March 31, 2023
Golf's Plan to Roll Back the Ball and Slow Down Big Hitters

Golf’s Plan to Roll Back the Ball and Slow Down Big Hitters

R&A wants to limit the distance golf balls travel to stop heavy hitters – Getty Images/Michael Reaves

The R&A is expected to propose a rollback of the ball in the long-distance running saga this week, but a decision could still be years away.

Telegraph Sport has learned that the impending announcement is believed to focus on “a discussion paper” on controlling the ball and essentially introducing restrictions that will ultimately decrease the distance it will travel, even under optimal conditions.

Together with the US Golf Association, the governing body at St Andrews has been seriously investigating the issue for six years after announcing that they were conducting a joint report and three years ago their “Distance Insight Project” concluded that professionals Increasing lengths are hitting it is “harmful to the game”.

Since then, the USGA and R&A have been consulting with the industry on the issue, which they stated is beginning to “undermine the fundamental tenet that golf must require a wide range of skills to be successful.”

That’s just one concern in a debate that has been raging for decades. Classic courses are at risk of becoming obsolete as players like Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm routinely throw drives of more than 350 yards, reducing the test, in some cases, to a drive, pitch and putt.

Longer courses are required which results not only in the nature of the designs stretching sometimes beyond recognition and then there is the obvious increase in maintenance costs, with the need for additional water and chemicals feeding environmental concerns. Inevitably, rounds take longer to compete, even in club competitions.

Just this week, 12 months ago, the R&A and USGA released an update that essentially alerted equipment manufacturers to the fact that they were investigating the potential impacts on hitting distance by increasing test ball speeds to reflect clubhead speeds achieved by today’s greats. -hitters, with another “key area of ​​focus” being the spec driver itself.

However, after a six-month consultation period in which manufacturers voiced objections and shared ideas, Telegraph Sport has learned that the R&A and USGA, despite limiting trucks to a maximum of 46 inches last year, appear to focus primarily on diminishing the ball and not drastically reform the rules of clubs, which could affect recreational golfers.

“We believe we can make changes to the golf ball that may impact longer hitters but have really minimal impact on average drive distance for recreational golfers,” Thomas Pagel, USGA director of governance, said in a statement. 2022.

That would allow hackers to continue to play by the same rules as the experts, but it may be easier for the powers that be to introduce the regulation as a “Model Local Rule”, which Tours and tournaments can use if they wish. choose.

The news will inevitably receive a mixed reception, ranging from relief to anger and, of course, time-lapse exacerbation of the ongoing gibberish.

Before the arrival of LIV Golf, the Saudi-funded rogue circuit that split the elite men’s game in two, this was the hot topic in golf, with the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods on the opposite side of the argument with Rory McIlroy. , many of the modern pros, and even the PGA Tour.

In some ways, the LIV controversy has given authorities some respite, though Nicklaus, for his part, has been distraught that he hasn’t acted more quickly.

“I don’t know what they’re doing,” said the 18-time Grand Slam champion. “They are slow to react to this problem. They say they put a line in the sand, but that line in the sand keeps widening. They keep crossing it. For everyone involved, having the golf ball put a lot of things back into perspective is very important to the game of golf. I think something will be done, how long will it take them to investigate the problem?

In fairness to the R&A and USGA, this has the potential to become a legal minefield, with the manufacturers’ lawyers already on the case and the last thing the sport needs right now is another open front in the civil war. .

“This is just a discussion paper and all of this will probably still take many years to sort out,” a source said. “There is talk that 2026 could be the date that something is finally implemented.”

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