Rory McIlroy backs ‘unpopular’ shorter ball proposal with majors on his mind

Rory McIlroy has backed the use of a shorter ball in elite men’s golf (Eric Gay/AP) (AP)
Rory McIlroy has backed the use of a shorter ball in elite men’s golf (Eric Gay/AP) (AP)

Rory McIlroy has backed the “unpopular” idea of a shorter ball being used in elite competition and may even use it in PGA Tour events when not required.

Golf’s governing bodies said in February 2020 they intended to “break the ever-increasing cycle of hitting distance” and last week announced the proposal of a Model Local Rule (MLR) to give tournaments the option to require the use of balls which will travel around 15 yards less.

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers and USGA counterpart Mike Whan confirmed that the MLR would apply in their own elite events, most notably the Open Championship and US Open, respectively.

The PGA Tour did not immediately back the proposal and it was strongly criticised by top equipment manufacturing company Acushnet and former world number one Justin Thomas, who plays their market-leading Titleist balls.

However, with the Masters – which McIlroy needs to win to complete a career grand slam – expected to adopt the shorter ball, McIlroy said he could choose to play it in PGA Tour tournaments even if the MLR was not adopted on the US circuit.

“Honestly, for me the major championships are the biggest deal, so if the PGA Tour doesn’t implement it, I might still play the Model Local Rule ball, because I know that that’ll give me the best chance and the best preparation leading into the major championships,” McIlroy told No Laying Up.

“And again, this is personal preference and personal opinion at this stage of my career.

“I know that I’m gonna be defined by the amount of major championships that I hopefully will win from now until the end of my career. And that’s the most important thing for me.

“If that gives me the best chance to succeed at the major championships and feel as prepared as I possibly can be, then that’s what I would do.”

McIlroy had previously accused the R&A and USGA of “self-importance” over their proposals to restrict driving distance, but at the time had seemed to miss that any changes would not be aimed at non-elite players.

“I’m glad in this new proposal that they haven’t touched the recreational golfer. But for elite level play, I really like it,” McIlroy added.

“I know that’s a really unpopular opinion amongst my peers, but I think it’s going to help identify who the best players are a bit easier. Especially in this era of parity that we’ve been living in these past couple of decades.

“You guys [at No Laying Up] use the term ‘golf has been dumbed down a little bit at the elite level’, and I completely agree.

For elite level play, I really like it

Rory McIlroy has backed the use of a shorter ball

“I think you’re gonna see people with more well-rounded games succeed easier than what the game has become, which is a bit ‘bomb and gouge’ over these last few years.”

The MLR proposal was sent to equipment manufacturers ahead of the announcement and they can provide feedback until August 14. If adopted, it would take effect in January 2026.

Under the proposals, a ball struck at a laboratory-controlled swing speed of 127mph – up from 120mph – must not travel more than 320 yards. The change is expected to reduce hitting distance by 14-15 yards on average for the players with the highest clubhead speeds.