‘USGA admits to making mistakes and then they punish players’: Pro rips proposal 

Keegan Bradley

Keegan Bradley hits his tee shot on Saturday on the 18th hole at Muirfield Village.

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Keegan Bradley, who admits he already has a “really strange relationship” with the USGA, isn’t thrilled with the governing body’s latest proposal. 

Introduced in mid-March, that plan would create a rule that would effectively roll back the golf ball and introduce bifurcation, i.e., creating a different set of rules for professionals and top amateurs vs. the rest of the golf world. Tours and championships would have the option to adopt the response to golf’s distance issue — it would be a Model Local Rule — and the USGA, along with the R&A, is currently eliciting feedback. 

In that regard, the reception has been cool, at best. According to various reports, representatives from the USGA and R&A met with the PGA Tour’s 16-member Player Advisory Council, its policy board and Tour executives on Tuesday at the Memorial Tournament, and Golf Channel reported that the rollback would not be supported by the players. 

Including Bradley, it appears. 

As noted, his past with the USGA — or more specifically, its rules — has been cloudy. Memorably, Bradley had played with a belly putter to start his career and played well, winning the 2011 PGA Championship, only for his putting to take a lengthy dive after the club was banned in 2016.

So, yes, though he was not at the Tuesday meeting, he did have a thought on the latest proposal, following his 65 on Saturday during the Memorial’s third round.   

“Yeah, I have a really strange relationship with the USGA from the belly putter,” Bradley said. “I just feel like the USGA admits to making mistakes and then they punish the players for it. I don’t feel like it’s our fault that they think that the ball went too far or that they should have banned the belly putter. They retroactively, decades later, try to adjust and then they just throw it on us.

“Which is, we do this as a living. This is how we make our living. I don’t think that’s necessarily fair that we pay for their mistakes. And I don’t — I think it’s fine. I mean, what are you going to do if you roll the ball back on this course? You got to build all new tees. It’s 7,800 yards long.”

Notably, Muirfield Village, the Memorial’s host, has lengthened its 16th and 17th holes ahead of this year’s tournament. 

“Yeah, the tee on 17 goes up against the fence,” Bradley said. “So if you have, you have to have it four or five up. So I just, I think the USGA makes a lot of mistakes, and I don’t feel as though us, the players, should have to pay for it. I mean, I don’t think that that’s right.”

Still, the proposal is not without proponents. 

Including the designer of Muirfield Village. 

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“I think that what they’re doing with the golf ball, hopefully is a good start,” said Jack Nicklaus, who’s been calling for a rollback for years. “It’s going to pull the golf ball back. It’s going to probably pull the ball back 14, 15 yards for, you know, a McIlroy or a [Justin] Thomas or one of those guys, and maybe 10 or 12 yards for maybe the average pro.

“The average golfer, if it’s bifurcated right now, I think they probably won’t take two years before they’re going to play the same ball the pros are going to play. And all they got to do is move up 4, 5 yards on the tee because that’s the only difference they’re going to have. I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal. The only thing that I’ve seen is that they keep saying, oh, why do we need to change it? The golf ball — the game’s fine. The problem is, is you don’t have anyplace to play. They say, well, the golf ball’s only increased .82 yards a year. Yeah, that’s fine, last 10 years, that’s 8.2 yards. What happens the next 40 years if they don’t change anything? If they don’t change a thing that’s about 34 more yards. That’s to every tee shot. That’s a lot.

“So they need to go — they need to do something and what they have done, as I say, it’s a good start.”

Would the 18-time major winner make any other changes to combat distance?

“I hope they do something with the golf club,” he added Tuesday, “to relate to it so that the golf club you have to be a little more precise to play a golf shot instead of just hitting it anywhere on the clubhead.

“And if you don’t have — and if you have — if you’re forced to hit it on a spot on the golf club you’re going to be a little bit more careful of how you hit the shot. So that will also curb the distance. But you’ve got — not everybody’s got the ability to go buy property of the next golf course to add to their golf course. We don’t have anyplace else to go for any more yardage. Ninety-nine percent of the clubs in the country don’t have anyplace to go for more yardage. To me, the game of golf, if you’re going to play tournament golf, you really want to test the golfer. That’s theoretically what the tournament’s all about.

“And if everybody’s playing a driver and a wedge every hole, they never play anymore to a 6- or 7-iron, 5-iron on a par-5. You lose your ability to be able to test your skills.”

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Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at nick.piastowski@golf.com.

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