The USGA and R&A, the governing bodies of the game of golf, have announced a historic, universal rollback of the golf ball through a change to the Overall Distance Standard and the method by which golf balls are tested to conform.
Under the new rule, the USGA and R&A will test golf balls for conformity in an updated method. The governing bodies will test using a robot that swing a driver at 125 mph, launching the ball at 183 mph ball speed, with 11 degrees of launch and 2220 rpm of spin. This is a change from the current standard, where a robot swings a driver at 120 mph, producing launch conditions of 176 mph, with 10 degrees of launch and 2520 rpm of spin.
While the testing standard will be updated, the Overall Distance Standard allowed will not. Golf balls will still be allowed to fly 317 yards in this test, with a tolerance of 3 yards for a total of 320 yards. The Overall Distance Standard was introduced in 1976 and updated three prior times (1980, 2002 and 2004).
In combination, this will result in a distance rollback for all golfers. According to the USGA, the longest hitters with the highest swing speeds will see a distance reduction of 13-15 yards with the driver. The average male touring pro or elite male amateur will see a decrease of 9 to 11 yards. The average LPGA or Ladies European Tour player will see a 5-7 yard reduction.
The governing bodies project a distance loss of 5 yards or less for the average recreational golfer, with the average male player swinging the driver at 93 mph and the average female golfer swinging at 72 mph.
Recreational golfers will be able to use golf balls that have been approved under the old standard until 2030, provided they're playing in competitions governed by USGA and R&A rules. Professional golfers and elite amateur golfers will be required to use balls conforming to the new standard starting in 2028. The governing bodies claim 30 percent of existing, conforming golf balls will remain conforming under the new standard.
This decision is based on data captured from the Distance Insights project, which was launched in 2018 to gather and analyze data about golf performance at every level of the game. The decision was also influenced by industry and stakeholder feedback that suggested a universal change to equipment standards would be preferred over the previously proposed Model Local Rule, which would have effectively created two set of equipment standards and officially bifurcated the game.
The governing bodies also indicated they will continue research into driver performance, specifically on off-center hits.