A ball rollback would have minimal impact for the majority and bring some of the world’s great courses back into play.
The outraged noise over a possible roll back of the ball is absolute nonsense, says Huggy. Most amateurs wouldn’t notice any change.
You had to laugh. And I did. Long and loud. No sooner had golf’s supposedly ruling bodies, the R&A and the United States Golf Association, expressed a long overdue desire to discuss the worrying increases in just how far the game’s leading players can propel their turbo-charged balls with their fryingpan drivers, than those who would rather stick their craniums in bunkers felt compelled to respond.
The PGA Tour. The PGA of America. Titleist. TaylorMade. All were oh-so quick to make clear their opposition to something no one in authority has yet proposed: a “rollback” of the golf ball designed to curb the distances both the pros and we amateurs can attain off the tee. Not only did those organisations/ companies claim to be appalled by the notion that Dustin Johnson might be asked to hit more than a 7-iron to a par 4 – something that occurred once in 2017 – they were steadfast and united in their altruistic desire to “protect” the rest of us from the bad people in blazers who want to make the game more difficult for all, no matter their ability.
I was moved. I really was. Not by any sense of gratitude, but by the confirmation of high-level agendas that have nothing whatsoever to do with what is best for golf or golfers.
Here is the ugly truth no one in the anti-rollback camp really wants to talk about: the vast majority of those who play the greatest game of all are relatively hopeless. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, these people stand at address and have no earthly idea how far they are going to hit the shot. Only very occasionally can they describe the contact between club and ball as “solid”. So the yardage between them and their target is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter even a little bit. And nor, by extension, does what kind of ball they are using. Sorry folks, but that’s the harsh reality. Besides, we have been here before. Back in 1974, the R&A mandated that the 1.62-inch diameter ball used pretty much everywhere in the world except the United States would be illegal in the Open Championship. By the early 1980s, that ruling applied to virtually every leading amateur event. In other words, everyone not related to Uncle Sam was asked to accept at least a 20-25-yard loss in distance off the tee.
I was around back then. I remember that happening. I remember how much of a difference the introduction of the 1.68-inch ball made to my (scratch) game. But what I don’t remember is a mass revolution. We all got on with it. And, in time, many of us started to hit better shots, especially in the wind. Because we had to. As for the rest – those aforementioned unfortunates with minimal talent – I’m not sure they even noticed. I certainly don’t recall anyone saying, “I feel cheated. That 200-yard drive I hit on the 7th would have gone 220 with the old ball.”
So what’s the problem this time round? The notion that we amateurs need safeguarding is clearly nonsense. Why would restoring the likes of Sunningdale, Cypress Point and all the rest to the professional fold be a bad thing? And why would setting up courses for tour events in the way the original designer intended – without silly rough, stupidly narrow fairways, daft pin positions and glass-like greens – be a retrograde step?
Let’s assume the R&A and USGA do actually want to rollback the ball. Lack of ability means such a move would make absolutely no difference to at least 99 per cent of the world’s amateur golfers. And knocking, say, ten per cent off the average tee-shots struck by leading professionals would allow great courses rendered obsolete by technology to once again host the game’s great players. It would be no less entertaining, even for the distance junkies. Can anyone, with the naked eye, genuinely tell the difference between a 320-yard drive and one that flies 280?
So, tell me again: what exactly are we arguing about?
John follows the PGA and European Tours and has written for Golf World for more than 26 years, as well as authoring seven books.
‘Would setting-up courses for tour events in the way the original designer intended be a retrograde step?’