Golf’s Ball Rollback: A Brief Overview of the Debate

4 min read

Charlie Wall ’23

Contributing Writer

Earlier this month, the governing bodies of golf, the USGA and R&A, announced a potential new rule for golf. The proposed rule would limit the distance a golf ball can travel in professional events, reducing driving distance by 20 or more yards beginning in 2026. In the last two decades, golf’s equipment technology has improved exponentially, allowing the best players in the world to carry the ball to shocking lengths, in some cases over 330 yards. Thus, concerns over golf course design and length have become major topics of debate amongst golf’s ruling bodies and players. In light of this announcement, the golfing world has seen a plethora of different opinions and reactions from players, amateurs, enthusiasts, and so on in regard to the implications of this potential new rule. 

After the announcement from the USGA and R&A, professional golfers from various different leagues, such as the PGA tour and LIV tour, have voiced their thoughts on the potential rollback of the golf ball. Rory Mcilroy, the face of the PGA tour behind Tiger Woods, praised the new rule in an interview with No Laying Up, stating, “I really like it. I know that’s a really unpopular opinion amongst my peers, but I think it’s going to help identify who the best players are a bit easier.” Rory’s praise came as a surprise to many, including myself, as his most valuable weapon on the course for much of his career has been his uncanny ability to hit the golf ball miles past his opposition. For instance, he drove two greens, and hit one drive over 400 yards, at this years WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play tournament—a distinct advantage over the opponents he faced. 

Unlike Rory, other big-hitters reacted in a much more negative fashion towards the rollback announcement. LIV tour’s Bryson Dechambou, known for his monstrous drives, responded in utter disgust to the potential limitations on distance. In an interview with the Saudi-backed league’s website Dechambou expressed his opinion on the matter, “Look, if they want to do it in a way where it only affects the top end (professional golfers), I see the rationale. But I think it’s the most atrocious thing that you could possibly do to the game of golf, it’s not about rolling golf balls back; it’s about making courses more difficult.” Dechambou’s comments bring us back to the main issue this new rule is trying to address: golf course design, length, and difficulty. Players’ new found ability to hit the ball over 310+ yards has changed the way some courses are played, and how difficult they are. 

The most appropriate example of how increased driving length alters historic and cherished courses is Augusta National Golf Club, hosting the first major of the year, The Masters, in early April. In 1997, the course measured in at 6,935 yards; at this year’s Masters, it will be 7,545 yards. The most recent change in course design at Augusta National took place this year with the lengthening of the infamous dog leg left Par-5 13th. Prior to this year, the hole was played at 510 yards, but with the newly constructed tee box, it will measure in at 545 yards. Last year’s Master Champion and current world number one Scottie Sheffler commented on the change in an interview at the WGC-Dell Technolgoies Match Play tournament, “(it’s) definitely harder… I think with modern technology and that tee shot, I used to hit 3-wood there because I can sling hook a 3-wood. I can’t sling hook a driver on purpose… and so, when it comes to that tee shot and hitting a hard hook with the driver, it’s not really a shot that I’ll try just because it’s not worth the risk for me.” The design change at Augusta National is just one example of many when it come’s to famous courses, and their management, deciding to go longer. 

The goal for everyone concerned with distance is, as Scottie Sheffler described, to make it more difficult on the players and to restore the original intent of course designers back when professionals hit it much shorter. The debate over the potential “shortened ball” is highly subjective, and it really boils down to which side you agree with as there is no one right answer: whether you agree with certain players, course designers, course traditionalists, club manufacturers, and so on; the choice is yours. 

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