Golf Ball Rollback Debate Will Continue at 2024 U.S. Open, and USGA's View Remains Unchanged

The USGA and R&A presented a plan for a rollback beginning in 2028, and USGA CEO Mike Whan told SI they have no plans to change it.
USGA CEO Mike Whan.
USGA CEO Mike Whan. / John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

For those wondering if a golf ball rollback was still necessary as courses continue to stretch to unprecedented yardages, just check out the 2024 PGA Championship, where 7,500-yard Valhalla was brought to its knees by the best players in the world.

Wet weather delivered soft conditions and the greens were relatively flat, but the winning score was an eye-popping (and major-championship record-setting) 21 under par. When pros hit short irons into 500-plus-yard par 4s, it's fair to wonder if something should change before more courses are overpowered like Valhalla.

The debate on whether it’s appropriate to force pros and amateurs to play a ball that travels less distance will continue this week at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. 

USGA CEO Mike Whan will inevitably be asked about the USGA and R&A’s joint decision to roll the ball back, though it’s clear his stance hasn’t changed. 

“It’s hard to get somebody to get their head around this challenge because you don’t see it today,” Whan recently told Sports Illustrated. “Like, one yard a year, no big deal. But in 50 years, if we’re 50 yards longer we’re going to simply make a lot of these courses obsolete. 

“You could not care about that, and some people don’t when you talk to them. But that’s a shame because we’d be handing our kids and our kids' kids a game that is more physically challenged in terms of the space you need and the cost to maintain it and the time it takes to play it. And for a small change, we can stem that issue.”

The USGA and R&A, the governing bodies of the Rules of Golf, announced a decision to revise ball-testing standards in March 2023. The changes will take effect in January 2028 for elite players and in 2030 for all players. According to research presented by the USGA, elite players will lose 13-15 yards in driving distance while recreational players will lose 5 yards or less. 

That may seem small, but it’s critical to keeping revered golf courses relevant in the pro game. Even Augusta National expressed support of the rollback ahead of this year’s Masters. Augusta can only stretch its current 7,600-yard layout only so much more.  

“I have felt the support and quite frankly encouragement from Augusta since I’ve taken this job [as USGA CEO] and even before on this topic,” Whan said. “I think Augusta is a great example of a golf course that has felt the desire to keep up physically; to physically find more space, to physically push the boundaries, not to punish anybody, but to the keep the game relevant there.”

If the idea of Augusta becoming irrelevant doesn’t scare you enough, know there are two folders on Whan’s desk. One is for golf courses equipped to host a U.S. Open. The other is for courses that can’t. 

Every year, the first folder shrinks and the second grows, providing a physical reminder to Whan of the importance of the golf ball rollback. 

“The choices we’ve made for implementation in 2028 won’t take any of the names out of the 'no folder' and into the 'yes folder,' Whan said. “We’re not making a significant enough change to say if it we didn’t think it was long enough for us to play today it will be fine in 2028. But I think what we really did is stem the tide of how many courses I’m sticking in the 'no folder' every year.”

If you need a reminder, just check the scoreboard from the 2024 PGA Championship. 


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Brian Giuffra

BRIAN GIUFFRA

Brian Giuffra is the VP of Betting Content at Minute Media and has been with the company since 2016. He's a fan of the Knicks, Giants, wine and bourbon, usually consuming them in that order.