Golf's governing bodies propose ball changes to shorten pro players' driving distances

If implemented, the changes would go into effect in 2026 and recreational golfers would not be affected

CHON BURI, THAILAND - NOVEMBER 02:   General View of a golf ball prior to the Women's Amateur Asia-Pacific Championship at Siam Country Club on November 02, 2022 in Chon Buri, Thailand. (Photo by David Paul Morris/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)
Could the standards for golf balls used by elite players be changing in the near future? (Photo by David Paul Morris/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

Could professional golfers be hitting golf balls designed to travel shorter distances sometime this decade?

The USGA and R&A released a statement Tuesday proposing changes to golf balls professional golfers would use in events. According to the release, golf’s governing bodies want to change the launch conditions they use when determining what is and isn't considered a conforming golf ball.

In short, the thresholds for a conforming golf ball for a professional player would adhere to an Overall Distance Standard limit of 317 yards with a 3-yard tolerance. Those thresholds would be changed under a proposed Model Local Rule, meaning that recreational players would not be affected by the rule if it goes into effect. That local rule would likely deem all balls currently in use on the PGA Tour as non-conforming.

If the proposal is implemented, the new golf ball standards would be introduced on Jan. 1, 2026. The USGA and R&A — the governing bodies who run the U.S. Open and British Open — would adopt the MLR and the PGA Tour, the PGA Championship, the Masters and other tournaments would also have the option of implementing the rule at their tournaments. It reasons that the proposal would need to garner widespread support from the PGA Tour and other governing bodies to go into effect.

“We continue to work closely with the USGA and the R&A on a range of initiatives, including the topic of distance,” the PGA Tour said in a statement. “Regarding the notice to manufacturers announced today, we will continue our own extensive independent analysis of the topic and will collaborate with the USGA and the R&A, along with our membership and industry partners, to evaluate and provide feedback on this proposal. The Tour remains committed to ensuring any future solutions identified to benefit the game as a whole, without negatively impacting the Tour, its players or our fans’ enjoyment of our sport.”

Driving distance has skyrocketed

Distance has been a highly contested topic at the top levels of golf as elite golfers are using data-driven approaches to hitting the golf ball as far as they can. The average swing speed of a PGA Tour golfer has increased 3 MPH to roughly 115 MPH since 2007 and the average driving distance on the PGA Tour has increased by roughly 15 yards in the 2000s. Players are currently averaging 297 yards off the tee this season.

The distance gains players have earned through better training and club and ball technology has forced numerous courses on the PGA Tour to be lengthened. And even then, players are consistently hitting shorter clubs for their second shots on Par 4s than they were decades earlier.

But it’s also hard to rein in explosive growth after it’s been happening for years. And that’s one of many reasons why the proposal wouldn’t have any effect on recreational golfers.