R&A boss says rule change to reduce golf ball distance is ‘proportionate’

By Sports Desk December 06, 2023

Golf’s governing bodies insist a new rule change to reduce the distance balls travel is “proportionate” and will have “minimal” impact on recreational players.

The R&A and USGA had previously proposed a Model Local Rule (MLR) to give elite tournaments the option to require the use of balls which would travel around 15 yards less.

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers and USGA counterpart Mike Whan confirmed that the MLR would apply in their own events, most notably the Open Championship and US Open, respectively.

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods supported the proposal but it was opposed by the PGA Tour and PGA of America and strongly criticised by top equipment manufacturing company Acushnet and the likes of Justin Thomas, who plays their market-leading Titleist balls.

In response to what Slumbers termed “pretty much no support” for the MLR, the R&A and USGA are now revising the speed at which balls are tested, which will effectively make current versions non-conforming.

The change will apply at the elite level from 2028, but also for recreational players from 2030.

Keegan Bradley said during last week’s Hero World Challenge that he had already tested a potential version of the new ball and claimed it was 40 to 50 yards shorter with his driver, labelling it “monstrous” that amateur players would be impacted by the new rule.

However, Slumbers told the PA news agency that such “emotional numbers” were completely inaccurate as he outlined the rationale behind the change.

“Having had pretty much no support for an MLR, we thought how can we best achieve our objectives, which is bringing back a little bit more skill in the game, slowing down hitting distance and our environmental sustainability concerns, without a tremendous impact on the recreational game,” Slumbers said.

“We can do nothing, we can bifurcate the game – which was the MLR – or change the game for everybody. We always said that doing nothing was not an option.”

The clubhead speed at which balls are tested will rise from 120mph, which was implemented in 2004, to 125mph, while the distance limit remains at 317 yards, plus three yards of tolerance.

“Over the last six months we’ve had quite a lot of golf balls sent to us that could have conformed with the MLR so we’ve been able to test and understand how a ball at the fastest clubhead speeds would perform with the different rule,” Slumbers added.

“The impact on the game is as follows: For the fastest swing speeds it will be 13-15 yards, for the average Tour speed nine to 11 yards and for the average recreational player less than five yards.

“We also know that as the clubs get shorter, the impact will tend towards zero because the clubhead speed drops.

“We do think it is proportionate and it is targeted and the impact to the recreational game is minimal and certainly not the emotional numbers that have been discussed in recent days.”

Reaction to the change is certain to be mixed, but Slumbers gave short shrift to any suggestion of further “notice and comment” periods.

“This is a rule change, a change to the rules of golf equipment standards,” added Slumbers, who conceded that the PGA Tour and PGA of America would have preferred the status quo.

“There is a process that we agreed with all the industry and we followed that diligently.

“It’s taken five years to get to this point and we have listened, but we feel we’ve got to the end of that process and the reality is that the rule change doesn’t come into effect into January 2028.

“This is a significant period of time and we have given more, as we were previously talking about 2026.

“Governance is not easy, but our responsibility is to look to the future and make sure the game is appropriately structured for the long term and we believe this rule change is part of that.

“I think it’s an important moment for the game and it’s a positive moment for the game.”

In addition, the governing bodies will monitor how drivers can become non-confirming through regular use and research how the clubs perform with off-centre hits.

The PGA Tour and PGA of America both gave a qualified welcome to the news while also expressing opposition to the increase in test clubhead speed.

“Throughout the process we have provided feedback to the USGA and The R&A and are pleased to see a number of our recommendations reflected in this most recent announcement,” the PGA Tour said in a statement.

“However, we believe the proposed increase in test clubhead speed to 125mph is disproportional to the rate of increase we see when analysing PGA Tour radar data.

“In conjunction with guidance from the Player Advisory Council, Player Directors and Policy Board, we will continue to share our feedback with the USGA and The R&A.”

Related items

  • Jake Knapp grabs third-round lead as Matt Wallace’s challenge fades Jake Knapp grabs third-round lead as Matt Wallace’s challenge fades

    Rookie Jake Knapp made 11 birdies to take the third-round lead in the Mexico Open as Matt Wallace’s challenge faded away.

    Knapp had seven birdies as he carded a 63 to move to 19-under-par at Vidanta, four clear of fellow PGA Tour newcomer Sami Valimaki of Finland.

    The American opened with a pair of birdies and added five more in six holes to reach the turn in 28.

    Wallace had started the day alongside Knapp in a four-way tie for the lead, but the Englishman could only manage a level par 71 to finish the day eight strokes off the pace.

    He was joined at 11-under par by Scotland’s Robert MacIntrye, who shot a 65 with four birdies topped off by an eagle at the 18th.

    Canada’s Ben Silverman, Sweden’s Henrik Norlander and Chan Kim were on 12-under-par, completing a top five without a win on the PGA Tour.

  • Strong finish gives Matt Wallace a share of halfway lead in Mexico Strong finish gives Matt Wallace a share of halfway lead in Mexico

    Matt Wallace added a second round 65 to his opening 66 to take a share of the halfway lead in the Mexico Open.

    The Englishman played his last nine holes in 30, including an eagle three at the sixth hole in between a pair of birdies, as he moved to 11-under-par.

    He is joined by Finland’s Sami Valimaki, who shot 67, American Jake Knapp and Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz, who both carded a 64.

    They are one shot ahead of the first-round leader Erik van Rooyen from South Africa, who added a 69 to his opening 63 thanks to a pair of late birdies.

    There is then a two-shot gap back to American duo Andrew Novak and Mark Hubbard with defending champion Tony Finau among an 18-strong group five strokes off the pace.

    Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre moved to five-under-par with a 66, one ahead of England’s Aaron Rai and Irish veteran Padraig Harrington.

  • On this day in 2021: Tiger Woods severely injured after car crash in California On this day in 2021: Tiger Woods severely injured after car crash in California

    Golfing great Tiger Woods survived a potentially lethal car accident in California, on this day in 2021.

    Woods was recovering from back surgery and had been travelling alone at 7am local time when his SUV veered off the road at high speed, colliding with the centre kerb and a tree before rolling several times at the road side.

    Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva reported that the incident would have been fatal if not for the interior unit of the vehicle, which remained intact and shielded Woods from the worst of the damage.

    The 15-time major winner was found conscious and communicative at the scene, but still suffered multiple injuries and required an emergency operation at the nearby Harbor UCLA Medical Centre.

    Woods later revealed the extent of the injuries to his right leg, which needed to be stabilised with a metal rod, screws and pins, and admitted amputation had been “on the table”.

    He remained in hospital for three weeks before being released to continue rehabilitation at home in Florida and was inundated by public messages of support. He went on to thank fellow PGA Tour members for their acts of solidarity, which included several high profile players taking to the course in his trademark Sunday red.

    Initially wheelchair bound, he later began walking with crutches but ruled out a full-time return to competitive golf during his first public press conference later that year.

    View this post on Instagram

    A post shared by Tiger Woods (@tigerwoods)

    “After my back fusion, I had to climb Mount Everest one more time. This time around, I don’t think I’ll have the body to climb Mount Everest and that’s OK,” he said.

    “I can still participate in the game of golf. But as far as climbing the mountain again and getting all the way to the top, I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation of me.”

    Nine months after his accident he competed at the PNC Championship alongside son Charlie. Woods set his sights on appearing at the 2022 Masters in Augusta and took the field for his big comeback.

    Despite talking up his chances of a barely believable victory at the tournament, making the cut and finishing 47th on Sunday evening represented a significant success.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.