The USGA and R&A announced on Tuesday that they are proposing a Model Local Rule (MLR) to address distance gains in elite competitive golf. This MLR would “give competition organizers the option to require use of golf balls that are tested under modified launch conditions to address the impacts of hitting distance in golf.” This proposal comes after years of research on the part of the USGA and R&A, including the Distance Insights Report, which found that distance increases over the past several decades have affected the way golf is played and courses are maintained.

In order to comply with the proposed MLR, a golf ball would have to be tested for a maximum carry number of 317 yards (with a tolerance of three yards) at 127-mph clubhead speed, 11 degrees of launch, and 2,200 rpm of spin. That’s an increase of seven mph in clubhead speed over the current testing conditions. According to the governing bodies’ research, a ball tested under these parameters would travel 14-15 fewer yards than current models. Stakeholders and manufacturers have five months to provide feedback. If adopted, the MLR would take effect on January 1, 2026.

TFE staffers, as you might expect, have thoughts.

A (possibly faulty) chess move by the governing bodies

By Garrett Morrison

A year ago, the USGA and R&A announced two “areas of interest” in their research on potential equipment regulations. One, they were looking into mandating a reduced-flight ball across the entire game, from everyday play to elite competition. Two, they were considering a Model Local Rule that would establish different standards for the springiness and stability of drivers.

In other words, a new ball for all of us and a new driver for professional tours and any other organizations that might choose to adopt it.

The updated proposal—an MLR for the ball alone, intended for high-level competition—suggests that the USGA and R&A have tempered their ambitions in response to feedback from professional organizations, equipment companies, and other golf stakeholders. “Most importantly, the No. 1 feedback we’ve consistently heard for virtually all aspects of the game [has been] please don’t negatively impact the recreational game and the strength of that game right now,” USGA CEO Mike Whan said at a press conference yesterday. Evidently enough people, or enough of the right people, believe that a universal ball rollback would damage the golf industry.

“The second piece of feedback we heard,” said R&A CEO Martin Slumbers, “is an MLR on the driver would impact multiple clubs, and the unintended consequence could be 3-woods or other clubs that perform better than drivers and thus multiple clubs would need changing.”

Hey, I remember a time when many golfers found 3-woods easier to hit than drivers! It wasn’t that bad, Mr. Slumbers.

Anyway, the point is that the USGA and R&A have shifted their tactics without, apparently, changing their goals. Both Whan and Slumbers reaffirmed that their objective is to protect golf courses from runaway distance gains. “Not doing something,” Whan said, “is borderline irresponsible, if not pure irresponsible, in terms of just passing this on to the next generation, or asking tens of thousands of golf courses to just figure it out and to keep investing millions of dollars to try to keep up with the game.”

Can a Model Local Rule intended for top-tier competitive golf actually make a dent in a problem of that scale?

After all, the USGA and R&A spent a great deal of money in the past several years doing research that showed how widespread the distance issue is. “This issue extends not only to the courses worldwide that desire to host high-level competitions among male amateurs and professionals, but also to other courses played by golfers of non-elite skill who can hit a golf ball a long distance,” read the concluding report of the governing bodies’ Distance Insights project in 2020. “This continuing trend towards longer and larger courses has economic and other sustainability consequences for golf.” The core discovery here was that all courses, not just tournament venues, had borne the costs of increased hitting distances.

So a solution that pertains only to elite competition doesn’t fit the problem. Whan and Slumbers must be aware of that.

Maybe, then, they’re tacitly acknowledging that they can’t legislate the game out of its predicament. As our friend @CanHidekiWin pointed out on Twitter, the USGA and R&A have now passed the buck to other entities, including golf courses. Say a Golden Age club can’t or doesn’t want to install new back tees. Perhaps it will adopt the MLR for regular play. And if enough stakeholders—from the majors to the tours to individual courses—do the same, golfers may grow accustomed to the new ball, just as they have to plastic spikes.

That’s the sunniest possible scenario for the governing bodies. The likelier outcome, I think, involves partial adoption and a lot of chaos. More on that from Brendan below.

Three flavors of backlash

By Brendan Porath

1.Despite their best efforts, the USGA and R&A can’t fix stupid. Their communication around the Model Local Rule has been quite clear that this is not impacting the recreational golfer. But there’s been plenty of wailing about “golf is already hard enough” and “no one wants to hit it shorter.” That kind of shouting is either dumb or done in bad faith (or both). It does not have to be indulged. This change affects a narrow set of players.

2. Be mindful of the equipment manufacturers, whose primary motivation is your money, muddying the waters in the coming days and months through the players and larger golf media ecosystem they support. The initial response seems to target bifurcation as anathema to the game’s history. Titleist cited this great “linkage” and history of unification throughout its statement. That’s been broken for years. It did not note that so many of the game’s great courses are simply not options for the pro game anymore, their history wiped out at the highest levels even though they’re courses that these “aspirational” players still enjoy. There is, I’m sure, an OEM annoyance at having to now create and market two different products, but the entire statement seemed to be grasping at straws. The relatively narrow focus here by the governing bodies makes it harder for them to vehemently decry the regulations and to rally recreational golfer support. Be mindful of stakeholders motivated by money, from players to media to OEMs themselves, either pushing back hard or keeping their mouths shut (in the case of press) during the coming months of this commentary period. There’s always an angle.

3. Is it possible we’re heading toward an era of bifurcation within the pro game? Rumblings on the ground at the Players indicated, unsurprisingly, that the Tour and its members are averse to bifurcation or a rollback. They don’t want to have to change or adapt and dial things back at these championships with the Model Local Rule. And then there are also those same equipment companies paying them handsomely to maintain the company stance. There were stories last week of a few of those companies already leaning on high-profile players about opposing any rollback or bifurcation. The Tour’s initial statement did little to throw support behind the R&A and USGA’s announcement. The phrase “our own extensive independent analysis” and a focus on its “membership and industry partners” certainly stood out in flashing lights. The PGA Tour, as well as PGA of America, may fight back against this proposal. Could there actually be a world in which wood bats are in play one week at the U.S. Open and metal-bat moonshots launched the next week at TPC River Highlands at the Travelers? It seems far-fetched, but part of this initial backlash will indeed come from the Tour and its player membership. We’ll see how far they take it and if it gets to the point of not adopting the MLR when it’s go-time.

Ramifications for some important tournaments

By Andy Johnson

As Brendan indicated, one of the most fascinating things to watch will be which parts of the professional game adopt the Model Local Rule. What we do know is that the new golf ball will likely be in play at the Masters, U.S. Open, and Open Championship starting in 2026. It will also probably be used in many elite amateur competitions. Let’s dive into how the MLR might affect each of those competitive domains.

The Masters

You have to wonder whether the timing of today’s announcement was intentional: after the Players and before the Masters. This gives the floor to Augusta National and Fred Ridley to hammer home the importance of a reduced-flight ball for the biggest tournament in golf. Over the past few years, Ridley has often voiced concern about distance gains. This year, he will get to react to a specific proposal.

It would be a huge upset for Augusta National not to support the MLR, especially given how much a rollback would benefit the course. The newly lengthened 13th hole would play far close to how Alister MacKenzie intended it to play. The rule may also give the club the opportunity to restore the fairway on the right, where a grove of trees currently stands. Other holes that will vastly improve include the rest of the par 5s; No. 9, where hitting your tee shot to the flat area short of the green won’t be a foregone conclusion; and mid-length par 4s such as 14. Finally, longer approach shots will more effectively showcase the incredible green contours that make Augusta National special.

The U.S. Open and the Open

Obviously the USGA and R&A will both use the new golf ball at their flagship events. At the U.S. Open, reducing the distance the ball travels will dramatically improve the USGA’s ability to stage golf’s sternest examination. It’s interesting that the proposed changes would go into effect in 2026, the year that the U.S. Open will return to Shinnecock Hills, a venue that the USGA got in trouble for pushing close to, if not over, the edge in 2004 and 2018. With Merion on the calendar for 2030, you knew something had to happen. I just wonder whether these changes still be relevent then.

For the R&A, an organization that intends to keep the most historic course in golf, the Old Course, in its championship rota, this is big news. While the Old Course provided a strong test last year, rounds were glacial, often upwards of six hours. One of the big potential benefits of a rollback is that shorter drives mean fewer reachable par 5s and drivable par 4s, and therefore quicker play. Links courses have retained their interest thanks to firm conditions and strong winds, but when the weather doesn’t cooperate, they can become vulnerable. A rolled-back ball would help these courses generate more challenge when the elements aren’t perfect.

Amateur game

One of the potential battlegrounds of the Model Local Rule proposal could be the amateur game. If the PGA Tour refuses to cooperate, the amateur game will find itself in an awkward situation. Since the USGA and R&A run many of the most prestigious amateur competitions, you’d have to assume they’ll require the new ball. So we may end up with standout amateurs and collegiate players using the MLR ball until they get their tour cards and need to adjust to a souped-up ball that gives them an instant 15 extra yards. It just seems backwards. It would be like if college baseball players used wooden bats until they got to the majors and were handed metal. Another weird wrinkle would be if the PGA Tour were to leverage its PGA Tour U program in order to pressure the NCAA into adopting the hot ball. Then top amateurs would have to go back and forth.

Hopefully, for the sake of the entire game, PGA Tour players put their self-interest aside and help the governing bodies set up a more sustainable future for golf. So far, though, they don’t seem to be leaning in that direction…

Reactions from PGA Tour pros

By Meg Adkins

The Model Local Rule announcement was the talk of the practice green at this week’s Valspar Championship. A few players spoke to Golf Channel’s Kira K. Dixon about their immediate reaction to the proposal:

Harry Higgs: “So the initial thought is definitely, jokingly, ‘Get off my lawn. Leave us alone.’ And I would imagine there will be some heated debates about whether or not we are going to implement this. If I could forecast ahead and look to 2026, I think we will be implementing this.”

Webb Simpson: “I don’t know that we need to roll back equipment. I think there needs to be more emphasis on golf course design. We want to see tighter fairways. We want to see more rough. We want to see more trees, doglegs, stuff like that. That seems to be pretty popular with the guys that I’ve talked to. That’s not going to fix the distance problem. I want to be clear there, but it needs to be in the conversation. I feel like there’s certain golf courses we play where there’s genius that needs to be paid attention to that will help this problem that we’re seeing. And I just think that needs to be a main piece of the pie for this whole distance thing.”

Brandon Matthews: “I’m really looking forward to seeing shot shapes again like you used to see, right? Like a shot—for example, like a rising ball flight. You don’t see that anymore because of the ball technology. So, you’re going to see a little more of that come back, which is really cool. But I don’t know how far they’re going to go with this, but it’s going to be a really exciting change and I think it’s going to make the game a little bit better.”

Jordan Spieth: “I would say I was a little surprised because it seems that if you change the golf ball, what will end up happening is you almost have to change a lot of the clubs in your bag. Quite a few people were surprised, I think is maybe a nice word to use. I know they’re trying to reach out and make contact and say why they might be doing this at this time. If the overall membership of the PGA Tour doesn’t want to do it, then it’s probably not going to be done.”

A player who preferred to remain nameless but had quite the take: “Fans want to come out here and see us hit the ball as far as possible. We want to be as athletic as possible with the golf ball. Not being able to do so impacts the product and the charities we support. Who cares if we shoot 30-under?”

Strong work by Kira. Unsurprisingly, players have continued to chime in on other venues:

Keegan Bradley (on PGA Tour Radio): “I don’t think there’s a chance [the PGA Tour will] ever do this. I don’t think it’ll ever happen. It’s too extreme. It creates a huge void between players. One of the coolest things about golf is you can come out and play with a PGA Tour player with a 30 handicap and we’re playing the same sport. I can’t go play football with Tom Brady with pads on on Sunday. I’ll get killed.”

Charley Hoffman (on PGA Tour Radio): “Bifurcation would be a travesty to this game. It’s the only sport in the world that the amateurs play by the same rules as us. I don’t know what their end game on this is.”

Bryson DeChambeau (on “I think it’s the most atrocious thing that you could possibly do to the game of golf. It’s not about rolling golf balls back; it’s about making golf courses more difficult. I think it’s the most unimaginative, uninspiring, game-cutting thing you could do. Everybody wants to see people hit it farther. That’s part of the reason why a lot of people like what I do. It’s part of the reason a lot of people don’t like what I do. But again, it creates more conversation in a positive way than cutting it back and trying to make everybody equal. I’m all about equality. I’m not about equity on this front.”

This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.