Rolling Back the Ball

Golf Balls on a green at The Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, Houston,(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for the DC&P Championship)
Golf Balls on a green at The Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, Houston,(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for the DC&P Championship) /

The golf ball for professional golfers is going to be rolled back.

According to some it just might be the best thing that’s ever happened. To others, it threatens the very existence of professional golf.

Understand this – the balls you and I hit are not going to change. Manufacturers will still be innovating for longer, straighter, and spin. The people who fund the golf ball industry (everyone except the Pros) will still get new and exciting breakthroughs in performance each year.

This likely change was just announced jointly by the USGA and R&A. Plans currently call for the bifurcation to begin in the 2026 golf season.

This is the single biggest change to professional golf since persimmon gave way to titanium. It will absolutely change the game.

Not everyone is happy about that.

Titleist is particularly peeved and probably speaks for all the equipment and ball manufacturers. Their statement on the proposed changes reads in part:

"“The performance changes of any rolled-back ball would impact every shot in the round. Players would also be required to adapt to changes in equipment with some players disadvantaged over others by this disruption.”“Golf ball bifurcation would invite confusion as to what level of competition would use the MLR products and how to effectively manage and officiate. In addition, multiple versions of golf ball models in the market would be confusing to golfers.”"

Not only do the changes require Titleist and others to develop an entirely new ball (or several) that conforms to the new standards, it likely requires a look at the clubs as well.

That’s a lot of R&D dollars not currently in the forecast. And guess where Titleist and others will be getting that extra money they need? Yep, you and me. You can bet the cost of balls and equipment will continue to skyrocket to account for the shortfall.

So while the balls played by recreational golfers will continue to improve, the cost will likely go up as well.

The larger question is the impact rolling back the ball will have on professional golf.

Here, the debate begins to separate traditionalists and “New School” golf fans.

The “New School” fans love the 350-yard drives. They probably think LIV is cool. They want to see the Tour guys in shorts. They blast music on the course. They hate that a ball in a divot can’t be moved.

I agree with some of those things, too.

Traditionalists miss the art of the three-shot par 5. They bemoan that shaping the ball has become a lost art. Greensbooks should be outlawed. Bomb and gouge is a defilement of the sport!

I get some of that, too.

What tips the scales in my mind is not the ball itself, it’s the courses upon which the players compete.

If we are honest, the distances in the Pro game have started to make it almost unrecognizable from the game played by recreational golfers.

There is no such thing as a 3-shot par 5 on Tour anymore. Pros often go driver-iron into par 5s.

There is no such thing as a long par 4. Any hole less than 500 yards is easily reached with a driver-7 iron at most. That’s not a game with which I’m familiar.

A long par 3 on Tour is an 8 iron.

Honestly, is it that entertaining watching guys go driver-wedge on every hole?

When the distance race was in its infancy with John Daly in the early 1990s, the 300-yard drive was truly jaw-dropping. Now a player that averages under 300 is an anomaly.

For the past 30 years, golf has tried to accommodate these otherworldly distances with “Tiger Proofing” and generally moving tee boxes back as far as property lines would allow.

Every regular Tour venue has gotten longer in the last 30 years. Every. One. Last year there were only three events with courses less than 7,000 yards. The Farmers at Torrey Pines has the distinction of the longest track on Tour at almost 7,800 yards.

At this point, the “New School” folks say, “See, the Pros play longer courses, so it evens out.”

No, it doesn’t. Unless the PGA plans on building 20 new tour courses at 8,000+ yards apiece, the comic dismantling of the greatest courses in the world will continue unabated.

Understand that “rolling back the ball” means players will still be able to hit 300-yard drives but they will be far rarer. Long hitters will still have an advantage.

This will not even the field. It will put a governor on all distance. The penalty – if you want to call it that – will affect every player equally.

Some players are notably not happy. Webb Simpson thinks we should just trick up the courses with trees and more rough. Others think fans will miss the 350-yard drives (many into the rough).

Bryson DeChambeau, who may never have to play the ball on LIV Golf anyway, said, “It’s the most atrocious thing you could possibly do to the game of golf.”

Bryson’s reaction makes me think this might actually be a good thing.

On the other side, Tiger and Jack think a ball that’s harder to control and doesn’t go as far forces players to display more skill across the entire bag. Both are, presumably, on board with the proposed changes.

“We need to do something about the golf ball,” Woods told reporters in 2017.

"“I just think it’s going too far because we’re having to build golf courses, if they want to have a championship venue, they’ve got to be 7,400-7,800 yards long. And if the game keeps progressing the way it is with technology, I think the 8,000-yard golf course is not too far away. And that’s pretty scary.”  – Tiger Woods"

Next. More on the Roll Back Announcement. dark

Added Nicklaus last year on the Five Clubs Podcast: “For all concerned, for the golf ball to come back to bring back a lot of things back into perspective is very important for the game of golf.”

So are you on team Tiger and Jack … or team Bryson?

I know my answer.