Fansplaining: The Distance Debate


I’ll use the small ball vs big ball argument this time.

Up until 1990, only 28 years ago, the world used 2 different sized golf balls. The USGA and R&A had two different minimum golf ball diameter requirements: 1.68 inches for the USGA and 1.62 inches for the R&A.

In 1974, the R&A said you must use the small ball to compete in The Open. No if, and, or buts. When Arnie or Jack flew over there and won, they used the small ball already because it had less resistance in the wind.

For 16 years, The Open had what was essentially a required tournament ball; however, it is more complicated than this. Because the R&A had one ball diameter requirement, everyone outside of North America played with the small ball.

When 1990 came around and the new Rules of Golf said, “The requirement for all golf balls in the world is to have a minimum diameter of 1.68 inches,” (the big ball) everyone outside of North America stopped using the small ball.

No more bifurcation.
Nobody using the small ball out of spite.
No compensation for all the golf ball manufacturers’ small ball making machines.
No more tournament ball at The Open.

It just happened, and people adapted.

How long did it take to adapt? The consensus was 2 WEEKS. The big ball that “will lose 25 yards” and “be ridiculous to play in a strong breeze” took 2 weeks to adapt. Yes, the ball didn’t go as far the small ball, but the change ended up not affecting the average player as much.

Sound familiar? History likes to repeat itself. This issue doesn’t need to be so complicated, but it will be. The moment someone tries to change how Americans play, it turns into an all-out-war.

The USGA and R&A could put a new rule in stating a new requirement for the golf ball in the big update to the rules next year. They could; they make the rules. We would make the change. Maybe they just need to rip the band-aid off.


Jimmy Walker busily tweeting and representing his major sponsor. Spreading misinformation to the unthinking masses. Titleist must be pleased with him. Stay woke people.


The 15 cap can play the same equipment they do currently.

The avid player who wants to be like the Pros can play the rolled back ball.

Tournaments at country clubs can allow whatever ball they want. Sanctioned events will have rules to abide by (again, currently done with distance devices and carts).

Manufacturers have two types of balls to sell and develope and make money off of.

Tour plays same courses as always.

Seriously why’s this a conversation? What party says no to any of this?

Sidebar: I’m a 3 index who used to play 60/70 rounds a year but now due to life I play maybe 15-20 a year. I hit the ball farther than I ever did before off the tee, I barely practice anymore, I’m in horrid shape compared to my young 20s when I was playing a ton. It’s comical to me that I’ve gained 10-15 yards since I stopped playing frequently. So unless you believe my excuse that gaining 40lbs since college has added the yardage, there’s zero reason what I’m describing should be true. The only reason I’ve stayed a 3 is because I can hit it very straight and where I used to have 5/6/7 irons in I have scoring clubs in my hand instead. The only reason I can compete in amateur events is because distance allows me to stay competitive but truth be told, If I was forced to play a reduced ball and didn’t have the game to compete at such events I’d have to admit it’s for all normal reasons - lack of play, lack of practice, poor conditioning with bad flexibility. I would need to admit I lost my game. So it comes down to my ego. And honestly ego is the biggest driver of those who say they don’t want to roll the ball back (pun intended). It would force guys like my buddy to realize he’s not good enough to play 7000 yards, or my 16 handicap boss to realize iron play matters. Bomb and gauge is an ego driven mentality at the amateur level. And I get it. But it still not a reasonable excuse to stop the Pro game from outgrowing it’s venues.


Interesting take. I don’t disagree but I think the biggest gripe would be from guys who would be forced to realize they aren’t actually single digits. See my sidebar and self example above.


I think this might be the most eloquent thing I’ve read in this message board yet.


Thanks. Lot of typos. It was a cold walk home in the City when I wrote it. But just like a golf swing, eloquently flawed


Well depends on swing speed. I would like to see more research done on the compressibility and resilience of pro’s golf balls and typical amateur golf balls. Would be nice to compare balls on these mechanical property tests from 90’s, late 90’s, 2000’s on 3 year increments. I want to do this because I’m not sold that the data presented actually means anything yet. There’s no clear cut data report that shows how much balls have actually changed or affected distance. Once we know how the ball truly interacts and has effected distance we can figure out how it will effect the “15 capper” if at all.


I found it funny when Jimmy and Erin Walker and Billy Horschel stirred up the debate on Twitter and Instagram and how they were arguing their cases. The Walkers were “protecting” their livelihood, as if Jimmy would be the only one on tour losing distance and being at a disadvantage against his peers. Obviously that doesn’t hold water. Everyone will be impacted in a similar way. And guess what, once a generation or so, the governing bodies of my “livelihood” completely rewrite design codes that cause us to completely change the way I do my job. It’s already happened in my short career. Sure we get to complain about it, but in the end it’s for the good of the public and we adapt and, yes, the checks are still clearing at the bank.

Billy arguing that his irons still go the same distance they did in college. Well the Pro-V was introduced well before he got to college. Sure there are other factors at play. But Titleist introduced the Pro-V, then club manufacturers had to figure out how to optimize it. That’s what they’ve been doing the last 15 years. And his players irons haven’t had much tech change the last 10 years I’m guessing.


Guys like Jimmy are horrendously biased, and ill-informed. Nicklaus, Flynn, MacKenzie, Longhurst, Bobby Jones have all expressed their view on distance, and have done so over the last 80 years. Yet Billy Horschel and Jimmy Walker know better! :joy:


I think that’s the biggest problem with this topic. Everyone is biased (including all of us).

I was talking with @thefriedegg about this a lot this week. Current players are biased toward their sponsors and the current system that got them to where they were (understandable). Many of us are biased toward architecture and wanting to see classic courses (understandable). Titleist is biased toward their business not being changed (understandable). And so on.

There’s no way to have a conversation about this without those biases coloring your thinking. The USGA and R&A are supposed to be the only unbiased entity, but on an issue like this where there is so much legitimate ammo on each side, I just can’t see them picking a side in a big way. I’m not sure we’re gonna see much action one way or the other.


You mean Jimmy “I love distance” Walker - the ProV sales Guy?


I’d argue that the biggest problem is that the logical solution will only affect 500 people but there’s 500 million who are really struggling to grasp that scenario.


Yes, we all have our own biases, true. However, I think that if one can truly remove bias from their thinking about the issue, bifurcation with a 5% to 10% rollback is impossible to argue against. It’s really a win win. DJ will still bomb it way past the amateurs watching on TV, classic courses become playable again, and 99% of golfers are not impacted by it at all as they can still play whatever ball they do currently.


Isn’t the job of a governing body to cut through all the biases and mandate a solution?


Guys, I agree wholeheartedly the bifurcation idea. But what I think should happen and what I think will happen are two different things, I guess that’s the crux of what I’m trying to say. It’s a cynical stance, I know.

But what actions have you seen recently that would lead you to believe that the USGA is going to rip off this band-aid and intentionally become the heel on this? We’ve already seen the players (who most causal fans will blindly believe ahead of the USGA no matter what) freaking out before anything’s even been proposed. That would only get worse if endorsement deals were shaken up at all as a result of a rollback, which is at least possible, if not probable.

I guess the belly putter/anchoring ban was a weird, misguided attempt at preserving the “traditions of the game,” but there was almost nobody with any loud influence that cared enough to oppose that. So in that scenario, the USGA gets to feel powerful like it’s doing god’s work for THE BEAUTY OF THE GAME OF GOLF and no one gets too upset/ends up caring all that much. That seems like the safe, kinda selfish space they enjoy living in. But I guess we’ll see.


I mean, let’s look at the other big decisions they’ve made recently.

  • The groove rule. I wonder who that was aimed at?
  • Dissolving the U.S. Public Links Championship and the WAPL because “public links players have access to every USGA championship.” Fairly good indicator of who the priority is here.
  • Moving the US Open around to show that golf doesn’t have to be lush and green (Pinehurst, Chambers, Erin). I think this was actually done with really good intentions, but it resonated with such a small number of people (and the players were so critical of Chambers) that it only hurt their credibility more.

I’m sure there are other things I’m forgetting?


The new rules package, (which I believe the final version will be revealed in the next few weeks and effective on January 1st?) certainly should be on DJPie’s list.

The rules are, I think, directed to easier playability and growing the game. Not sure if I read the tea leaves to mean that the USGA will take real action on the the distance debate, but it shows that the USGA and R&A do have the wherewithall and stones these days to enact change when they feel it is needed and appropriate.


Agree. That definitely should have been on there.

But even that list of rules changes kind of speaks to a bit of what I’m talking about. With some really sizable issues facing the game, what they were able to agree on/push through was that you can leave the flagstick in while you putt. I’m sure that was keeping a lot of people from playing the game…

(Granted, getting rid of the penalty for a moving ball on the green is a good step.)


If manufacturers never made their entire marketing campaigns about distance - with clubs, with balls, with new technology - would there be so much hesitancy on anyone’s side? To me the argument gets muddied in bias because there is an enormous economic impact on those who sponsor/prop up the pro game and therefore have influence. It’s hard to Jimmy “distance” Walker to start promoting the spin rate of a golf ball because that’s not sexy. It also sounds kinda stupid after years of being told to buy something because of distance. It’s a shame in every debate the almighty dollar rules


To me, the groove rule was the first time I saw the USGA say, “um…we may have a problem here” because the bomb & gougers were just walking up the the tee with driver all day like what. They had to do something. In the end, it wasn’t much.

Here’s a point that few are talking about. Let’s say the ball gets dialed back to what was in play in the nineties. Guys will find a way to trackman their way back to 325 off the tee. It might be an unorthodox combination (13 degree loft, 20 degree launch) but they’ll find the secret sauce. Trackman don’t lie. It’s about to blow up baseball and then we’ll get to hear Lupica and George F. Will go nuts for a while.