USGA’s Ball Rollback: Will It Save Golf or Spark Backlash?

brendon elliott pga professional profile author
Brendon Elliott, PGA Professional

As a PGA of America Golf Professional, I am responsible for ensuring that golfers have an enjoyable experience on the course. Coaching and teaching golfers involves showing them the essential skills. These skills help golfers get started and eventually excel in the game. The full swing, short game, and putting are some basic skills that need to be learned.

Additionally, a golfer must know about other crucial things. These include equipment, course strategy, the mental game, golf fitness, and more.

The learning process often overlooks understanding the game’s rules. Although the rules can be complex, they are crucial for any golfer to know. The 2019 update to the rules by the USGA and R&A has made them more modern and straightforward for the average player.

Golf is an ancient game. Because of this, changes have sometimes been needed throughout its history to stay modern. All things naturally modernize. In golf, the rules and standards that golfers must adhere to when playing should stay in step with the modernization of the game.

As equipment, training procedures, and a golfer’s ability to learn more effectively advance, the impact of this should be reflected in the rules of the game. 

One significant change, announced late last year by the USGA and R&A, was the golf ball rollback. The USGA and R&A are the two governing bodies of golf, responsible for setting and maintaining the rules of the game.

Their decisions make an impact, and any proposed rule changes are carefully considered and debated.

How Have Past Rules Changes Resinated In Golf?

The reaction to past rule changes in golf has always been mixed. The best most recent example of this was the decision to ban anchoring a long putter to a player’s body, which sparked frustration among many golfers.

Other examples that were met with a more favorable outlook include changes to the rules regarding the use of technology, such as rangefinders and GPS devices, and changes to help make the game more accommodating for those with disabilities. 

As mentioned previously, the 2019 modernization of rules by the USGA and R&A has undoubtedly made the game more accessible and straightforward for the average player. 

The Proposed Golf Ball Rollback: What It Is And Why It’s Happening

The golf ball plays a pivotal role in the game of golf, and recent discussions have centered around the need to limit its travel distance. This golf ball rollback movement is a response to the increasing power of modern golf balls, which has led to longer courses, higher maintenance costs, and reduced enjoyment for players.

According to the USGA and others in the golf industry, the current trend of golf ball distance is not sustainable for the sport in the long term. To tackle this, the USGA has proposed new rules. These rules aim at dialing back the maximum distance of golf balls to levels seen in the early 2000s, essentially reverting golf ball technology.

For instance, one proposed change is to limit the initial velocity of the ball off the clubface.

Last December, the USGA and R&A announced plans to implement the golf ball rollback. The changes are expected to be gradual, with the most significant impact on driving distances on the PGA TOUR expected by 2028. Recreational play changes won’t take effect until 2028, giving players ample time to adjust to the new rules.

While the rule change is confirmed, there’s still time before it takes place. Data from the USGA indicates that amateur players would see a limited impact, with a loss of only five yards or less per drive. Notably, some elite players, including Rory McIlroy, have shown support for this change, although many TOUR players are opposing it.

At last year’s Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods said the following:

“We’ve been hammering the point. The ball needs to slow down, but it has kept speeding up my entire career, and here we are…I told you guys: I’ve always been for bifurcation. I’ve always said that. Just like wood bats and metal bats in baseball.”

Mike Whan is CEO of the USGA. The former commissioner of the LPGA Tour has been at the helm of the USGA since mid-2021 and has been at the center of this current rules debate. In late 2023, Whan shared his thoughts on the rollback, its implementation, and what it means for the overall health of the game:

“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…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.”

There is no denying that appropriate action is necessary for the future of the game. The golf ball rollback, if implemented effectively, could lead to a more sustainable and balanced game, offering new challenges and opportunities for golfers.

What About Two Sets of Rules For Pros and Ams?

The bifurcation debate in golf, which refers to the idea of setting different rules and equipment standards for professional and amateur golfers, particularly concerning golf balls and clubs, is a hot topic of discussion.

Supporters of bifurcation argue that it could effectively address concerns about the distance golf balls travel and their impact on the game. They believe that allowing professionals and amateurs to use different equipment could level the playing field and make the game more enjoyable for all.

On the other hand, opponents argue that bifurcation would lead to confusion and harm the sport’s integrity, as it could create a situation where the same game is played under different rules.

In reality, there is already a clear difference between professional and amateur golfers. PGA TOUR radar data shows that professionals have a significant advantage in terms of swing speeds, spin rates, launch angles, and carry distances as compared to the average golfer.

Given this, bifurcation might be a logical solution.

What You Need to Know Now

Currently, you can confirm compliance by looking for the USGA’s ‘Conforming Golf Ball’ stamp on the ball’s packaging. This stamp indicates that the ball has been tested and approved by the USGA and meets all of the organization’s current standards.

For further clarification, you can check the USGA’s list of conforming golf balls on their website. This process ensures that you are using a ball that is legal for play under the current rules.

Sticking to reputable ball manufacturers known for producing high-quality golf balls, such as Titleist, Srixon, TaylorMade, Bridgestone, and Callaway, is advisable. These brands are more likely to adhere to the USGA’s standards and would likely release conforming balls under any new rules.

It’s crucial to note that the golf ball rollback rules are still in the process of being finalized. Staying informed about these changes and understanding their potential impact is key to being prepared and adapting your game accordingly.

Brendon is Class A PGA Professional and founded Little Linksters, LLC, and its nonprofit arm, the Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development. He won 25+ prestigious industry honors, including the 2017 PGA National Youth Player Development Award. He graduated from the PGA of America Management Program and has a handicap index of 7.8.

He has played golf for over 40 years and currently plays twice a month at the Eagle Dunes Golf Club near Sorrento, Florida. He loves Srixon clubs and plays a ZX5 driver with Z 585 irons. He's written over 60 articles on GolfSpan and specializes in sharing tips to improve your golf game. You can connect with Brendon at LinkedIn, X, IG, FB, his website, or

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