USGA, R&A announce universal golf ball rollback to limit distance with implementation set for 2028

The USGA and R&A made a perhaps surprising joint announcement on Wednesday that ball rollback is no longer coming for professional golfers. Instead, it’s being implemented for every golfer. Beginning in January 2028, the golf ball will be limited to travel 317 yards (with 3 yards of tolerance) under conditions of 125 MPH club head speed (current conditions are 120 MPH club head speed). Amateurs will have until 2030 to implement the new ball. According to the governing bodies, this will reduce the longest hitters by 13-15 yards while reducing the distance of amateurs a lot less (5 yards or less for most recreational golfers, according to the USGA and R&A).

The reason? According to the USGA and R&A, this “aims to reduce the impact increased hitting distances have on golf’s long-term sustainability while minimizing the impact on the recreational game.”

This announcement comes at the end of a long feedback period following the original announcement made in March. That suggestion was something called a model local rule, in which organizations that host professional events – such as the PGA Tour, PGA of America, Augusta National and others – would implement a rule that would limit how far the golf ball flies. In other words, this would be the implementation of bifurcation, where pros play one ball and the rest of us play a different one.

During the feedback period, several players complained about the rule. Both the PGA Tour and PGA of America issued statements opposing its implementation.

PGA Tour:

Although there has been some level of support for limiting future increases, there is widespread and significant belief the proposed modified local rule is not warranted and is not in the best interest of the game. Following a discussion on the topic at a recent PAC meeting, we have notified the USGA and R&A that while the PGA Tour is committed to collaborating with them – and all industry partners – to arrive at a solution that will best serve our players, our fans and the game at all levels, we are not able to support the MLR as proposed.

PGA of America:

We strongly believe in the need to completely scope out all unintended consequences before the introduction of any significant change. Whilst many aspects have been considered we are worried that the proposed changes will have far reaching implications for our game. For example, there are a number of operational iussues related tot he two-ball scenario including, but not limited to: policing of players to ensure they are playing the right ball, retailers having to stock two different specification balls, certain players playing different balls for different events and ranges (and coaches) having to provide both balls for different golfers.

To all of this, the USGA and R&A said, You know, those are great points. Instead of just changing the rules for the professionals, let’s change them for everyone.

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“Governance is hard,” said USGA CEO Mike Whan in a statement. “And while thousands will claim that we did too much, there will be just as many who said we didn’t do enough to protect the game long-term. But from the very beginning, we’ve been driven to do what is right for the game, without bias. As we’ve said, doing nothing is not an option – and we would be failing in our responsibility to protect the game’s future if we didn’t take appropriate action now.”

One player who is not complaining about any of this is somebody who has been in favor of rolling the ball back for a long time. You may know him as the best golfer in history: Tiger Woods.

“I don’t know what year they indicated, I think maybe late 2020s somewhere in there, right?” he said on Saturday at the Hero World Challenge. “This has been I guess the talk ever since I’ve been out on Tour. And then to finally see it come to this point where I think both governing bodies who control the rules around the world are going to come to a collaborative understanding of how far – we just doesn’t have enough property anymore. So I think that understanding that yeah, we’ve been hammering the ball needs to slow down, but it has kept speeding up my entire time on career and here we are.”

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Woods went on to say that he’s longer now at the age of 47 than when he was the willowy 21-year-old swinging out of his shoes when he first arrived to the PGA Tour.

Another 21-year-old who found success on the PGA Tour was Rory McIlroy, who is a more recent – but possibly more adamant – convert to rolling the ball back than Woods. He posted his thoughts on social media on Sunday, pinning the blame on both his fellow pros who complained about bifurcation as well as ball manufacturers who did the same.

“I don’t understand the anger about the golf ball roll back,” he said. “It will make no difference whatsoever to the average golfer and puts golf back on a path of sustainability. It will also help bring back certain skills in the pro game that have been eradicated over the past 2 decades.

“The people who are upset about this decision shouldn’t be mad at the governing bodies, they should be mad at elite pros and club/ball manufacturers because they didn’t want bifurcation. The governing bodies presented us with that option earlier this year. Elite pros and ball manufacturers think bifurcation would negatively affect their bottom lines, when in reality, the game is already bifurcated. You think we play the same stuff you do? They put pressure on the governing bodies to roll it back to a lesser degree for everyone. Bifurcation was the logical answer for everyone, but yet again in this game, money talks.”

Regardless of how you feel about the rollback – and people feel a lot of different ways – the USGA and R&A have now made it official with their statement on Wednesday. That will affect professional golf, for sure. But in a bit of a twist since earlier this year, it will also affect those of us who are not professional golfers as well.

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