Tiger Woods has joined a perhaps growing chorus of golfers calling for a roll back of how far the modern golf ball can fly.
As part of a lengthy, wide-ranging interview on a podcast with University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, Woods said he supports limiting how far the ball can fly.
“We need to do something about the golf ball,” Woods said on the “Holding Court” podcast. “I just think it’s going too far, because we’re having to build golf courses, if they want to have a championship venue, they’ve got to be 7,400 to 7,800 yards long.
“And if the game keeps progressing the way it is with technology, I think the 8,000-yard golf course is not too far away. And that’s pretty scary because we don’t have enough property to start designing these type of golf courses, and it just makes it so much more complicated.”
Woods is perhaps seeing this issue now through the lens of being a golf architect, designing courses that are wide enough for all players to enjoy and long enough to challenge every golfer. Developers often demand lengthy courses capable of hosting a major golf championship of some kind. More often than not, architects comply with the people cutting the checks and create tee boxes that go rarely-if-ever used, and they’re typically not used by the players who could actually score on them.
Case in point: The 2017 US Open at Erin Hills was the longest major-championship venue in history, with a golf course that could reach 8,000 yards in length. The club maintains boxes closer to a 7,800-yard presentation, and no doubt there are some players who give those tees a try on a windswept course. The USGA never maxed out the length of Erin Hills for the championship, but the scorecard length of 7,721 yards was eye-popping enough for golf fans and players alike. Nonetheless, Brooks Koepka thwarted a course softened by rain and not affected as normal by wind, posting a 16-under total that turned a lot of heads and had people talking about just how meaningful length is in today’s game.
According to Woods, that conversation extends to the USGA themselves, who are digging into a potential rollback of the ball.
“The USGA’s already looking at it,” Woods said. “They’re doing some research on what would the world look like if you rolled [the ball] back 10 percent, 15 percent and 20 percent.”
Conventional wisdom is the USGA has been reluctant to consider a ball rollback out of fear of a protracted lawsuit from equipment manufacturers, who could consider such a mandate as having a negative effect on their business. The USGA could also consider what’s dubbed bifurcation, creating with the R&A a separate set of rules for common amateurs with a different set for high-level amateurs and professionals. Outside of codifying a different set of equipment rules for pros and high-level ams, one of the game’s other major governing and promotional bodies could require players’ equipment to be rolled back. One thought is Augusta National, under new chairman and former USGA president Fred Ridley, could create a local rule/condition of competition requiring Masters competitors’ golf balls to meet a prescribed rollback.
Woods joins Jack Nicklaus, who has been perhaps the most outspoken advocate for rolling back the golf ball. However, as a player, Woods was one of the first to move to a solid-core ball, destroying fields in 2000 and 2001 with a ball that went 15 yards longer than any other ball on the market. Ultimately, with the release of Titleist’s Pro V1 line, the broader use of those techniques proliferated and began a run of development to further optimize distance for any golfer.