Fansplaining: The Distance Debate


You aren’t playing the same game as the pros. Your clubs aren’t the same (model and manufacturer may be but they are completely different), the courses aren’t the same etc.


The USGA and R&A are already coming up with a standardized world handicap system. Why not include another variable (ball type) that automatically account for differential in performance of an 80% ball and a 100% ball?

That way when you input your scores, you also input ball type, and the playing field/pro vs amateur comparison remains totally intact.


The idea that rolling the ball back by a certain %, whether it’s 10% or 20% or whatever, will impact everyone by that same percentage is just wrong. Manufacturers can’t just log into a computer and apply a factor of 0.8 and the ball will automatically fly 20% less. Let’s say the solution is a material or technology that effectively increases the spin of the ball. Pros will go back to their Trackman and optimize their launch conditions, but they still might lose some distance. Short hitting amateurs probably won’t lose much of anything because the added spin will keep the ball in the air longer. And everyone in between will fall somewhere in the middle.

So in essence it brings long hitters back to expose the shotmaking skills while the average Joe continues to basically play his same game.

I find it fascinating that the same companies that advertise this year’s equipment gaining so many yards on last year’s equipment or their competition are now claiming that there really isn’t much evidence to support a distance gain because of said equipment in the last however many years. Well which is it guys? False advertising or just picking and choosing the best side of the argument?


“More distance means longer courses”

Why does that have to be true? Just play the damn course. See: WGC Mexico.

“things had to be unpopularly tricked up to protect some semblance of architectural intent”

Again, why do they bother tricking them up? Is it to protect the ego of older generations? Protecting the course’s super? Why? Let them play.

This whole argument is stupid. It’s like the NBA raising the hoops because players are taller.


I saw Steve Flesch tweet today that they shouldn’t reign in distance, but make the ball curve more like it did pre-2000.

If this somehow happens relatively soon, I would think Tiger would sure have a better shot at breaking Jack’s major record.


One thing missing from the amateur distances: what type of ball were they using in 1998?

Pre Pro-V1, pros all played a balata ball. Solid core golf balls existed, but pros didn’t use them. And they went just as far as balls today. I think the amateur data is misleading: most amateurs were using solid cores then and are still using them today.

It’s possible that a rollback might push amateur distances lower than they were in 1998, which is a truly terrible idea.


Most Ams in 1998 used Top Flite, Titles DT solo, Wilson Ultra, Maxfli Rev, Pinnacle. Some Dunlops still existed, and you’d see the occasional Precept. If you were a real baller, you might have had Rexstar. The balata was kind of a country club ball, but common. The King in 1998 was the Titleist Professional.

Most pros used the Titleist Professional. It was/is an exceptional ball. And the ball didn’t go nearly as far as it does today. I can say that with confidence because I have played the Pro V1, the Professional, the Tour Balata, the Prestige, the NXT, the DT and there’s simply no comparison. The pro v1 is far and away a better ball.

Nobody is talking about rolling back the amateur ball. That’s a big misconception. The roll back would be Web, PGA, Champions, Euro. That’s it. If that.

Funny how wedge grooves got “rolled back” in 2016, but people still play illegal Vokeys and nobody says a word about that.


Make par 70 for all pro events. I don’t care how you get there, two shortest par 5’s turned into par 4’s, or change one par 5 to 4 and make a driveable par 4 a par 3.

Same balls, same equipment, no additional R&D to make a bifurcation ball that won’t sell, ams dont have to change anything or learn new yardages, no sacrifice of watching long ball entertainment, no ball enforcement issues for Q-school/mini tours/country club events/your weekend round.

Print some new score cards when the pros come to town, ‘problem’ solved.


This is what everyone misunderstands. You cannot limit the distance a ball travels in manufacturing. A “20%” rollback is most likely refering to the “resilience” of the golf ball. It is a material property measured in units of energy per volume. It is essentially how well a material can deform, absorbing energy, and then unload, releasing energy. Its tough for me to pin point the spin because a big factor is the way players swing up with the driver now creates less spin. Newer balls do take more force to compress than balata’s, which makes them a little less likely to spin.
Limiting the resilience will not hurt the slower swing speed player, they can’t compress a pro v-1 core any way so it’s really like they are using a standard 2 piece ball any way.


“Par” isn’t really the problem. It’s the fact that we have this incredible gift of historical courses that are suddenly defenseless. Some may say “grow the rough, firm up the greens” but that fundamentally changes the ethos of the course and the intent of the design. Which sucks.
So the “easy button” IMO, is to have Titleist, Callaway, Srixon- whenever- design a ball to a particular specification and require pros to play that ball. Everyone else can buy whatever the heck they want. People will argue, “people want to buy what the pros use.” Fine. They can. Or they can buy a Pro V1. NASCAR fans that buy F150s because their driver races for Ford still support the Ford brand.
It’s so godamned easy, really.


This exactly. It’s not like ams or your weekend warrior will be forced to use the new ball. It’ll be their choice, just as it is now where you have your pick between Pro V, Chrome Soft, whatever. But with rolling the ball back, we’ll get to see the pros play courses as they were meant to be played, as they were designed to be played. It will call for them to make/create more shots. After all, the reason we watch golf is for entertainment no? What’s more entertaining than watching your favorite tour players forced to shape a mid to long iron into a green (and hold said green) late in a Sunday round, all while having to maneuver the hazards of the hole. IMO this is more entertaining than watching them bomb a driver, then hit a flip wedge right at the pin and get it to stop upon impact, thus taking out the entire design/strategy of the hole.


Absolutely! Totally agree.

Again, to answer some counter arguments above - the ball change will not be punishing long hitters and be an advantage to short game experts. Everyone will be losing distance.

And also, no, we are not playing the same game as the pros. I doubt the PGA or European Tour crews set up your amateur courses for tournament play before you roll up on a Saturday or Sunday morning. The tee boxes won’t be the same, the green speeds won’t be the same, the clubs and equipment won’t be to the same level…


I may be reading it wrong but I am far from certain any change to the ball will be applied to professionals only. For the record I would favour a universal set of rules, and balls that took little distance from short recreational golfers

The appendix of the statement released by the USGA and R&A at the start of the week includes the following passage -

“The R&A and the USGA continue to believe that the retention of a single set of rules for all players of the game, irrespective of ability, is one of golf’s greatest strengths. The R&A and USGA regard the prospect of having permanent seperate rules for elite competition as undesirable and have no current plans to create seperate equipment rules for highly skilled players”.

That does not sound like the position of an organisation aiming to instigate bifurcation to me.


I’m a little surprised that there’s so much emphasis on rolling back the ball. One thing in this whole debate that I’m shocked isn’t mentioned more is the custom fitting end. I think that goes a long way in explaining the gains from golf professionals and not their amateur brethren, as 99% of ams use stock equipment. Secondly, I’m surprised there isn’t more talk about rolling back the driver or making the head smaller. Third, seems to me that tour pros are bigger, stronger, and more fit than 20 years ago. Seems to me that some of these distance gains can be attributed to more than just the ball. Just my 2 cents.


If the ball has to be rolled back then the club manufacturers have to change equipment. Who is going to compensate this companies for inventory?


I have 2 questions: (not from an argumentative point of view, just trying to gain knowledge)

  1. Have any manufactures produced a prototype rolled back ball? It would be interesting to see trackman numbers for a rolled back ball, as hit by all different handicap levels.

  2. One of the main reasons we are having this conversation, from what I understand, is due to great historic courses that are now obsolete. Can anyone give me some examples? And what exactly has made them obsolete? Are the pros just shooting ungodly low numbers? If the argument is that it produces boring golf, I completely disagree. Reachable 4’s are some of the most exciting holes in golf.

My 2 cents: I am not opposed to a rollback. I am not 100% convinced it is necessary, but if they feel that it would preserve some golf holy grounds, then I am open to it.
However; I am not open to playing a different ball than the pros play. There is a reason why tour validation is so important in the retail golf industry. Part of the amazement and appreciation of the professional athlete is to play the same irons and the same ball as my favorite golfer, and see him hitting 9 iron when I would hit 6 iron. Or, the smug feeling you get when Rickie pulls the same club that you would have pulled from that yardage. To me, it feels the same as it did a number of years ago when the idea was floated of a larger hole for public courses, in order to speed up the game. A resounding hells no from the armature golfer. We want to play the same game. And we want to be blown away while we watch the good guys do unspeakable things with the same driver and the same golf ball we have in our bags in the garage.


The golf ball and putter are really the only 2 pieces of equipment that are equal at the pro level and amateur level. But beyond that, there are differences that manufacturers don’t often make too public because it’s important for them to think your TM driver is exactly the same one as the one DJ, JDay, Tiger, and Rory can hit so far. Are they the same clubheads? For the most part, probably. But the shafts that they have at their disposal for drivers and fairway woods are high-dollar add-ons that the vast majority of amateurs don’t use, don’t know about, or can’t afford.

Irons and wedges are similar with shaft options, and wedges go another step with custom grinds. Some of these offerings are getting better, ie grind options for different bounce angles being a stock offering, but still a lot of people just check the loft, grab and go.

My point is that it’s all more than just the golf ball, it’s the customization that goes along with it to optimize the flight for each golfer separately. For tour pros, these custom options are free, and they have the absolute best fitters from each manufacturer. For us amateurs, it just isn’t in most of our budgets.

So we aren’t playing the same equipment, and we aren’t playing the same courses (setup making a huge difference). It just isn’t the same game. Might as well just have a different set of rules. And if we aren’t playing the same clubs anyway, there’s really no point in playing the same ball. The ball is the easy target for rollback.


This. I’m also curious to some hard examples of great courses that are obsolete. I’ve read (maybe here, maybe elsewhere) examples of how courses were lengthened from 19th to 20th century tournament play anyways, so it’s not like we are going to get them back to original design, they’ve always evolved with the game.

From my understanding, ANGC has always chosen to lengthen, and the course from the member tees is pretttty vulnerable.


20% is just a really dumb idea - I think people are not considering the math. The median driver on Tour in 2017 was Jim Herman (96th). He drove it 292 yards. Rolling back 20% knocks him down to 233.6 yards. That’s not a short hitter - that’s the average hitter. PGA stats go back to 1980. The median hitter in 1980 was at 256.7. The shortest hitter in 1980 was 238.7.

So this 20% is not taking us back to 1980. It’s probably taking us back to 1930.

Everyone’s boy Zac Blair, one of the shortest hitters on tour, would be down to 218 off the tee after a 20% rollback. That means he’s probably not able to reach a 400 yard par 4 in 2 shots.

And the idea that this would impact the 273-hitting Zac Blair, but have no impact on the 230-hitting Joe Blow? Doesn’t make a lot of sense. With 20% distance loss, your average-hitting 12-handicap is now hitting a 4-iron from 150? That guy can’t play a par 4 that’s much longer than 325. That doesn’t sound fun. He’s hitting a hybrid into a par-3 of around 160.

20% changes the game A LOT. There is merit to discussing the ball, but I think people should be careful with the numbers.


The Old Course at St. Andrews. They don’t even use the old course anymore. They extend tees onto other courses to lengthen then old course. If you don’t roll back by the time the walker cup gets there in 2023 or whatever guys will be driving #1 with a 3 wood.

Cypress Point Club: Maybe a decade ago Sandy Tatum played with then US AM champ David Gossett and he knew. The course just no longer had any teeth due to the modern game. When a committee came out to assess changes to CPC Tatum was adamant: “change nothing.” He knew you don’t alter great art.

Merion: So short that it had to firmed up and tricked up to pose a test at the US Open in 2013. It totally changed what the course is supposed to be and how the green complexes are suppose to be played.

Augusta: If Mackenzie rose from the grave and saw Augusta National as it is now vs how he designed it, he would immediately die again.

I could go on, but I’ve got to make french toast now.