Rolling the Ball Back


I have read that you developed the distance standard in the 70’s. Has this been abandoned or changed to allow the ball to go farther? If not, why is the USGA is talking about rolling the ball back? I don’t understand.

Lou, NY


Thank you for your question.

I too am a little puzzled by the discussion about rolling the ball back as neither I nor do 99% of the golfing population, hit the ball far enough. Nor have I heard of anybody giving up the game because they hit the ball too far.

The facts are that the average male hits the ball less than 200 yards, but over-estimates his driving distance by about 30+yards (Reference our Growing the Game survey of over 18,000 golfers*). The average female golfer drives the ball less than 150 yards and overestimates her driving distance by about the same amount as the average male golfer.

I doubt that there is a single golf course played by 99% of golfers, that is outmoded for them by advances in equipment technology over the last 50 to 75 years. So, this is the reason why I am a little puzzled by the discussion.

Yes, the average driving distance the touring pros – less than .001% of the golfing population — hit the ball today compared to the 1960’s has increased by less than 40-yards. This was mainly due to the introduction of the titanium driver, which made it possible to obtain “optimum launch conditions” for balls based on their aerodynamic properties, as well as take advantage of the properties of the two-piece – now three- or four-piece – ball called the Pinnacle in the 70s. The “spring-like effect” in club faces and the larger MOI also contributed to the increase  in distance (see graph below, from 1995 when the titanium club with spring-like effect was introduced until 2003 when most Tour players had optimized their launch conditions and switched to the multilayered ball).     


Surely it seems obvious that by continuing to lengthen courses for the PGA Tour and major championships is wrong headed, as this only plays into the hands of the long hitter and diminishes the all-round skills required to excel. This too encourages the elite golfers to hit the ball  as hard as they can as long as the penalty for a wayward drive is not too severe.

However, we should recognize that these long drives are good for the entertainment value and do increase TV ratings, so the PGA Tour are not interested in rolling the ball back or shortening golf courses to challenge all the skills required to be a champion golfer.  

Lou, YES, I was instrumental in the development of the Overall Distance Standard (ODS) in 1975 and even though this has been updated, to my knowledge, no ball used today has failed the ODS.

This is why I too am confused at the discussion about rolling the ball back, due to the concomitant pitfalls in an attempt to solve a problem to which there are other less disruptive solutions, most of which will be opposed by those who gain from the entertainment value of televised golf.

Please let me and other Frankly Friends know how you feel about rolling the ball back, by replying below.




12 thoughts on “Rolling the Ball Back

  1. I must apologize for my comments regarding the USGA because yesterday for the first time ever, they requested feedback on their distance issue. I responded promptly because in almost 70 years of playing golf competitively, in numerous pro-ams, etc., I have NEVER heard any amateur or professional golfer express concerns that the ball was going to far.

  2. Re: What Fred says above: I agree with both his points. The first, “protection of par,” is, I think, accurate–but I don’t understand it. I’m not bothered if the best golfers in the world (the .001 of us) shoot double-digit under-par scores, and I’m not sure why the USGA should be. But, as Fred points out in his second point, the USGA never bothered to ask me, despite cashing my check these last 25 years or so.

  3. Dear Frank: You are spot on with your analysis. This discussion is about a perceived problem that is really a non issue. I totally agree that golf courses for PGA Tournaments should be set up to put a higher emphasis on driving accuracy. Courses don’t have to be lengthened beyond 7,500 yds for PGA Tour events.

  4. Ignorance is Bliss!! At 83 years, I began golf in my early 20’s near Wash., DC. Rented clubs, Driver, 3,5,7,9,putter, at 25 cents each all day. Xout balls & tees. All day fees, whole day of golf, approx $5. Rolling the Crowflite Xouts back? I don’t think so. Seems like the elite are continually trying to take the fun out of golf.

  5. As a further comment if I may, I have been to Wikipedia to look up George Bayer, a former college and pro footballer who took up pro golf in the 1950’s. This is what they say about him, in part:

    “At 6-foot-5-inches tall and 230 pounds, the power that Bayer could generate was astonishing. He was known for booming 300-yard drives.[4] Bayer won four times on the PGA Tour in a four-year period made remarkable by the fact that he played in an era of inconsistently wound balls; and laminated maple or persimmon clubs that were made for players of average height (5’9″ tall) and build (160 pounds). His achievements came in an era when golf equipment was simply not available for extremely tall or extremely short people.[5] He also won the par-3 contest at The Masters in 1963.”

    The French have a saying for it – “plus ca change, plus ca meme chose” – the more things change, the more they remain the same.

    • I remember George Bayer well. Saw him a couple of times on Shells Wonderful World of Golf, hosted by legendary Gene Saracen. His driver distance was in a class by itself. Long flowing swing that produced booming drives in the steel shaft and persimmon Driver era.

  6. Isn’t the real problem behind this debate the length of golf courses being built or re-designed to “deal with” the perceived extra length the ball is being hit, whether that comes about from the ball characteristics or club design or whatever? Longer courses require more land, they require more resources to build and maintain. The financial costs are greater and the impact on the environment never seems to be taken into account. Courses should be smaller. If that means the pros are hitting 9-irons to every par 3 and drivers and 60* wedges to par 4 holes and driver, 5-iron to every par 5 then so be it.

  7. They can make the courses as long as they want…but I’m playing from the Sr. Tees
    and having fun….also scoring in high 70’s

  8. I think one solution for courses that host PGA events is obvious: create tee boxes for members and regular players closer to the green. There is a housing development in Aurora, CO that had a “championship” course designed and built by a “famous” architect. I doubt that many of the members par the course. Plus, the green fees and carts have “championship” fees.

  9. One of greatest if not the greatest thrill I have in golfing is approaching my drive and thinking boy did I crush this drive and tell my golfing buddies that they can move up to the red tees if they want. They talk about getting and keeping people interested in the game and yet they want to take away the one part of the game that makes us older (67 yrs) feel that were a little farther from that t box in the sky.

  10. The very fact that the USGA is considering a distance roll back is further proof that their constituency is the protection of par. In all the years that I was a USGA member, I don’t ever remember the USGA asking for the opinion of its member clubs or its golfers.

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