7 things we learned (and didn’t learn) from the ball rollback explainer

R&A’s Martin Slumbers, left, and USGA’s Mike Whan.

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Governing golf is a lot like playing golf: treat one problem and others will show up.

That much was made clear at a news briefing Tuesday morning, where USGA and R&A officials — including USGA CEO Mike Whan and R&A chief Martin Slumbers — asked questions about their new proposal for a rolled-back ball, a change that if they believed could lead to the use of reduced flight balls in professional and elite amateur events.

While the rule-setters’ answers clarified some questions, they left us in the dark about others.

Here’s what we know – and what we don’t – after the back and forth.

1. Limited flight balls would be used in the US Open and Open Championship

The governing bodies not only issue rules and make recommendations. They also host competitions including two of the four majors. Under the new proposal, tournament operators would have the option to request balls with limited flight. So would the USGA do that at the US Open? What about the R&A at the Open Championship? Whan’s answer was an unequivocal “yes”.

“I won’t speak for R&A,” Whan added, “but I think it’s safe to say we wouldn’t be proposing this unless we felt it was also something we would use.”

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Slumbers: “Same as Mike, yes.”

2. But that wouldn’t happen this year, or the next year, or the year after, or…

OK. When then? That is unclear.

According to the proposal, the rollback option could take effect as early as January 2026. But not sooner. The 2026 US Open will be held at Shinnecock Hills; the Open Championship 2026 is scheduled for the Old Course in St. Andrews.

But that doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed to see Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler take on these legendary reduced-flying venues. With their announcement, the USGA and R&A also solicited feedback from other game stakeholders: manufacturers, players, tournament operators, and so on. The comment period runs until mid-August. Until then, do not expect any further decisions from the governing bodies on this matter.

3. Wait, does that mean we might not get a rollback rule at all?

It’s possible, but it seems unlikely. The USGA and R&A have considered this matter long and hard and, after careful consideration, came to their proposal. In theory, they could change their minds and decide that the rollback proposal needs to be changed or scrapped altogether.

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Maybe someone can come up with a convincing argument against it. But it’s hard to imagine the Governing Body hearing anything they haven’t heard before.

4. A ball rolled back would be used in the US amateur championship but not in your club championship

The USGA and R&A have both stated that they “strongly oppose any rule change that makes the game less enjoyable for recreational golfers.” Translation: You don’t have to play with a limited flight ball in your Saturday skins or local league.

It’s not going to happen in your club championship either. The governing bodies said that if adopted, the rule would initially be implemented in its elite competitions such as the US Amateur and the Amateur Championship. How things would develop after that is TBD. After all, amateur competitions exist at many levels, including tournaments featuring juniors hitting the ball far as professionals. On Tuesday, governing bodies said some of the discussion in the coming months will focus on where to draw the line.

5. The rollback would not apply to the women’s game

The governing bodies made it clear on Tuesday that they do not see distance as an issue in women’s football. At least not yet.

This is a decision that the LPGA is on board with. In a statement Tuesday, the LPGA said in part, “At this time we do not see distance as a barrier to the growth of the LPGA Tour or the courses we are able to compete on. We intend to examine and review this proposal from all angles during the comment period and beyond.”

6. The other majors make their own decisions

The governing bodies do not host the Masters or the PGA Championship. All decisions regarding a ball rolled back at these events rest with Augusta National and the PGA of America, respectively, and neither body has yet announced their position on the matter.

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When Augusta National was reached for comment by GOLF.com on Tuesday, he declined to comment. The PGA of America did not respond to an email inquiry.

7. Players with faster swing speeds will experience the greatest loss of distance

In its press release announcing the proposed rule, the USGA said, “The modified test setup in the proposed MLR is expected to reduce shot distance by an average of 14-15 yards for the longest clubs with the highest clubhead speeds.”

When asked later Tuesday for clarification on how players with different swing speeds would be affected by a modified ball, a USGA spokesman said, “Our research shows that high swing speed players would lose about 18 yards, the average Tour player would lose 14 yards. 15 yards, and players with slower swing speeds would lose 10-12 yards.

“As the impact velocity increases, the ball’s coefficient of restitution (i.e. elasticity/efficiency) decreases; So players with slower swing speeds see a slightly lower percentage loss.”


Josh Sens

Golf.com Contributor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a contributor to GOLF magazine since 2004 and now contributes to all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is a co-author with Sammy Hagar of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.

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