LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA | In another time, in another place and in different circumstances, golf’s bonfire would be burning around the proposed regulation that would dial back the golf ball used by the game’s elite players.
The model local rule – in more general terms, it’s a rollback – could be adopted in the coming months and put into effect in 2026. If grillroom discussions these days aren’t centered on the PGA Tour/LIV situation, they often land on the pending legislation by golf’s governing bodies, even though the rule would touch only the best of the best players.
It does, however, touch the soul of many more.
It speaks to the fury incited by the PGA Tour’s agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund that the USGA’s reiteration this week at the U.S. Open of its intention to move forward with the rule change felt more like a slow boil than a three-alarm fire.
Don’t think the legislation isn’t coming, though.
“I think if your question is, Do you think the right long-term solution is (doing) nothing? highly unlikely,” USGA CEO Mike Whan said Wednesday in speaking with the golf media at Los Angeles Country Club, site of this week’s U.S. Open, when asked about the path forward.
It is a complicated step forward, backed by an abundance of data and still open for public and sometimes private discussion into August. PGA Tour players met with USGA and R&A officials at the Memorial Tournament where many are said to have expressed their opposition, echoing what many believe the public feeling to be despite the fact that it will affect only elite male amateurs and professionals, not recreational golfers.
Tinkering with the rules, particularly opening the door to official bifurcation in a game that prides itself on everyone using the same basic equipment, is tantamount to heresy to many purists.
The USGA and the R&A, among others, contend that the refusal to address the continuing advances in distance at the elite level will lead to more serious problems down the road because few courses have the land and resources necessary to expand, not to mention how increased distance has changed the very nature of how the game is played.
If the rule should be enacted, the USGA and R&A say that driving distance will be reduced 14-15 yards for the players with the highest swing speeds, with the effect declining for slower swing speeds.
Making it happen isn’t easy.
“I thought this was going to be hard, and it’s going to be hard. I think I can speak on behalf of the R&A when I say both the R&A and the USGA believe doing nothing is a bad idea for the long-term future and health of the game,” Whan said. “But part of doing something means you’ve really got to be out there and really asking for and taking direct comments, and that’s what we’ve been doing.
“This process is really strange. We don’t have the ability in this process to walk around and talk to everybody individually and then come to the podium. We have to go to the podium, say what we’re thinking, and then spend the six months walking around and talking to everybody individually.”
“No one loves to be governed. We all love to be popular, but sometimes I think you have to really think about what’s right.” – Fred Perpall
That’s where the process stands now. Listening and responding. Keeping open the option to adjust the proposal. Giving the other side a chance to respond until Aug. 14.
It’s not as if this is a spur-of-the-moment thing. It began five years ago.
“I was talking to a friend the other day who’s like, ‘Why are you rushing this through?’ I’m like, ‘How slow do we have to go? Started in ’18; talking about a ’26 implementation.’ He said to me, ‘Can’t you just slow this down?’ I’m like, ‘Slower than an eight-year process?’” Whan said.
Beyond the technical elements involved, the emotional component is substantial. The vast majority of golfers want to find more distance, and the proposal wouldn’t touch the equipment they use. Top players argue course setup can offset whatever gains in distance there are. Manufacturers don’t want to make equipment they can’t sell to the public.
More than perhaps any other sport, golf equipment changes constantly, and golfers are willing to chase what’s new. It underpins much of the golf economy.
No one, Whan said, wants one golf ball like tennis has, and that’s not going to happen.
The people who ultimately will make the decision are golfers themselves.
“No one loves to be governed. We all love to be popular, but sometimes I think you have to really think about what’s right,” said Fred Perpall, president of the USGA.
“A lot of my friends that I would play golf with would say no one really wants this. Sometimes you have to have the courage to really do what’s right. I wish I could say to the public, our intent is pure. It’s not malicious. We’re not trying to do something to damage anyone. We’re thinking about all the good that this good game has given us, and we’re thinking about what is our responsibility to make sure that this game is still strong and healthy 50 years from now for our children’s children.”
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