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USGA, R&A propose rolling back the ball for elite golfers, but not changing equipment for recreational players

Eighty-three players on the PGA Tour average 300 yards or more off the tee this season, but the days of Rory McIlroy, Cameron Young, Tony Finau and the like vaporizing drives and humbling par 5s may be numbered. 

After three years of research, listening to comments from manufacturers and requesting feedback from stakeholders, the U.S. Golf Association and the R&A are ready to start reducing distance at the game’s elite levels, and they are going after the golf ball to do it.

On Monday, golf’s governing bodies sent letters to equipment companies to announce a proposed Model Local Rule that would allow tournament organizers to require players to use golf balls that were tested under modified Actual Launch Conditions (ALC) to reduce distance. The primary goal of the Model Local Rule would be to reduce distance at the highest levels of men’s golf — with the USGA and R&A anticipating a reduction in driver distance of 14-15 yards for the longest hitters and golfers with the highest swing speeds — while not changing equipment rules that govern recreational players.

The game’s governing bodies plan to reduce distance at elite levels by altering the tests that must be passed for any ball to be deemed conforming to the rules. By increasing robotic testing speeds and altering other test parameters, the governing bodies effectively will require a slower, shorter golf ball to comply with the Model Local Rule. It will then be up to any event or tour to adopt the Model Local Rule.

“Hitting distances at the elite level of the game have consistently increased over the past 20, 40 and 60 years. It’s been two decades since we last revisited our testing standards for ball distances,” said Mike Whan, CEO of the USGA. “Predictable, continued increases will become a significant issue for the next generation if not addressed soon. The Model Local Rule we are proposing is simple to implement, forward-looking and does so without any impact on the recreational game. We are taking the next steps in this process, guided first and foremost by doing what’s right by the entire game.”

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