The USGA and R&A announced Wednesday the much-anticipated golf-ball rollback, which will reduce driving distances on the PGA Tour by an estimated nine to 15 yards beginning in 2028.
The Overall Distance Standard (ODS) will be adjusted in ’28 for the elite game via the revised testing conditions, which will increase from the current standard of 120-mph swing speed (equivalent to 176-mph ball speed) to 125 mph (equivalent to 183-mph ball speed), with a sustained maximum distance of 317 yards.
In simple terms, testing with an increased swing speed will need to result in the same max distance. Thus, balls that are currently near the distance limit will be non-conforming in the future.
Testing standards will also move from a 10-degree launch angle with 2520 rpm spin rate to 11 degrees and 2200 rpm.
The USGA and R&A said in a statement that a focal point of the decision was its research among top PGA Tour players: "An analysis of ball speeds among golf’s longest hitters in 2023 shows that the fastest 10 players had an average ball speed of 186 mph while the average ball speed of the fastest 25 was 183.4 mph (the very fastest averaged 190 mph)."
“Governance is hard. And while thousands will claim that we did too much, there will be just as many who said we didn’t do enough to protect the game long-term,” Mike Whan, the CEO of the USGA, said in a statement. “But from the very beginning, we’ve been driven to do what is right for the game, without bias. As we’ve said, doing nothing is not an option – and we would be failing in our responsibility to protect the game’s future if we didn’t take appropriate action now.”
According to the USGA and R&A, the game’s longest hitters are expected to see a reduction of 13-15 yards in driving distance while the average tour professional and elite male players will drive the ball nine to 11 yards less. LPGA players are expected to see a reduction in driving distance of five to seven yards.
How individual players will be affected will largely be determined by their swing speeds, the ruling bodies have stated. Reductions are also not expected to be the same throughout the bag, as the less swing speed required to hit a club will see fewer, if any, yardage loss.
The new standard will be adopted for the recreational game beginning in 2030 and, according to data provided by the USGA, the impact would five yards or less per drive. More than 30% of currently conforming golf balls would still be conforming under the new standards.
Wednesday’s announcement follows a three-year “Notice and Comment” period (which began with the 2018 Distance Insights Project) with equipment manufacturers and other golf organizations as well as an initial plan for a Model Local Rule that would have bifurcated the game with elite players playing a different golf ball than recreational players. The Tour and PGA of America pushed back on that proposal, but Wednesday’s announcement didn’t appear to be an acceptable compromise.
Here’s how club companies, tours and prominent organizations inside of golf have responded to news of an eventual golf-ball rollback.
“[W]e continue to provide feedback to the USGA and the R&A that we believe the proposed increase in test clubhead speed to 125 mph is disproportional to the rate of increase we see when analyzing PGA Tour radar data on launch conditions, using best practices for analyzing data,” a memo to Tour players sent early Wednesday read. “Therefore, we do not support today’s announcement regarding the increase to 125 mph, believing a more moderate adjustment is appropriate.”
The memo also addressed the notion that distance gains are a combination of factors, not just the modern golf ball: “We will also continue efforts we are making using the breadth of ShotLink data to understand how course set-up, design and other competitive characteristics can help mitigate the effects of distance while also providing the opportunity for a diverse skill set to succeed at the highest level.”
Last week at the Hero World Challenge, Tour players had mixed reactions to the rollback.
“We've been hammering, The ball needs to slow down, but it has kept speeding up my entire career and here we are,” Tiger Woods said. “I told you guys: I've always been for bifurcation. I've always said that. Just like wood bats and metal bats [in baseball].”
Rory McIlroy was also vocal on social media about his desire to see a dialing back of the ball, but many Tour players have been opposed to the rollback.
“I think we constantly get penalized for mistakes they [USGA and R&A] make. Whether if they let the ball go too far, that’s not our problem,” said Keegan Bradley, who was forced to adjust his style of putting after the USGA and R&A banned anchored putting. “They [are doing this] to punish not only the professional golfers, but the world of golf for something that they screwed up on. I really think it’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard of.”
The USGA and R&A also announced plans to expand testing on “driver creep,” which is when a conforming driver exceeds the testing limits through regular use, and a plan to “research the forgiveness of drivers and how they perform with off-center hits.”
“This is an ongoing review and we will seek input from and continue to work with the industry, including manufacturers, to identify driver design features that can be regulated as a means to reward center impact position hits versus mis-hits,” the USGA and R&A statement read.