rule will help us move forward in a way that protects the inherent qualities of the sport and reduces pressure to extend courses.
“This is an important issue for golf and one that needs to be addressed if the sport is to retain its unique challenge and appeal.”
The PGA Tour said Tuesday it will work with the USGA and R&A and conduct its own independent analysis “to evaluate the proposals and provide feedback.”
“The Tour remains committed to ensuring that any future solutions identified benefit the game as a whole without negatively impacting the Tour, its players or our fans’ enjoyment of our sport,” the statement added.
“I don’t see how this is better for the game of golf”
The boss of Acushnet, the maker of Titleist golf balls, has criticized plans to drive a wedge between professional and recreational play.
“The golf ball bifurcation proposal is in many ways a solution to finding a problem,” said David Maher, Acushnet’s president and CEO, in a statement released by the company on Tuesday.
“Playing by a unified set of rules is an essential part of the game’s appeal, adds to its global understanding and appeal, and eliminates the inconsistency and instability that multiple sets of gear standards would create.”
Thomas, who is a Titleist brand ambassador, echoed Maher’s comments.
“It’s very unique for an everyday amateur golfer that we can play the exact same gear… You can go to the pro shop and buy the same golf ball that I play or Scottie Scheffler plays,” he said.
“But the USGA wants to take it to a point where that’s not the case. They want it to be like, ‘Okay, well, the pros play this way and the amateurs play this way’… I don’t see how that’s better for the game of golf.
“If you can swing 127 mph, you have power,” Thomas later added. “I mean, people run faster, so, what, are they just going to make the length of a mile longer so the fastest mile doesn’t change, or are they going to put the NBA hoop at 13 feet because people can jump higher now ?
“Like, no. It’s evolution. We’re athletes now. We train to hit the ball farther and faster and if you can do it, good for you. So yeah, as you can see, I’m clearly against it.”
Burns agreed with his American compatriot, wondering if fans wanted to see players hit shorter distances.
“They like to watch guys go out and hit 350 yards. I don’t see what the problem is with that,” Burns said.
“I think that’s an ability, and I don’t really agree with trying to take it away.”
“There are so many winners”
Not all golfers are critical of the new proposals.
Pádraig Harrington, who is set to be inducted into the Golf Hall of Fame in 2024, believes reducing flight distances will lead to a number of benefits.
“There are so many winners when you roll the ball back,” the 51-year-old Irish golfer told SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio on Tuesday.
“The cost of building a golf course, the cost of maintaining a golf course, and the speed of play are all incredibly improved by reducing the distance, reducing the size of the golf course, and also reducing the wait time at equal-fives and par-fours.
“Old golf courses come back into play, great golf courses come back into play. Environmental protection, footprint reduction – so many reasons.”
As a ranked 336th men’s golfer, Brandon Matthews’ name may not have the same prestige as three-time major champion Harrington, but the American has been among the biggest players on the PGA Tour this season.
With an average shot length of 320.4 yards, the 28-year-old ranks second only to Rory McIlroy in 2023 while leading the Tour in club head speed, ball speed and hang time.
Still, Matthews believes proposals to reduce flight distances “have been a long time coming.”
“I think it’s going to bring in a lot more imagination and a lot more creativity that was earlier in the game, rather than just hitting it far and straight,” Matthews told The Golf Channel on Tuesday.
“I don’t know how far they’re going to take it, but it’s going to be a really exciting change and I think it’s going to make the game a little bit better,” he added.