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What we learned in USGA and R&A’s golf ball rollback press conference

What we learned in USGA and R&A’s golf ball rollback press conference

Braden Thornberry of Ole Miss won the individual title during the Division I Men’s Golf Individual Championship at Rich Harvest Farms in 2017 in Sugar Grove, Illinois. (Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

“The proposed MLR would enable golf event organizers and committees to use specific balls for certain elite championships and tournaments but would not impact the current recreational game in any way.”

That quote was taken directly from the USGA and R&A’s Notice to Manufacturers, which was sent Monday. As with other MLRs, it can be adopted by a tour or an individual tournament as organizers see fit. The USGA and R&A see MLRs as tools that give events and organizations versatility. However, no one is saying precisely what elite championships and tournaments are, and that’s a problem.

“As custodians of our sport, we are of the view that at the elite male level, both amateur and professional, we have crossed the Rubicon with regards to where hitting distance is, but more importantly, where it is trending,” Slumbers said.

It is safe to assume that the USGA and R&A consider PGA Tour events, DP World Tour events and Korn Ferry Tour events to be elite. And it sounds as if Slumbers thinks the U.S. and British Amateur are comprised of elite golfers, but is college golf elite? Is AJGA golf elite? 

When asked if their respective championships would adopt the MLR that requires distance-reducing golf balls to be used, both Whan and Slumbers said yes, meaning the U.S. Open and British Open would require them. But would the USGA Boys Amateur Championship be considered elite? Would golfers competing in the R&A’s 9 Hole Challenge be considered elite and therefore need to use the shorter-flying balls?

The distance debate has raged for years, and the USGA and R&A have mountains of data at their disposal, so it was disappointing to see them not take the lead and say something to the effect of, “Events where golfers have an average swing speed of ____ should strongly consider using the MLR [if is passes], but events below that threshold do not need it.”

Leaders lead, but the USGA and the R&A are sidestepping this thorny issue.


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