AUSTIN, Texas – Most assessments from PGA Tour players of last week’s move by the USGA and R&A to continue the march toward a golf ball rollback were mixed, at best.
“[The USGA and R&A] are hyper-focused on making professional golf a little bit more difficult than it already is. I don't know why,” Jon Rahm said Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “My biggest question for [the USGA and R&A], we're in a golden era of golf where it's exploded since COVID, a lot of people are watching, you have a completely different tour, all these things are happening for the game and it's growing. Why change what's working?”
Rahm’s take seemed to echo a general level of concern among Tour players over the proposal which would likely reduce driving distances among elite players by 15 to 20 yards.
One player, however, had a different take on the proposed model local rule — Rory McIlroy.
The Northern Irishman, who has limited his availability to the media this week at Austin Country Club, outlined his thoughts on the proposed rule in a lengthy interview with No Laying Up.
“I think my opinion differs from my peers, and probably the PGA Tour as a whole,” McIlroy said in the interview. “This is just my opinion and I'm only one voice. But honestly, if I'm taking my PGA Tour hat off here, the major championships are already such a big deal in the game of golf, and if the major championships somehow adopt this ball change, and the PGA Tour doesn't, I think it widens that gap between PGA Tour golf and major championship golf. Which, if anything, the PGA Tour is trying to make up some sort of market share, or trying to get a little closer to the major championships in terms of the interest that we create within our tournaments.”
McIlroy said his thoughts on a possible rollback have evolved in recent years and that the rule’s distinction between the elite and amateur games was a primary selling point.
“I’ve been pretty adamant that I don’t really want the governing bodies to touch the recreational golfer because we need to make this game as not intimidating and as much fun as possible, just to try to keep the participation levels at an all-time high,” McIlroy said. “So, I’m glad in this new proposal that they haven’t touched the recreational golfer.
“But for elite level play, I really like it. I really do. I know that’s a really unpopular opinion amongst my peers, but I think it’s going to help identify who the best players are a bit easier. Especially in this era of parity that we’ve been living in these past couple of decades.”
McIlroy said he’s hopeful that the new rule, if adopted, would identify players with more “well-rounded” games instead of the “bomb and gouge” approach that has dominated golf the last few decades. And he said that if the Tour doesn’t adopt the rule he would still play the roll-backed golf ball at every event in order to be better prepared for the major championships, which will require the use of the limited-distance ball.
“If that gives me the best chance to succeed at the major championships and feel as prepared as I possibly can be, then that's what I would do,” he said.