Golf ball rollback across entire sport seems to be only option as year-end decision nears, R&A CEO says

The distance debate in golf may never truly end, but the R&A and United States Golf Association (USGA) appear to have finalized their position ahead of a year-end announcement regarding the possibility of rolling back the golf ball to ensure it does not fly as far through the air. After proposing a Model Local Rule (MLR) and adhering to a comment period that ended in August, the R&A and USGA may have tipped their hand at how they will be moving forward.

“Unequivocally, the ball is going further than it did 15 years ago,” R&A CEO Martin Slumbers told Golf Digest. “And I see no reason to doubt it will not continue to do so. I’ve long been of this view. And for a long time, I had to keep it private. But once we published our distance report at the start of this process, I was very clear that, for the good of the game, we need to address this issue.

“From that point of view and from an environmental point of view, we have to do something. We have been very clear, as has [CEO] Mike Whan at the USGA. There are only three options: We can bifurcate; you change the whole game; or you do nothing. And doing nothing is not an option. We stand by that.”

Proposed in March, the MLR was intended for elite competitions only. It would require the use of golf balls tested under modified launch conditions, reflective of the longest hitters in the professional game. Parties such as the PGA Tour and PGA of America released statements against the proposed MLR, leading to the possibility of players having to use one type of golf ball in The Open and U.S. Open and another in the PGA Championship and PGA Tour competition. Augusta National also hinted at support of the rollback ahead of the 2023 Masters.

The majority of PGA Tour players vocalized their disdain for the MLR, but Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who recently finished first and second in the Player Impact Program, both expressed support. McIlroy went as far as saying he would use the new MLR golf ball in PGA Tour events in order to prepare for major championships.

“The game was not happy with the Model Local Rule,” Slumbers said. “There was a view that it would create a bifurcated game at the elite level. It was a very strong pushback against that. The PGA Tour was very public about it. So was the PGA of America. A number of players spoke out. And our job is to listen.

“But our responsibility is to the long-term future of the game. Along with the USGA, the R&A is a custodian of the game. We’re responsible for our period of time, something that has gone on for hundreds of years and will go on for hundreds more. So, we are listening. And we have made a decision about what we are going to do. We’re working that through at the moment and will make it public before the end of the year.”


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