One thing we know for sure about the rollback of the golf ball by the United States Golf Association and the R and A this week is that there is no need to run out and start hoarding today’s golf ball to ensure more distance on your shots.
That’s because the new golf ball regulations won’t go into effect until 2028 at the earliest, so golfers will be able to buy the current golf ball from their favorite manufacturer for another four years without seeing any change in distance.
What else will happen in the next four years is pretty much anyone’s guess. That’s because for all the effort and research the USGA and the R and A put into the new regulations, the golf manufacturers will naturally clap back at the rollback. And golfers themselves might not be too excited.
No golfer in the history of the game has ever said, ‘You know, I wish I hit the ball shorter off the tee.’” The scratching and clawing for distance has been the major force behind technological changes in golf balls and golf clubs over the last few decades. The challenge for the USGA and the R and A has been how to let golfers reap the benefits of technological advances without letting technology take over the game and diminish the importance of skill.
Some of the biggest names in the game – think Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus – have screamed that the golf ball needed to be rolled back. As today’s golfers started hitting drives 350 yards or more, more people were listening.
But for the average weekend foursome at your local club, the distance problem is that there isn’t enough distance. The PGA Tour might feature players hitting the ball so long that some older golf courses are in danger of becoming obsolete. But you aren’t going to make your local municipal golf courses obsolete anytime soon.
Yardage loss is not that bad
The USGA says the average male golfer in the game will lose three to five yards in distance with the new golf ball, while the average professional will lose nine to 11 yards and the LPGA player will lose five to seven yards. That hardly seems like something to complain about. But unlike, say, the ban on anchored putting, the new golf ball won’t be able to be ignored as all the manufacturers start making the new ball under new regulations.
In other words, the new golf ball will be the ball you can buy at your golf shop unless the manufacturers decide to start marking conforming and non-conforming balls. Don’t think the manufacturers aren’t thinking about that, knowing that you and your weekend buddies aren’t likely to try to qualify for the USGA championship.
Could this all be avoided by having two golf balls, one for the elite players and one for average recreational players? Sure, but the USGA and the R and A love the idea that golf from Tiger Woods to the novice is played under one set of rules and one set of regulations. That may be a delusion, and the powers in golf certainly understand that, but golf remains one of the few sports that treats amateurs and pros at any number of levels the same way.
Is five yards for the average country club male golfer something to get excited about? Of course not. But what will the manufacturers do in the coming years? Will there be lawsuits against the USGA? Will the manufacturers go for the idea of two balls without the approval of the USGA?
More important is the idea that the USGA might go after drivers next. For all the talk about souped-up golf balls, the drivers have been a major part of increased distances, too. If the USGA tries to dial back golf clubs as well as golf balls, that might be where recreational golfers have more of a problem. And it might be the point where manufacturers fight back as well.
Larry Bohannan is the golf writer for The Desert Sun. You can contact him at (760) 778-4633 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_bohannan. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Desert Sun.