The golf world is buzzing as it absorbs the news of the USGA and R&A’s latest proposal, which includes a Model Local Rule that would introduce bifurcation of the rules for elite and recreational players when it comes to the golf ball.
The rule would be instituted as soon as 2026 and would require the use of golf balls tested under modified launch conditions in an effort to limit the impact of distance gains, which the USGA says has increased by an average of one yard per year for the last two decades. Both the USGA and the R&A believe that, left unchecked, distance gains threaten golf’s long-term sustainability and undermine the significance of developing a well-rounded game.
While it remains to be seen how the proposal will play out — and which tours, if any, will adopt the rule — there is at least one high-profile player who like the idea: three-time major winner and soon-to-be World Golf Hall of Famer Padraig Harrington.
“There’s so many winners by rolling back the ball, or rolling back the equipment,” Harrington said in an appearance on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio on Tuesday. “In terms of cost — the cost of building a golf course, the cost of maintaining a golf course, the speed of play is going to be incredibly improved by reducing the distance, by reducing the size of the golf course and also reducing the amount of waiting time on par-5s and par-4s.
“There’s so many benefits to rolling it back. Old golf courses come back into play, great golf courses come back into play. Environmentally, reducing the footprint. So many reasons to roll it back. Dangerous! It’s really dangerous. Golf balls go so far.”
Harrington led the PGA Tour Champions in driving distance last year, with an average of 308.7 yards off the tee — more than 10 yards farther than his closest competitor, Scott McCarron.
Harrington did say that he felt the rollback rule only needed to be implemented in warm weather conditions, and that it favors a certain type of player.
“I will say, the golf ball only performs when it’s warm. You do not need to roll the ball back in the winter in Ireland, I can guarantee you that,” he said. “It is a big advantage to roll the ball back for the longer hitters. Huge advantage. It makes a massive difference. They still have their advantage, but if they’re trying to carry the ball 300 yards, it’s easier to keep it on the property. So it’s gonna be easier for the longer hitters, there’s no doubt. And there will be more of a premium on having speed by dialing back. And for the manufacturers, they’re just going to have another race to the top. Competition is a good thing for all these manufacturers.”
Harrington plays a Titleist ProV1 ball, manufactured by Acushnet. In a press release sent on Tuesday morning, Acushnet said it was not in favor of the proposed rollback, that it would “invite confusion” and that players would be “disadvantaged over others by this disruption.”
It’s a thorny issue. Good thing there’s still plenty of much-needed time to sort it out.