Rory McIlroy has told his fellow pros and the equipment-makers that their greed is the reason why the entire game will be affected by an imminent rule change which will make almost every popular ball illegal.
Sources have confirmed that the R&A and US Golf Association will announce radical measures to rein in the distance balls travel – but not, as originally intended, only for elite players.
Initially, the governing bodies sought to introduce the regulations solely in tournament play for the professionals and top amateurs. But fierce reaction from some of the sports’ big names and from the PGA Tour and PGA of America and, inevitably, from within the equipment industry itself, has forced the R&A and USGA to bring in the overhaul across the board.
The new ball will travel 15 to 20 yards shorter when launched by the big-hitters, but for the weekend hackers that reduction will be proportionately less, a point McIlroy was keen to make in his impassioned defence of the revamp on social media on Sunday morning.
“I don’t understand the anger about the golf ball roll back,” McIlroy posted on X. “It will make no difference whatsoever to the average golfer and puts golf back on a path of sustainability. It will also help bring back certain skills in the pro game that have been eradicated over the past two decades.”
However, McIlroy realises that there will be recreational players upset at the impending necessity for them to change their equipment, even if they will probably have until the end of the decade to perform the switch.
“The people who are upset about this decision shouldn’t be mad at the governing bodies, they should be mad at elite pros and club/ball manufacturers because they didn’t want ‘bifurcation’ [the game being split into two parts],” McIlroy wrote.
“The governing bodies presented us with that option earlier this year. Elite pros and ball manufacturers think bifurcation would negatively affect their bottom lines, when in reality, the game is already bifurcated.
“You think we play the same stuff you do? They put pressure on the governing bodies to roll it back to a lesser degree for everyone. Bifurcation was the logical answer for everyone, but yet again in this game, money talks.”
Woods: ‘I’ve always been for bifurcation’
McIlroy is not the only superstar in the corner of the R&A and USGA. Jack Nicklaus, the 18-time major winner, has long called for a “shorter ball” and on Saturday Tiger Woods underlined his support for the move, albeit overdue.
That garlanded pair – who are both course designers – have argued that classic courses are in danger of becoming obsolete as modern pros routinely launch drives of 350 yards or more, reducing the test, in some cases, to a drive, pitch and putt.
Longer courses are required, resulting not only in layouts being stretched sometimes beyond recognition but also a rise in maintenance costs, with the need for extra water and chemicals fueling environmental concerns. Rounds are also taking longer to compete.
“We just don’t have enough property anymore,” Woods said at his comeback event in the Bahamas. “We’ve been hammering the [fact that the ball] needs to slow down, but it has kept speeding up my entire career and here we are…I’ve always been for bifurcation. I’ve always said that. Just like wood bats and metal bats [in baseball].”
Bradley: ‘I can’t think of anything more stupid’
The backing of these heavyweights has undoubtedly buoyed the ruling bodies, but the majority view in the locker rooms is vehemently against the proposals, which will reportedly be introduced in the pro game in 2028.
“For the amateur world to hit the ball shorter is monstrous,” Keegan Bradley, the world No 15, said on Saturday. “I can’t think of anything more stupid than that. I don’t think it’s very smart at all, especially when golf’s growing in popularity coming out of Covid.”
The Tour hoped that the powers-that-be would perform a U-turn after all the dissension during the consultation period, but an interview with Martin Slumbers, the R&A chief executive, last week made it immediately apparent that a climbdown was not on the cards.
“Unequivocally, the ball is going further than it did 15 years ago,” Slumbers told Golf Digest. “And I see no reason to doubt it will not continue to do so. I’ve long been of this view. And for a long time, I had to keep it private. But once we published our distance report at the start of this process, I was very clear that, for the good of the game, we need to address this issue.
“We have been very clear, as has CEO Mike Whan at the USGA. There are only three options: We can bifurcate; you change the whole game; or you do nothing. And doing nothing is not an option. We stand by that.”