Golf ball rules could change dramatically under the new proposal. Here’s what we know
If you thought there wasn’t enough turmoil in the golfing world lately, well, just wait.
The USGA and R&A have called a press conference for Tuesday where GOLF.com has learned they will table a proposal that includes a model local rule that — for tours and championships they adopt — would effectively mean rolling back the golf ball and the introduction of a bifurcation, ie creating different rules for professionals and top amateurs compared to the rest of the golf world.
According to an industry source, equipment manufacturers were notified Monday morning of the proposed changes that focus on clubhead speed, which will be used to rate balls for the Overall Distance Standard (ODS).
In short, if governing bodies have their way, pros and elite amateurs alike will be hitting the ball shorter distances on tours and tournaments that adopt the rule. The rules for everyday golfers are unlikely to change.
A USGA spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment, but here’s everything we know about the new proposal.
How will the proposal change the ball?
It is difficult to legislate speed; You can’t tell pros how hard they can swing. But by changing the way golf balls are tested, the USGA may effectively making every ball currently in play on the tour non-compliant. How? The USGA dictates that balls can only fly a certain distance (317 yards, with a tolerance of three yards) under the prescribed conditions. If you change these conditions but not the 317 limit, the ball must change as a result.
The original area of interest (AOI) introduced by the USGA and R&A in March 2021 addressed a potential test swing speed increase for the ODS from 120 mph to at least 125. A continuation of the original area of interest introduced in June 2022 proposed to investigate increased club head test speeds “between 125 and 127 miles per hour” and will include studies on the impact of these test speeds on launch conditions and golf ball aerodynamics.
Under the proposed new testing protocols, the governing bodies would test balls going forward at a clubhead speed of 127 mph with 11 degrees launch and 2,220 rpm spin as ball build conditions. For comparison, the current setup conditions for control bullet testing are 120 mph (plus or minus half a mph), 2,520 rpm (plus or minus 120 rpm), and 10 degrees launch (plus or minus half a degree). .
The suggested clubhead speed of 127 mph is 12.1 mph faster than the average clubhead speed on the PGA Tour. It also beats the average speed for the player with the fastest swing speed on the tour, Brandon Hagy, who is currently sitting at 126.06 mph. Testing balls at the proposed clubhead speed would mean that essentially any ball now played on the tour would be considered non-compliant (The Equipment Rules, Part 4, Section 6) because the balls exceeded the distance limit set by the government of 317 yards would exceed solid.
How big will the difference be? One pro estimated that a 300-yard drive could go 280 to 285 yards with the new ball, although given the number of factors involved it’s difficult to accurately estimate.
The change would require device manufacturers to return to the drawing board to develop a new ball that meets the new testing standards.
Does that mean branching?
If it’s adopted by all relevant tours and championships then…yes. While the original AOI aimed to make changes across the board for all golfers, the new proposal would target golfers in “elite championships” – no specific events are mentioned – with a Model Local Rule (MLR) implemented as such could be as early as January 2026.
Because this is only a proposal for an MLR, there will be a review period during which the USGA will collect feedback from manufacturers, professionals, golfers, and various industry leaders.
The MLR could set a course for a fork and draw a clear line in the sand between the elite level pro/amateur and the recreational golfer.
Some of golf’s biggest names have been pushing for golf ball changes at the pro level for years, including 18-time Major winner Jack Nicklaus, who said so Five Clubs Podcast in 2022 that something needs to be done in the near future.
“For everyone involved, it’s very important to the game of golf that the golf ball comes back to put a lot of things back in perspective,” said Nicklaus. “I think something will be done, how long will it take for them to investigate the problem?”
On the recreational side, golfers needn’t fear losing their distance in the near future. In addition to maintaining current ball testing standards, the USGA and R&A will explore the possibility of facilitating or eliminating the initial speed test altogether, which USGA CEO Mike Whan confirmed was discussed during his press conference at the US Open last year.
“We actually talked about removing some of the other tests that have been in place for a long time,” Whan said. “One is called the initial speed of a golf ball, the other is the limit of how big a sweet spot can be. We’re looking at potentially removing those two tests and the upside of that is that we think if we remove that there’s a potential – not a guarantee – it will create room for innovation for the manufacturers to come up with a ball that’s actually better would be better suited for low racquet speeds for beginners…but actually give manufacturers a bit of freedom.”
Relaxing or eliminating the initial speed test – the test is defined as “the speed of the ball as it travels 2π feet after impacting the batsman” – could potentially increase the distance gap between a potential MLR ball and a recreational offering. In other words, weekend golfers could actually see more distance in the long run.
What is the point of the proposal?
As the game has evolved, golfers have been hitting balls farther and farther for a variety of reasons. Racquet technology and materials have improved. Golf ball technology and materials too. Technology has been improved so golfers can play more efficiently. The training has been intensified so that golfers can swing harder. Course preparation has meant that balls continue to roll on tightly mowed fairways. You get the idea: the ball travels a longer distance.
So what’s the problem? In short, distance gains have rendered obsolete some old courses for top pros; The original intention of the architect is long gone. And while Augusta National can continue to lengthen holes by buying additional land to build new back tee boxes, that’s not an option for most other golf courses. The USGA has attempted to reduce golf’s footprint, and these changes are expected to carry a message consistent with its sustainability mission.
What do the pros think?
The relationship between USGA pros and the PGA Tour has always been a delicate one. From controversial US Open setups to controversial rule changes, there have been many disagreements between the two groups. But every feud had gone relatively quiet in recent years; The US Open was conducted without incident and relations between the tour and the USGA have improved.
But such a big change means there are plenty of pros who will have their say. GOLF.com spoke to several PGA Tour players who were skeptical at best about the proposed changes.
“One of the coolest things about our sport is that the general player can play with the exact same gear and in the exact same place,” said one pro. “No fan wants PGA Tour players to beat it short than they do. That’s one of the reasons they look at pro golf because Rory can hit 320 and they can be on the same tee and not do it.”
The player added that in a perfect world, gear would have been reined in several decades ago. But the general consensus among pros seemed to be that the genie can only be back in the bottle. Attempting to bring the gear back to the late ’90s has more downsides than upsides, they argued.
The rule also introduces a complex set of incentives between professionals, equipment companies and the USGA. Right now, equipment companies can sell golf balls to fans based on the idea that they will play the same balls as the pros. When that relationship breaks, manufacturers have less incentive to optimize their gear for professionals, and less incentive to pay their professionals to speak.
As a result, several pros questioned whether the Tour would accept a recommendation from the USGA to adopt their proposed policies.
“Fans don’t want it, professionals don’t want it, television doesn’t want it, manufacturers don’t want it,” said one professional. “For whom is that?”
https://golf.com/gear/golf-balls/usga-rollback-bifurcation-announcement/ Golf ball rules could change dramatically under the new proposal. Here’s what we know