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Rugge: Ball Study Done, Results Await Rule Change Call

Saturday will mark the final USGA Annual Meeting for retiring technical director Dick Rugge, which means he'll only have to hear me ask one more time what the status is of the USGA's nearly 10-year ball study.

Turns out, Adam Schupak asked the question in a better way because Rugge says it's done, stored in a crate stacked upon eight other crates somewhere near the lost ark.

Schupak: Where do we stand on the USGA's study of the golf ball? Is that something you feel you're leaving left undone?

Rugge: The goal of the ball study was to become better prepared to make a rule change based on knowledge, in case that was ever needed. The USGA is much better prepared, with much more knowledge of golf balls in many ways today than when it started out. In that sense, that mission has been accomplished.

It never was about should we change the rules about golf balls.

Well, we did ask for reduced distance balls...

Schupak: Why has nothing from the ball study ever been made public?

Rugge: First of all, why should we? That's not meant to be a sarcastic comment. That's a real question. We always ask ourselves why do we want to publish whatever it is we do. What's the purpose of doing that? We look at publishing information we've learned as preparation for making a rule change. If we think there is a reasonable chance of making a rules change, we start publishing information to get people understanding the knowledge we've gained and perhaps how we may go forward.

So when they start publishing papers, then we'll know it's coming!

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Reader Comments (19)

Just to check with the cognoscenti on this site exactly what the ball issue is:
Professional golfers hit much further now than 25 years ago so
A- Classic golf courses have to be lengthened, altered, and in some cases are no longer usable for professional competitions
B- New courses must be over 7500 yards from the back tees, costing more to construct and maintain,and occupying more land.
A change in the specification for a professional golf ball, obligatory for professionals but optional for amateurs, would solve both problems.
I think the distance issue showed up with the ProV1 in 2000 and took a radical step forward in 2003. So change "25 years" to "15 years"


C - By turning professional golf into a game of bomb and gouge, elite golfers have tended to be one dimensional in their games: who can hit furthest straightest and putt is the only real route to victory now. In the past you had wildly differing, equally valid styles of play, and a few golfers capable of applying a different style depending on the hole being played. This reduction to a single style of play makes for boring television, which reduces interest in the game; it discourages amateurs from playing when they feel incapable of playing the game "as it should be played," which reduces participation.
02.2.2013 | Unregistered CommenterF. X. Flinn

Point B is not true. Course builder/ operators CHOOSE to build 7500 yard courses and take on the added costs of maintenance for the minuscule chance at hosting a major or tour event (for ego), or to satisfy that minuscule >1% of golfers who hit the ball "too far."

Let these people, along with "the keepers of the pro game" be the loudest voices for a roll back.

FX, the ball going too far as a reason for participation is a stretch. Only a small fraction of golfers watch pro golf. Participation is dropping because it takes 7 hours to play with travel time and family issues (2 worker households, kid activities, etc).

The distance issue is a golf cognoscenti issue, not a regular golfer issue.
02.2.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBsoudi
Ok, if jack or Annie had a played the top flite back in the day, how far would that have gone? Correct me if I am wrong, but they haven't allowed the golf ball to go any farther than it did in the 80s. Back than there was a big difference in how far each ball went. That is why the weekend hacks played the distance ball and would never think about playing a balata. You basically had two balls, a pro ball and a am ball. Now the pro ball goes just as far as most of the am balls. Add in the big drivers, pros being stronger and fitter and courses being mowed tighter and the ground firmer, you get 300 yard drives. I love playing at 6900 yards, that is to me the best of both worlds, fun holes and hard holes. Any longer I feel like I never get to use my 7,8,9 or pw unless I am chipping.
02.2.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark
Agree FX and CM.

Oh what a different game this would be if they decreed 50-100 yrs ago that no tournament course shall exceed 'X' number of yards...say around the 7000-7200 mark max. Now they have to limit something that's in the control of private corporations who are not going to "roll er back" without putting up a fight.

Yet another reason for Bifurcating the rules ASAP.
02.2.2013 | Unregistered Commenterjohnnnycz
So my dues are helping pay for studies that are locked in crates? Well then starting in 2013, my dues payment will be locked in my checking account.
02.2.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJRP
Mark: The difference is that back in the day the TopFlite/Pinnacle would only go far. It would not behave properly when properly struck with an iron. And even back then, IIRC, the one-ball rule was adopted to prevent players from using a Pinnacle on a particularly long par-5 and going back to the low-trajectory Titleist wound ball on the other holes. Now, while even I can make a ProVI equivalent back up, I still can't do that with a Top-Flight. A little anecdote: Last weekend at the end of the day I played 4 balls on my last hole (440-yard par 4). Two were TopFlight equivalents that I had found; two were "premium" balls. All 4 balls were in the fairway off the tee. Both rock-hard, low spin pellets went >20 yards farther than the other two. And with the 7-iron they failed to stay on the green. The other 2 balls landed on the the front off a 5-iron and stopped. An anecdote is not data, but given what we know and what the Ball Study probably confirms, this is the problem with the professional game. Their drives would have flown by my longest by another 25-40 yards, leaving them with a 9-iron or PW on what is a long, uphill, hard par-4. And their approaches would have "dropped and stopped." Isn't that what it says on the Titleist box (I really don't know since I stopped using them)? And that is the problem. Not that I don't like the fact that 25 years ago, this particular hole would have been a driver, 3-wood, chip, and putt on the best day for me, rather than a driver and a 5-6-7-iron. But I'm not fooling myself that in late-middle age I am stronger and more athletic than I was in my 30s.

Regarding the Ball Study, this quote, "First of all, why should we? That's not meant to be a sarcastic comment. That's a real question. We always ask ourselves why do we want to publish whatever it is we do" reminds me of nothing so much as the conversations that took place among the Masters of the Universe in Lower Manhattan and the City of London as they cleaned up, leading up to the ongoing unpleasantness regarding the world's financial economy.
02.2.2013 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
Let's face it. If they thought the results of this "study" would be popular and acceptable to their paymasters they would publish them. They are not because they have obviously found results that would cause conflict with the manufacturers, which has always been the real problem -- all the others (longer courses, more environmental damage, higher maintenance and playing costs, slowness of rounds, declining popularity of active golf) are just ancillary effects.
02.2.2013 | Unregistered CommenterGhillie
It does seem that the dues paying USGA members should have the right to see what their dues are paying for.........I'm not a dues paying member of the USGA and am not supporting their bowtied highly paid bureaucrats.
02.2.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave W
I was reading KLG's anecdote about the four balls in the fairway and was going, 'yah, sure, buddy, 4 good drives screwing around at the end of the day' and then I noticed who the author was. I've played with him. He's nearly like Couples, he nearly always hits it in the sweet spot. You can rely on his testimony.
02.2.2013 | Unregistered CommenterF. X. Flinn
How long are those new Streamsong courses?
02.2.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
"So my dues are helping pay for studies that are locked in crates? Well then starting in 2013, my dues payment will be locked in my checking account." - JRP

Well said, my thoughts exactly.
02.2.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMatt A
"And even back then, IIRC, the one-ball rule was adopted to prevent players from using a Pinnacle on a particularly long par-5 and going back to the low-trajectory Titleist wound ball on the other holes." - KLG

KLG, I believe that is the BEST argument yet for a rollback of the ball. The USGA\R&A knew that being able to play multiple balls that allowed both distance and control caused a breach in the way the game is supposed to be played. Now we have manufactures that have found a loophole and are able to circumvent the rule.

If any precedent is needed to argue the point that rule is it.
02.2.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMatt A
Two places I stopped payments to...USGA and AARP...I feel so much better!
02.2.2013 | Unregistered CommenterBobby D
I'm with F.X. Finn on this one. The bomb and gouge game has made golf less appealing. If you want the distance, at least increase the spin rate which would increase the 'miss' rate on a ball traveling off-line.
02.2.2013 | Unregistered Commentermeefer
20 years ago on 2 or 3 occasions I hit 320m (350 yards) with a persimmon driver. After a long layoff I have a modern driver & balls and recently measured a drive (by gps and rangefinder) at 335 - (366 yd). I understand a 30 year old doing that but at 53 it is ridiculous. I know the technology is adding 50 metres to my game. .
Setting a maximum speed for golf balls should be a priority
02.2.2013 | Unregistered CommenterM.
This is a true question and am looking for some feed back from the cognoscenti of this blog. Instead of lengthening the courses, why not, for the one week that the pros are there, grow in or narrow fairways at 280, 290 or any other chosen yardage. Wouldn't this type of set-up encourage the pros to play to a point to play the shot into the green from fairway instead of rough. Wouldn't this encourage the pros to choose a ball for the conditions and let us amateurs still have our Pro V's? It doesn't have to be done on every 4 and 5 par, but enough so that it would be a consideration. Help me understand why I'm wrong.
02.3.2013 | Unregistered CommenterHBL
HBL: I think you are right about the US Open. But for the rest of the year, remember, these guys are good! A wedge from the rough, unless it is 10-inch bluegrass, is more likely to get close to the hole than a 6-iron from the fairway. That's the essence of bomb and gouge.
02.3.2013 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
The answer from KLG is spot onl.
Look at the "fairways hit" percentages of the guys shooting 66 or less, sometimes they miss more than they hit. It's fair to say that pros simply ignore the rough and the way the course was intended to be played by the architect. The only way to put into effect what you suggest is to place white stakes (OB) at the edge of the rough. Then they might play two 5 irons to a par4.

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