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What the Golf Ball Rollback Means for Amateur Golfers

Last updated Dec 12, 2023

What the Golf Ball Rollback Means for Amateur Golfers

To the demise of many amateur golfers, the golf ball rollback is going to drop 4-7 yards off most amateur's distances. Here's how it affects your score.

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Written By: Zach Gollwitzer

Posted in: Golf Balls

If you haven't heard, as of this past Wednesday, the USGA and R&A made one of the biggest announcements in the history of golf.

Your golf ball is getting shorter on Jan 1st, 2030.

But don't shoot the messenger, I'm not here to debate whether this is right or wrong, but instead, help you understand exactly how this affects YOU.

TLDR; What you need to know

  • Starting in 2030, golf balls you buy will conform to the new "Overall Distance Standard" and will not fly as far
  • In general, most golfers will lose 4-7 yards off the tee, with this effect lessening as the club gets shorter (e.g. you won't lose distance on your short irons)
  • Based on strokes gained data, the average "90s golfer" will lose ~0.4 strokes per round due to this change

Breakdown: What is the golf ball rollback?

Here's what you need to know about the golf ball rollback:

  • The R&A and USGA are the governing bodies that maintain the rules of golf
  • The R&A and USGA announced last Wednesday that they are issuing a "golf ball rollback", essentially reducing the distance a golf ball flies for all golfers (pros + amateurs) by changing golf ball manufacturer testing conditions (more below)
  • As of today, 30% of existing golf balls are expected to conform to the new rules without any changes (ProV1/x is NOT included in that group)
  • "Model Local Rule" - This was the original proposal and was in favor of "bifurcation" (i.e. different rules for pros vs. amateurs). The current rule does NOT support bifurcation. In other words, as of today, this rule applies to pros and amateurs.

Manufacturers test golf balls with robots to eliminate variables and provide quality control. This golf ball rollback requires manufacturers to change their testing conditions as follows:

Old (now)New (Oct. 2027+)
Club Head Speed120 mph125 mph
Launch Angle10º11º
Spin Rate2520 rpm2200 rpm
Max Carry Distance317 yards (+/- 3)317 yards (+/- 3)

As you can see, by adding clubhead speed, launch, and reducing spin, a golf ball must fly shorter to continue to meet the max carry distance of 317 yards. By requiring new testing parameters, the USGA/R&A can reduce total golf ball distance.

These parameters are what we call "ODS" or "Overall Distance Standard".

Here's the timeline for these changes:

Oct. 1st, 2027Manufacturers required to use new testing parameters
Jan 1st, 2028Pros adopt new golf balls
Jan 1st, 2030Amateurs adopt new golf balls

Based on average distance studies, here's the impact this will have on various golfers:

Average Total Driver DistanceGolf Ball Rollback Impact
150-200 yardsDecrease of 1-3 yards
200-250 yardsDecrease of 3-5 yards
250-300 yardsDecrease of 5-11 yards
300+ yardsDecrease of 13-15 yards

Now that you have the lowdown, let's dive into some specifics.

Why is this happening?

There's a lot of speculation around this as you'd expect, so I'll do my best to tell you the abridged "origin story". It all starts back in 2018 with the "Distance Insights Project".

Distance Insights Project

Back in 2018, the USGA and R&A started a joint initiative called the Distance Insights Project.

This project involved golf course owners, players, and other stakeholders of the game.

Essentially, through various studies, the governing bodies of golf decided that professionals were "overpowering" golf courses and in order to protect the game, they needed to do something about it.

To Bifurcate or Not?

Back in March of 2023, a proposal called the "Model Local Rule" hit the table, and the golf world learned a new vocabulary word—"bifurcation".

The model local rule essentially proposed that the pros play a reduced-distance golf ball while amateurs could continue to play the same golf ball they always have.

This proposal faced lots of pushback; allegedly from many tour pros. Tiger and Rory are for bifurcation, but apparently, many other tour pros were not.

In the face of this, the final rule does NOT support bifurcation. In other words, the final rule applies to all golfers.

How will the golf ball rollback affect you?

Forget about the pros. Does this even matter for most golfers? Let's find out.

Stock up on non-conforming golf balls now?

In the end, golf is a game to be enjoyed. The USGA won't be showing up to your local course and humiliating you for using a non-conforming golf ball. Heck, you'll be finding non-conforming golf balls in the creek and fescue for years to come!

So why not just stock up on non-conforming golf balls now?

You do what you have to, but here are some considerations you'll need to make:

  • Distance control—once these new golf balls go into play, if you're swapping between conforming and non-conforming balls every hole, you may find it hard to control your distance (esp. longer players). As I mention in does your ball matter post, being consistent with a golf ball is more important than finding the best ball.
  • Competition—if you play in local competitions or any USGA-sanctioned events, there's no reason to try and get around this rule. It will only hurt you in the long run.

Luckily, we have until 2030 to make this transition. That's um... over half a decade!

Unfortunately for us, the R&D expense these golf ball manufacturers are currently spending to meet this new standard will likely show up in golf ball prices in years to come. So maybe... Stocking up isn't such a bad idea after all!

How distance affects your score (strokes gained)

It's pretty tough to determine how a loss in distance will affect a golfer's score, but the strokes gained system gives us a proxy to make a reasonable estimation.

Mark Broadie, the leading researcher behind strokes gained did a study back in 2013 and published the results in his book, Every Shot Counts.

This study used data from pros and amateurs to estimate on average, how many strokes a golfer gains from adding 20 yards of distance to their tee shots.

Here's what they found:

PGA Tour80s Golfer90s Golfer100s Golfer
Strokes / 20 yards0.

These are all simulated results (i.e. run through a computer model), but the overall finding was—more distance equals better scores on average for all types of golfers.

If we do a little bit of math, we can work out estimates of how much this golf ball rollback will affect various types of golfer's scores.

PGA Tour80s Golfer90s Golfer100s Golfer
Strokes / 20 yds0.801.301.602.30
Strokes / 1 yd0.
Assumed Driving Distance300+ yds275 yds250 yds225 yds
Yards Lost from Ball Rollback (Est)13753
Strokes Lost from Ball Rollback0.520.460.400.35

Let's take a second to make sense of this table. First, let me be clear about a few things:

  • These are rough estimates
  • I've assumed that better golfers hit it further and have reflected that in the "Assumed Driving Distance" and "Yards Lost from Ball Rollback" rows
  • This is independent of driving accuracy, so your mileage may vary depending on how well you keep the ball on the course
  • This study is a decade old but directionally correct

All I'm doing in the table above is simple math. If a PGA Tour pro gains 0.8 strokes for every 20 yards of driving distance, that means that they gain 0.04 strokes for every 1 yard of driving distance (0.8 / 20).

We'll estimate that the average tour pro will lose 13 yards from this golf ball rollback. If we take the 0.04 strokes per yard and multiply it by 13 yards lost, we can conclude that on average, a PGA Tour Pro will lose 0.52 strokes per round as a result of this golf ball rollback.

In other words, if you prescribe to the strokes gained methodology, losing distance means higher scores on average.

Concluding Remarks

While this rule change is a huge deal for the pros, I think the impacts will be minimal for most golfers.

To put this in perspective, let's take a worst-case scenario and assume that you'll lose on average half a stroke every round due to this loss in distance.

Even after losing half a stroke per round, what are your answers to the following questions?

  • What does half a stroke mean for your enjoyment of the game?
  • Can you improve by half a stroke each year?
  • How often does an extra 5 yards off the tee significantly affect the outcome of the hole?
  • Looking back on your last round, where did you lose strokes? What could you have changed to gain back half a stroke or more?

In the grand scheme of things, this change doesn't make a huge difference for most golfers. But it does open up lots of new discussions about rule changes and what should be done about the ever-evolving game of golf.

And that's it for this week!

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