The R&A and the US Golf Association have been warned by the game’s leading manufacturer of balls, Titleist, that they will set the game back 30 years if they go ahead with their proposals to reduce the extreme length modern professionals are hitting.
Telegraph Sport revealed exclusively this Monday that, after years of study, reports and consultations, the governing bodies would finally announce their solution to resolve “the distance issue” and put an end to a debate that has raged for decades.
And on Tuesday they duly unveiled plans to introduce a regulation that will allow Tours and individual tournaments to use a “reverse” ball that, on average, will travel 15 yards shorter than it now does.
The “Modern Local Rule” is intended for elite players only and will not affect the recreational golfer and that means there will be an effective bifurcation, which means for the first time there will be different equipment rules within the sport.
Under proposals sent to equipment manufacturers Monday, a ball hit at a lab-controlled spin rate of 127 mph, instead of 120 mph, should not travel more than 320 yards.
A six-month consultation period will take place, with industry to voice concerns and they will inevitably be plentiful, but the R&A and USGA have made it clear that they are determined to implement this sweeping overhaul starting January 1, 2026.
Titleist, the US company that controls roughly 50 percent of the entire market and provides balls to nearly three-quarters of the players on the PGA Tour, did not try to hide its disdain for what it called “a solution in search of a problem”. ” and “detrimental to the long-term well-being of golf”.
“Under the proposed guidelines, events adopting this MLR would require players to use a substantially shorter golf ball, similar in distance to what was available in the 1990s,” it said in a statement.
“Changes in the performance of any ball rolled back would impact every shot in the round. Players will also be required to adjust to changes in the squad with some players disadvantaged over others by this disruption.
“The golf ball fork would invite confusion about what level of competition would use MLR products and how to effectively manage and officiate. This bifurcation would divide golf between the elite game and the recreational game, add confusion, and break the bond that is part of the game’s enduring fabric.”
The PGA Tour was rather more coy in its response, but it was notable that Sawgrass HQ decided to state that it “remains committed to ensuring that any identified future solutions benefit the game as a whole, without negatively impacting the Tour, its players, or our fans.” enjoy our sport.”
The Tour will acknowledge that they are apparently under no obligation to use the MLR, but with lawyers ready to act, this is where the governing bodies have apparently been smart.
In 2021, Masters president Fred Ridley said a “Masters ball” would be the last resort in the fight to limit hitting distances, with Augusta’s revered 13 extended by 35 yards for next month’s event. The inference was clear and with the R&A overseeing the Open and the USGA in charge of the US Open, they instantly have three of the four majors on the side.
It is almost unthinkable that the US PGA Championship, while overseen by the reluctant PGA of America, would not do the same, and how could the PGA Tour play by any different rules than the major leagues, championships for which races are still ultimately defined?
The DP World Tour declined to comment Tuesday, while the LPGA Tour indicated it had a dilemma on a circuit where distance is not an issue.
And then there is LIV Golf. As outliers and disruptors, it will be intriguing to see what position the Saudi-funded circuit takes in a saga that still has a ways to go.
Mike Whan, the executive director of the USGA, acknowledged that in the midst of a golf civil war, another ugly front will open up. But he and Slumbers say this is necessary to “break the increasing cycle of batting distance” that has led to pitches being continually lengthened and classic designs seen as outdated, with growing environmental concerns as well as the growing conviction that sport is becoming one-dimensional.
“This will not be easy, this will not be fun. Governance is hard and people don’t like change,” Whan said, before predicting dissent from the professionals themselves. “They are 25 years old, best moment of their career, hitting the ball from very far, don’t mess with that formula. I can’t argue with them, I’m not saying they’re wrong, but I also don’t think anyone is asking them to think about what it will be like the game in 30 years.