USGA and R&A say that everyone, not just professional players, will be able to play with golf balls that are rounder.
Golf ball rollbacks for everyone, not just pros, have been announced by the USGA and the R&A.

The USGA and the R&A, which are in charge of golf, finally made an announcement Wednesday that has been in the works for almost four years: they are changing how golf balls will be checked for conformity in order to make the sport less affected by distance.

Starting in 2028, a golf ball must pass tests using a robot that swings a titanium club at 125 mph and hits the ball at an 11-degree launch angle with 2,200 rpm of spin before it can be used. The shot can’t go farther than the Overall Distance Standard (ODS), which is 317 yards for both the throw and roll (plus or minus 3 yards).

As things stand, balls are travelling at 120 mph, with a launch angle of 10 degrees and backspin rate of 2,520 rpm. The change speeds up the robot’s clubhead by 5 mph, raises the launch angle by 1 degree, and slows down the spin rate by about 300 rpm.

Current test conditionsNew test conditionsChange
120 mph clubhead speed125 mph clubhead speed5 mph clubhead speed
10-degree launch angle11-degree launch angle1-degree launch angle

The Titleist Pro V1, Callaway Chrome Soft, TaylorMade TP5, Bridgestone Tour B, and Srixon Z-Star are just a few of the golf balls on the market today that would fail the new test because they are made to go as far as the current distance limits. If you hit shots with low spin rates and higher launch angles and speed up the test by 5 mph, all of the balls on the market today would go too far and no longer meet the standards. 

Balls that were allowed before but didn’t pass the new test will be taken off the list of Conforming Balls, which will make them illegal for official play starting January 1, 2028.

USGA Golf Robot
USGA Golf Robot

The USGA’s golf robot swings a test club at the exact speed that techs need. (USGA)

Thomas Pagel, the chief governance officer of the USGA, says that using golf balls that pass the new test will shorten the distance. Players with the fastest swings will be affected the most, while casual golfers will be affected the least.

“The longest players, which means those who can hit the ball at 183 mph or faster, will lose 13 to 15 yards with their driver,” Pagel said. “A typical PGA Tour player and top male player, like a college player, would lose about 9 or 11 yards.” Based on how fast LPGA players hit the ball, we’re talking about 5 to 7 yards. People who play golf for fun, we’re talking about 5 yards or less.

At the end of last season’s PGA Tour, only 10 players had an average ball speed of over 183 mph. ShotLink says the average ball speed on the PGA Tour this season was 172.85 mph.

John Spitzer, who is in charge of equipment standards for the USGA, says that a male club player who hits his driver at 90 mph will lose 4 to 5 yards off the tee but probably won’t lose any yardage when hitting hybrids, irons, or wedges.

Spitzer said, “Most male and female amateurs in the recreational game hit the ball off the driver with a lot more spin than is ideal.”

Any balls sent in for testing before October 2027 will be tested according to the old standard. Any balls sent in for testing after that date will be tested according to the new standard, and if they pass, they will be added to the Conforming Ball list on January 1, 2028.

“Tourism golfers won’t have to worry about this until 2030,” Pagel said. “The last list will not be made public until 2027, but amateur golfers can still use those balls.” They will be following the Rules of Golf if they want to use any balls they still have in their golf bag or at home and post their scores. There will be no problems with that.

It is planned that the USGA and R&A will work out the specifics so that recreational golfers can use balls from before 2028 and pros and top amateurs will use shorter balls later on, most likely with Clarification.

The USGA and the R&A thought they had a way to solve the distance problem nine months ago, so they came up with a new Model Local Rule. It would let tournament organisers and tours make players use golf balls that have been tested in conditions very close to the ones that have been announced now. The idea was that events for professional golfers could require them to use golf balls that go farther, but rules about equipment for casual players would stay the same.

Golf balls
Golf balls

Look at some golf balls that have been split in half to see what’s inside. (Golfweek photo by David Dusek)

This announcement will impact all golfers, not just the best players with the fastest swings. It came about because people told the USGA and the R&A what they thought during a Notice and Comment Period that ran from March 14 to August 13.

“We got a lot of feedback during the Notice and Comment period, and it was very consistent across all stakeholders,” Pagel said. “The desire for unity was clear to us, whether it came from the tours, the tour membership, manufacturers, the PGA of America, or, to be honest, just regular golfers.” It’s important to play the same game by the same rules and standards.

Big players in golf, like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, have said for years that they think modern golf balls go too far and too straight. But the steps that were taken to make this change took time.

The USGA and R&A posted their 102-page Distance Insights Report on February 4, 2020. It has data and information from 56 projects. Because of that report, it was officially decided that distance played a huge role in the sport.

Many tests and programmes had to be put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To stop elite golfers from using extra-long equipment to get faster and farther, a Model Local Rule was made that let competition officials limit driver length to 46 inches. Then, in March 2022, the USGA and R&A sent a three-page letter to makers called “Areas of Interest.” This letter told companies that the governing bodies were thinking about making changes to how balls are tested.

They wanted to raise the speed to 125 to 127 mph, with launch angles between 7.5 and 15 degrees and backspin rates between 2,200 and 3,000 rpm. The Model Local Rule was suggested in March.

And for many players, the fact that everyone plays by the same rules is an important part of the game.

Dual-major winner Justin Thomas said, “It’s so bad for the game of golf.” He also said, “It’s very rare for recreational golfers like us to be able to use the same gear.” Yes, I know that my wedge may have a different grind, but you can buy the same golf ball that I play or that Scottie Scheffler plays at the pro shop.

For many years, the USGA and R&A have said that they had three choices when it came to distance. The governing groups didn’t have any other choice but to do nothing. A Model Local Rule could be used to go after players who swing the club quickly, but that wasn’t liked by most people. Someone picked the third choice, which was to change the rules for everyone while still leaving room for future cuts.

“This is about managing distance over the long term, and this test has been changed before,” Pagel said. “We are sure that someday, the best golfers will be able to play from the same distance as back then.” It’s not clear yet whether that’s 15 or 20 years. But we think we’ll be back here and make changes in the future.

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