USGA, R&A set to announce plans to combat Rory McIlroy, others: What we know

The R&A and USGA are set to announce a roll back of the golf ball which could take as much as 20 yards off the distances hit by the elite players.

Ben Smith's picture
Tue, 14 Mar 2023
USGA, R&A set to announce plans to combat Rory McIlroy, others: What we know

There's a storm brewing. No, we're not talking about another lawsuit - but the news that the R&A and USGA are set to announce a golf ball roll back that could take as much as 20 yards off the distances hit by the elite players. 

The R&A and USGA scheduled a joint media conference for 14 March led by Martin Slumbers and Mike Whan, the chief executives of the two major governing bodies. 

So what's happening? 

According to reporting by GolfDigest, a Model Local Rule (MLR) could be brought in that would be reserved for the elite and have no effect on club golfers. 

For the very first time, it would bifurcate golf. 

Professional players and recreational players would use different equipment and play to different rules. 

This is a topic that has long been discussed. 

Even more so in recent years when you think about how players like Bryson DeChambeau began to overpower golf courses, averaging more than 320 yards off the tee. 

"Something needed to change"

Our Equipment Editor Alex Lodge said:

"A roll back has been coming for a while. Courses are not made for golfers with 185mph ball speed. Yes, there is an argument that courses can adapt, and in time they will. But, with more and more professional golfers averaging 320 yards off the tee, something needed to change."

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Rory McIlroy leads the PGA Tour in driving distance this season with an average of 326.6 yards. 

As many as 82 PGA Tour players average more than 300 yards off the tee. 

GolfDigest report that the rolling back of the golf ball would be achieved by changing how they are tested to conform.  

Their report stated:

"The primary proposed change would revise how golf balls are tested for conformance. The swing speed for the robot would increase from 120 miles per hour to 127 miles per hour. That likely would make all current golf balls used in elite competition nonconforming. Given that at elite speeds, every mile per hour increase in clubhead speed equates to approximately 2.5-3 yards in total distance, increasing the test speed by 7 miles per hour could result in a distance loss of about 20 yards or more."

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It has also been reported by the Telegraph's Jamie Corrigan that the Local Rule could come into effect in January 2026.

This news is hardly surprising, given that three years ago the R&A and USGA delivered a Distance Insights Project report and concluded the longer distances are 'taking golf in the wrong direction'. 

What do the manufacturers say?

Equipment manufacturers are yet to comment but were reportedly sent a memo about the proposals ahead of the media conference. 

GolfDigest got their hands on it and it stated: 

"The proposed MLR (Model Local Rule) would enable golf event organisers and committees to use specific balls for certain elite championships and tournaments but would not impact the current recreational game in any way."

Why is this happening? 

Classic courses are in danger of becoming obsolete, reducing some to simply cases of professional players hitting drivers then reaching for their wedges on every other hole. 

Has anything else happened to combat distance? 

The R&A and USGA previously limited the length of driver shafts to a maximum of 46ins last year. 

That move was condemned by Phil Mickelson, who labelled the move as 'pathetic. 

Are there any other implications?

The Telegraph reported that the proposals have the potential to become a 'legal minefield', with lawyers for manufacturers 'already on the case'. 

Keep checking GolfMagic for further updates. 

And don't hesitate to let us know your thoughts on this. Why not send us a Tweet? We're sure this news will be met with a mixed reaction. 

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