Golf ball rollback: Everything you need to know


Is the proposed golf ball rollback still going ahead? What would a proposed golf ball rollback mean for you? Why are the R&A and USGA discussing bifurcation? And how has the proposal been received by the pros and manufacturers? We’ve got everything you need to know.

The R&A and USGA have been hinting at rolling back the ball for years, and it looked like a consensus was building to introduce a new Model Local Rule (MLR) in January 2026 to limit how far the golf ball travels in top-level competitions.

However, the PGA Tour has now had its say, and it looks as if the rollback debate still has some rolling left to do before being universally accepted across the game.

Rory McIlroy is one of the biggest hitters in golf, but his distances could be impacted by the new rollback proposals.

What has the PGA Tour had to say?

In a memo from PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan on July 26th, the R&A and USGA were notified that they will not support the proposed modifications.

During discussions at a recent Players Advisory Committee, Monahan conceded there had been some level of support for the proposals but ultimately there was a “widespread and significant belief that the proposed MLR is not warranted and is not in the best interest of the game.

“While the PGA Tour is committed to collaborating with them – and all industry partners – to arrive at a solution that will best serve our players, our fans, and the game at all levels, we are not able to support the MLR as proposed.”

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has again ruled out working with LIV Golf.

So is the rollback going ahead at all?

It’s important to remember the MLR is a local rule meaning individual Tours will be able to decide, once approved, whether they adopt it or not. The R&A and USGA have already confirmed they will for the tournaments under their jurisdiction, including The Open and US Open.

It seems, at least for now, that the PGA has shut the door on the golf ball rollback proposal. That being said, surprise U-turns on significant decisions are not uncommon at the PGA, so watch this space!

How did it come to this?

The governing bodies have been considering their options ever since ‘Tiger proofing’ became a thing. Many golf courses have already been extended – at the detriment of sustainability and pace of play – to coincide with distance gains, but many more are in danger of becoming obsolete because the architect’s original intentions have been lost.

To prove their point, the R&A have just dropped their Annual Distance Report which reveals that over the last 20 years hitting distances have increased on average by around one yard per year. Clearly, it’s a problem that isn’t going away.

The R&A and USGA are looking to change the rules on golf balls

What exactly are the R&A and USGA proposing?

This is where it all gets a little nerdy. But stay with us. The MLR is designed to curb the hitting distances of Bryson & Co by changing the way golf balls are manufactured and tested. 

Under the new proposals, golf balls struck at a robot-controlled swing speed of 127mph – up from 120mph – must not exceed 320 yards to conform.

The change is expected to ‘roll the ball back’ by 15 yards for the game’s longest hitters, effectively bringing us back to the late 90s. It also means one of the game’s most appealing qualities – the ability for club golfers to play the same courses under the same rules as the pros – will be lost!

How do the manufacturers feel about it?

They’re not happy – and we don’t blame them. If the proposals get the green light, all current golf balls will be rendered non-conforming in the pro game, thus they’ll need to spend millions on R&D to keep their players happy. All of golf’s major stakeholders now have until August 14, 2023 to provide feedback.

What does the rollback mean for you?

Nothing. At least, not right now. The proposed changes, which will impact the testing conditions for golf balls, will not affect the equipment rules governing recreational players, but will instead be aimed at professional and elite amateur players. Is this what the game needs right now?

I keep hearing the word ‘bifurcation’. What is that?

It means a different set of rules for amateurs and pros. The easiest example we can think of is baseball in America, where the high school teams use metal bats and the Major League teams use wooden ones.

Martin Slumbers.

What the Majors say about the golf ball rollback

Martin Slumbers, CEO of the R&A

“At the core of our proposal is a desire to minimize the impact on a flourishing recreational game. We believe the proposed Model Local Rule will help us move forward in a way that protects the inherent qualities of the sport and reduces the pressure to lengthen courses.”

Mike Whan, CEO of the USGA

“You want to critique the USGA and the R&A over the last 20 years, you can be a critic on ‘why didn’t you do this five, seven, 10 years ago?’ Fair comment, and we’ve taken that on, too. But taking another 10 years off or looking the other way and saying, ‘Distance is great; everybody is excited, and of course, it’s going to grow by more than a yard a year for the next 20 years, and we all know it, but we’ll just turn the other cheek.’ Well, that would be a shame.”

PGA of America

The PGA of America, which runs the US PGA Championship, said they had not made any decision regarding their first relevant championship in 2026.

“Regarding this specific area of interest, we are pleased that there is no longer a focus on changing or modifying the ball or clubs that recreational players may use, a statement read.

“We are not in favor of bifurcation and do not anticipate individual clubs implementing such a Model Local Rule as it is meant for elite players.

“In regards to the US PGA Championship, 2026 is still a long way off and until we know the specifics of the proposed Model Local Rule we are not in a position to make that determination.”

Augusta National

Augusta National, which runs The Masters, and the DP World Tour are yet to comment.

Is Rory McIlroy going to be using a different golf ball to the rest of us?

What the Tour golfers say

Rory McIlroy

“I think my opinion differs from my peers, and probably the PGA Tour as a whole,” McIlroy told No Laying Up. “And obviously, look, this is just my opinion and I’m only one voice. But honestly, if I’m taking my PGA Tour hat off here, the major championships are already such a big deal in the game of golf, and if the major championships somehow adopt this ball change, and the PGA Tour doesn’t, I think it widens that gap between PGA Tour golf and major championship golf. Which, if anything, the PGA Tour is trying to make up some sort of market share, or trying to get a little closer to the major championships in terms of the interest that we create within our tournaments.

“Honestly, for me, the major championships are the biggest deal, so if the PGA Tour doesn’t implement it, I might still play the Model Local Rule ball, because I know that that’ll give me the best chance and the best preparation leading into the major championships.

“And again, this is personal preference and personal opinion at this stage of my career. I know that I’m gonna be defined by the amount of major championships that I hopefully will win from now until the end of my career. And that’s the most important thing for me.”

Justin Thomas had his say on a possible golf ball rollback

Justin Thomas

“I think the USGA over the years has—in my eyes, it’s harsh, but made some pretty selfish decisions,” Thomas said. “They definitely, in my mind, have done a lot of things that aren’t for the betterment of the game, although they claim it. I had conversations with some USGA members and it just—to me, I don’t understand how it’s growing the game. For them to say in the same sentence that golf is in the best place it’s ever been, everything is great, but…

“And I’m like, well, there shouldn’t be a but. You’re trying to create a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. To me, it’s so bad for the game of golf, for an opportunity—I mean, some of the great things to me is the fact that you can play the exact same golf ball that I play. I mean, that’s cool. For an everyday amateur golfer, it’s very unique that we are able to play the exact same equipment. Yeah, I understand that I may have a different grind on a wedge, whatever you want to call it, but you can go to the pro shop and buy the same golf ball that I play or Scottie Scheffler plays or whatever.

“But the USGA wants to bring it to a point where that’s not the case. They want it to be, okay, well, the pros play this way and the amateurs play this way, and that just doesn’t—I don’t understand how that’s better for the game of golf. The amount of time, and money that these manufacturers have spent trying to create the best product possible and now you’re going to tell them and us that we have to start over for potentially if the PGA Tour, PGA of America, don’t adopt this local rule. So for two of the four biggest events of the year, we’re going to have to use a different ball? Like, try to explain to me how that’s better for the game of golf.”

Webb Simpson

“I don’t know that we need to roll back equipment. I think there needs to be more emphasis on golf course design. We want to see tighter fairways. We want to see more rough. We want to see more trees, doglegs, and stuff like that. That seems to be pretty popular with the guys that I’ve talked to.”

Keegan Bradley

“It’s too extreme. It creates a huge void between players. One of the coolest things about golf is you can come out and play with a PGA Tour player with a 30 handicap and we’re playing the same sport. I can’t go play football with Tom Brady with pads on Sunday. I’ll get killed.”

Bryson DeChambeau

“I think it’s the most atrocious thing that you could possibly do to the game of golf. It’s not about rolling golf balls back; it’s about making golf courses more difficult. I think it’s the most unimaginative, uninspiring, game-cutting thing you could do. Everybody wants to see people hit it farther. That’s part of the reason why a lot of people like what I do.”

Sam Burns

“I think it’s pretty silly. I would say if you look at the last few years of golf, I think the game has grown tremendously. At the end of the day no matter what it is, we’re an entertainment sport and I don’t think people necessarily want to come out here and watch guys hit it shorter. 

“They enjoy watching guys go out there and hit it 350 yards. I don’t see what the problem is with that. I think that’s a skill and I don’t really agree with trying to take that away.”

Peter Uihlein

“The funniest thing to me is the USGA is acting like equipment companies have taken advantage of a system that they [governing bodies] have put in place. These were regulations that they established. It’s not the equipment companies’ fault for trying to innovate. That’s the way the world works. You try to innovate.

“These were problems that they put in place. They weren’t smart enough to basically put a cap on it 20-30 years ago. They didn’t have the wherewithal. But that’s not a secret to anybody. They’ve always been a little bit inept.

“From what I’ve heard with Martin Slumbers and what I’ve heard with Mike Whan, it feels like this is a legacy move for them. This is how they want to leave their name in the game of golf by doing this. So be it. It’s funny. There’s nothing that brings the tours together like everyone’s hatred for the USGA. It’s been interesting.”

Brandon Matthews (whose 126mph average driver speed tops the PGA Tour stats)

“I’m really looking forward to seeing shot shapes again like you used to see,” he said. “You don’t see that anymore because of the ball technology. So, you’re going to see a little more of that comeback, which is really cool. But I don’t know how far they’re going to go with this, but it’s going to be a really exciting change and I think it’s going to make the game a little bit better.“

Titleist will be heavily affected by any possible changes to golf ball rules

What the equipment manufacturers say about the golf ball rollback

Acushnet, parent company of Titleist, makers of the No.1 ball in golf

“The USGA and R&A have announced a Notice and Comment to manufacturers proposing a potential rule change to golf ball testing that results in a Model Local Rule (MLR) that provides for reduced distance golf balls intended for professional and elite amateur competitions and a different set of rules for all other play. This bifurcation would divide golf between elite and recreational play, add confusion, and break the linkage that is part of the game’s enduring fabric.

“Playing by a unified set of rules is an essential part of the game’s allure, contributes to its global understanding and appeal, and eliminates the inconsistency and instability that would come from multiple sets of equipment standards. Unification is a powerfully positive force in the game, and we believe that equipment bifurcation would be detrimental to golf’s long-term well-being. As a result, we will actively participate in this conversation with the governing bodies, worldwide professional tours, PGA Professional organizations, amateur associations and federations, and golfers, in an effort to contribute to the continued enjoyment and growth of the game.”  

TaylorMade, makers of the TP5 and TP5x, as used by Rory McIlroy

“The USGA and R&A recently announced a proposal to create a Model Local Rule where highly skilled golfers must use a different golf ball from 2026 onwards. This will introduce bifurcation into our sport, meaning that you – the golfer – will play with different equipment than the professionals. We believe a large part of golf’s appeal is this underlying sense of: “I can do that, too.

“And using the same equipment as the pros gives us a more accurate feel for how talented these players are. Most of us will never know what it’s like to play in Madison Square Garden, throw a touchdown in the Super Bowl, or score the game-winning goal in a World Cup final, but we can go to St. Andrews, walk across the Swilcan Bridge and for a moment feel what it’s like to be a professional. Walk in their shoes, play the same courses, and use the same equipment. It’s all part of why we love this sport.

“The USGA and R&A have provided a window in which all manufacturers can provide feedback on this proposal and its potential impact.

“As we absorbed this announcement and tried to understand the why, as well as the impact, all of our conversations came back to one place – you, the golfer. We want your voice to be heard, so please, let us know what you think. We invite you to be part of the conversation and to be part of our feedback to the USGA and R&A.” You can give TaylorMade your views here.

Bridgestone, which makes the Bridgestone Tour B XS TW golf ball that Tiger Woods plays

“We are concerned that the proposed rule changes could confuse and dampen the enthusiasm of millions of new participants to our game. We are pleased that the proposed changes do not appear to be aimed at recreational players.

“Bridgestone has always been a leader in golf ball technology and innovation, and we are confident that our superior engineering capabilities will allow us to continue to push the envelope of golf ball performance for recreational players while also making the best possible golf ball for elite competitions.” While some have speculated that manufacturers could decline altogether to produce a tournament ball, Bridgestone is steadfast in their intention to keep the best players in the world in its equipment.”

What our readers say about the golf ball rollback

Gerry Moore

“Basically a change is proposed to the Rules of Golf to stop top players from hitting the ball too far. No, we all play exactly the same rules and equipment. What next? Double-size football pitches because elite players are fitter?”

Spencer Willis

“Sounds great to me. Only affects elite-level golf. They can’t keep finding land at prestigious venues to fight technology. Ninety-nine percent of golfers will be unaffected.”

Thomas Caullay

“Elite players have bifurcated already. To reach Rory’s 365-yard drive I need driver and pitching wedge.”

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