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Golf Ball Rollback Will Make Little Difference to Biggest Hitters

By: | Mon 11 Dec 2023

Christo Lamprecht, who is the world’s No. 1 amateur golfer, hit a 415-yard drive at the par-five 18th hole at Leopard Creek in the opening round of the Alfred Dunhill Championship.

So what difference will the rollback make to the young South African, who will surely be one of the world’s leading professionals by 2028, when the new golf ball regulations come into force? Erm, his drive at the 18th would have travelled 400 yards. And he would still have been hitting a wedge for his second.

Marco Penge, who gained his DP World Tour card for the new season by leading the Challenge Tour rankings, currently averages 348 yards with a driver in his hands - in theory, that will be cut back to 333 yards. Wilco Nienaber, another young South African, routinely smashes the ball 350+ yards. With little or no apparent effort.

It should be remembered that Lamprecht, Penge and Nienaber are very young men. By 2028 they will almost certainly be even fitter and stronger than they are today.

There has been much debate about the golf ball rollback. As far as the professional game is concerned, I do not believe that it is going to make one iota of difference.

I hate to sound like a stuck record but I believe that the R&A and the USGA have got it all wrong. Again! The answers actually lie with the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour.

Let’s get one thing absolutely straight. These new regulations are coming into effect in an attempt to restrict the distance that tournament professionals hit the ball. 

Rory McIlroy

(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)

Club golfers simply don’t swing the club fast enough to see a significant difference in the distance they will achieve with a driver in their hands. Best estimates suggest that you and I will be hitting the ball five yards shorter.

So if you want to make the game more difficult for the world’s best players, how do you go about it? Not by giving them a ball that will still fly more than 300 yards, that’s for sure.

I have said this before and I am going to say it again. Just make the golf courses upon which they play more difficult. 

The average tour pro finds around 60% of fairways. That means they find the rough with 40% of their tee shots. The problem is that the rough on the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour is not penal. In many cases it is non-existent.

The same applies to fairway bunkers. What on earth is the point of a fairway bunker that still allows golfers to find the green? Bunkers are meant to be hazards but week after week we see tour pros dismissing the challenge they are meant to offer. 

If there were proper lips on fairway bunkers, thick rough and rock-hard greens we would soon see the professionals reconsidering the way they play the game. Confront them with thick rough and proper bunkers and they will have no choice but to consider whether they really want or need to reach for the driver.

Failing all of that, why not make the professionals play with balata golf balls? Doing this would see the world’s biggest hitters losing about 20 yards from the tee - and just leave things well alone for the amateur game.

I am old enough to remember when the last major golf ball change happened. In the UK we used to strike balls that measured 1.62in in diameter while the Americans used balls that were 1.68in.

When Americans headed over here to play in The Open, they were forced to use the smaller ball. But they managed to cope pretty well, to put it mildly.

There was huge reluctance in the UK to accept 1.68in golf balls because we had all been told that they would not fly as far and would be impossible to control in windy weather. But we had no choice because 1.62in golf balls were quickly phased out.

And do you know what? Before long we all grew accustomed to using the larger ball - the difference in distance achieved was negligible and they behaved perfectly well in the wind.

We all ended up wondering what all the fuss was about. But this is a different era, one that has become obsessed with distance.

I also remember when new rules were introduced to reduce the trampoline effect on drivers. I had a close friend who had just bought a new Callaway driver and within days of doing so was told he was using a club that was non-conforming.

He was outraged because nobody was offering him any compensation and nobody would want to buy an illegal club.

His solution? “Stuff it. I am going to carry on using this club. Who is ever going to know?” And he did, and nobody said a word.

We have plenty of time to prepare for the changes. For club golfers the new balls will not be in play until 2030.

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