A dummy guide to the brand new golf ball rules
So you’ve heard that golf has some new proposed rule changes centered around the golf ball. You’re curious, but you also don’t want to dig through something as numbing as the Distance Insight Report.
Good news! I see you, I hear you and I want to be there for you. Here’s my offer to help: A free FAQ on the new golf ball stuff. I will ask And the answer to make it as easy as possible for you.
So, new golf ball rules. Who decides this stuff?
The United States Golf Association and the R&A – the Golf Associations. They worked together on the proposal.
Okay, what does the proposal say?
Basically it says they think elite golfers hit the ball too far. You want them to cut it a little short.
Why too far?
The way top professionals have played golf courses has changed quite a bit over the years. When pros hit longer drives, they need to lengthen courses to keep up—or the game changes dramatically. Longer courses require more water, more maintenance, more money. The golf associations don’t want golf courses to have to be constantly expanded; You want them to use fewer resources, not more.
got it How much shorter will pros hit it under this new rule?
About five percent shorter, although that will vary from person to person. But now, when Jordan Spieth hits a 300-yard drive, expect him to cover about 285 yards on a new ball. The change is expected to occur in this 15-yard window.
It really doesn’t seem to make that much of a difference.
I’m with you. It’s not a big difference. The governing bodies were in a bit of a bind here: Make to a big change and people tend to reject it. Make too small a change and you won’t make a difference.
Wait, who does this rule even apply to?
Only players in “elite competitions,” the suggestion goes. They made it clear that they don’t want amateur golfers to worry about hitting shorter than they already do.
How do you define “elite competition”?
That’s not entirely clear. It’s designed as an “optional” rule, so it could be event by event, but the USGA/R&A is definitely hoping that every pro tour will embrace the suggestion after a period of feedback. In other words, they want the PGA Tour to use the new ball. They want the DP World Tour to use the new ball. They want the NCAA to use the ball, too — USGA boss Mike Whan has addressed that. But where do you draw the line? club championships? Middle of the night? Four Balls with Scratch Golfers? This part feels like it’s going to get messy.
What the heck is “bifurcation” and why do I keep hearing that word?
It literally means dividing something into two parts. In golf, this means creating a separate set of rules for the pros versus the everyday amateur.
Is that what’s happening here?
Yes, basically. They didn’t say it outright, calling it an “option” for events — but that’s a bifurcation.
Why is this controversial?
One cool thing about golf is that everyone plays the same rules and equipment. The game has built-in modifications like different tees and handicaps, but the pros basically play the same stuff as the amateurs and by the same rules. This would change that principle.
hmm I guess so. So why not change the rules for everyone?
Good question. After hearing feedback from golfers, they decided it would be bad optics to tell amateurs they were suddenly shortening their swing. After all, golf is hard enough. And it’s hard to get in. So they decided not to change things for these players.
I think of some problems.
Oh boy. What do you have?
Well, players are getting longer, aren’t they?
Yes. The USGA said pro tours grew four percent longer just this year!
So will we be back at this place in a few years?
Great question. Some manufacturers would tell you that the current restrictions have already basically capped equipment; Pros will hit it longer because they’re swinging harder than ever, but that has a limit.
But if they keep hitting the driver, then yes. The USGA mentioned that maybe in 10-15 years we’ll be back here – and then we’ll have to make another similar change.
Alright, one more problem. This is to prevent courses from expanding, right?
But it’s only for elite competitions?
So how big is the difference really for courses?
Well it means pro events can still be held on the courses they are currently on. I think there is a legitimate concern that in order to make the courses difficult for professionals, they need to push those courses to the limit. Rock hard greens, holes in corners, stuff like that. They make it borderline unfair to keep goals at bay.
That doesn’t answer my question at all.
Oh yeah. I understand your point – this mainly affects courses where elite competitions are held.
What do the people who make golf balls think?
They don’t seem too keen on it. That means a lot of R&D for them if they want to keep making balls for professionals. And then they won’t even be able to sell those balls to regular Joes? That’s not a great offer. Titleist has spoken out most strongly against it. They called it “a solution in search of a problem”.
What do the pros think?
I’m interested to see. The few I spoke to yesterday before the announcement came out were pretty much against the idea. That makes sense; They’re at the top of the sport and they’re playing golf balls that are built under certain parameters, and when those suddenly change, they have to adapt. They are also used to getting sponsorship deals for gaming machines that can be sold to amateurs; Bifurcation interferes with that too. And now they cut it short too? Potentially smaller than their hard-hitting amateur buddies? I don’t see this getting a lot of positive feedback at first.
But Padraig Harrington was an interesting supportive voice. I’m excited to see what other thoughtful feedback this will bring.
If they don’t like it, what can they do about it?
Well, there’s a chance leagues like the PGA Tour could just ignore it.
Yes. The PGA Tour has generally followed the rules of the USGA. But since this is considered “optional,” they could just say thank you, but no thanks.
So different tours and tournaments might have different rules?
This is the most chaotic scenario. One could imagine the PGA Tour ignoring the changes, but the US Open and Open Championship adopting them. That would lead to chaos. It would result in pros learning a brand new ball for major championships. It would change the nature of the competition. I don’t think it’s something to get excited about unless you enjoy watching the world burn – or you’re hungry for more gulf power struggles. But it’s not out of the question.
Shot. And I found the LIV stuff confusing.
Golf drama everywhere these days.
OK, stupid question. How do you even make a ball shorter?
Oh, now let’s get in. I’m not a big gear guy, but here’s how I understand it. The USGA tests balls with a robot, and if your ball flies more than 317 yards (plus or minus three yards), it fails the test. Under the old test, this robot swung 120 miles per hour. Under the new proposed test, the robot will swing 127 mph and have better spin and launch counts.
The robot gets better?
Yes. Just like the golfers!
In other words, the ball cannot travel 317 yards as efficiently. Because the robot swings faster, the ball has to react more slowly. This will make it softer.
That actually makes sense now that I’ve read it twice.
Good! Anything else?
What do you think of all this?
Me? I try to keep an open mind. But I’m not sure they nailed it with this one.
Let’s start here. If they have decided that this is a big problem – and it sounds like they have – is it really enough to restrict a small subset of golfers by five percent? I also wrote this in our roundtable, but if distance is the Gulf version of climate change, there is a risk that this response will become a plastic straw ban. Not drastic enough to make a big difference, but drastic enough to be annoying and confusing and upset a lot of people in the process.
Look, I recognize the need to limit the distance and I like to see the pros get tested. I also don’t like the idea of the fork; it seems completely unnecessary. If they are set to roll back, I would like to see a significant roll back for any golfer. Let’s keep this consistent and keep it as simple as possible.
But I’m confused by all of this because I’m also intrigued by the idea that nothing really needs to be done. Sure guys will keep hitting it for a few more years at least. But we see a potential point of falling returns as the pros maximize ball speed. Even Bryson DeChambeau conceded that there’s a point where hitting harder doesn’t help much – the spread is impossible to control. Some experts I spoke to see roughly 190 mph ball speed as that point. So yeah, maybe there’s a logical end point for this stuff if we just hold on and don’t change everything.
There’s also a part of my brain that wonders about making significant changes in simpler ways. i was joking on twitter about eliminating golf tees, but I’m oddly attached to the idea. And on the whole I can’t help but think how absurd it is that guys can fly about 1000 feet with the driver. This leads to an insane amount of wasted space. Maybe the longest players in the world should hit it, like 160 yards instead?!
In other words, I still have a lot to sort through. Sounds like the rest of the golf world too.
I think I’m even more confused than when I started.
Forgiveness. But thanks anyway for making it this far.
https://golf.com/news/golf-ball-rules-explained/ A dummy guide to the brand new golf ball rules