USGA Ball Ruling

by | Dec 6, 2023 | News

The R&A and USGA today announced its expected update to the testing conditions used for golf ball conformance under the Overall Distance Standard (ODS), which will take effect in January 2028. The decision, golf’s Ruling Bodies said, aims to “reduce the impact’’ increased hitting distances have on golf’s long-term sustainability while minimizing the impact on the recreational game.

The revised ball testing conditions will be as follows: 125-mph clubhead speed (equivalent to 183 mph ball speed); spin rate of 2200 rpm, and launch angle of 11 degrees. The current conditions, which were established 20 years ago, are set at 120 mph (equivalent to 176 mph ball speed), 2520 rpm with a 10-degree launch angle.

The ruling is expected to receive considerable backlash from opponents and perhaps even litigation from some golf ball companies. But Dan Murphy, president and CEO of Bridgestone golf, this morning offered a conciliatory approach.

“We are aware of and understand the passionate responses on both sides regarding the USGA announcement on the distance rollback of golf balls,’’ Murphy said.  “While we would prefer that any new rules did not impact recreational players, we believe further commentary is no longer productive. At this point, we must concentrate on creating conforming products that allow professionals and amateurs to play their best golf.”

“Bridgestone Golf has total confidence in our ability to design and manufacture the world’s best golf balls, regardless of the parameters, and our team of over 700 polymer engineers will develop models that provide optimal performance under the new rules for the full range of players. Bridgestone has always been dedicated to innovation, and we are constantly working to develop new technologies that benefit consumers. Leveraging the wealth of ball fitting data we have accumulated over the years gives us a significant advantage over competitors, and we will rely on our extensive collection of patents as well as our top-notch R&D team – including input from Tiger Woods – to ensure we continue to produce the best golf balls in the world.”

The Ruling Bodies said revised conditions are based on analysis of data from the worldwide tours and the game over several years and are intended to ensure that the ODS (whose limit will remain unchanged at 317 yards with a three-yard tolerance) continues to represent the ability of the game’s longest hitters. An analysis of ball speeds among golf’s longest hitters in 2023 shows that the fastest 10 players had an average ball speed of 186 mph, while the average ball speed of the fastest 25 was 183.4 mph (the very fastest averaged 190 mph).

The longest hitters are expected to see a reduction of as much as 13-15 yards in drive distance. Average professional tour and elite male players are expected to see a reduction of 9-11 yards, with a 5-7-yard reduction for an average LPGA or Ladies European Tour (LET) player.

The R&A and USGA said the change in testing speed is expected to have a “minimal distance’’ impact _ five yards or less – for most recreational golfers. The Ruling Bodies said that research shows an average swing speed of 93 mph for male golfers and 72 mph for female players.

Existing balls approved for conformance in 2027 may continue to be used by recreational golfers until January 2030 to give golfers, manufacturers and retailers additional time to adjust. These decisions are in line with the commitments made by the governing bodies at the project’s inception.

A significant portion of golf ball models that are currently in the market – and more than 30 percent of all golf ball models submitted for conformance across the game – are expected to remain conforming after these changes are applied.

“Governance is hard. And while thousands will claim that we did too much, there will be just as many who said we didn’t do enough to protect the game long-term,” said Mike Whan, CEO of the USGA. “But from the very beginning, we’ve been driven to do what is right for the game, without bias. As we’ve said, doing nothing is not an option – and we would be failing in our responsibility to protect the game’s future if we didn’t take appropriate action now.”


About the Author

<a href="" target="_self">Steve Pike</a>

Steve Pike

Steve “Spike” Pike is a lifelong journalist whose career covers Major League Baseball, the NFL, and college basketball. For the past 26 years, Spike has been one of the more respected voices in the golf and travel industries, working for such publications as Golfweek, Golf World, and Golf Digest for The New York Times Magazine Group. In 1998, Spike helped launch the website for the PGA of America. As a freelance travel and golf writer, Spike’s travels have taken him around the world. He has played golf from Pebble Beach to St. Andrews, walked the Great Wall of China, climbed an active volcano in the Canary Islands, been on safari in South Africa, and dived with sharks off Guadalupe, Baja California.