'I Don’t Want To Hinder Athleticism' - USGA CEO On Golf Ball Rollback

Speaking on the 'A New Breed of Golf' radio show, Mike Whan spoke about the recent bifurcation plans

Whan claps his hands at the Women's US Open
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's no secret that the recent announcement of bifurcation golf ball rollback proposals have divided the golf world, with multiple professionals disappointed to hear the controversial plans.

One of the pros that isn't disappointed to hear the plans though is Rory McIlroy, with the four-time Major winner recently stating that he "really" likes the proposal to reduce hitting distances at elite level.

At the WGC Match Play, McIlroy hit one of the greatest drives you will ever see, with his tee shot at the 18th hole, from 375-yards, finishing just three feet from the hole. However, the incredible shot caused some discussion, with many wondering if it would have happened if the golf ball had been rolled back. Now, in a recent podcast, Mike Whan, the CEO of the United States Golf Association, has given his thoughts.

Whan, who was apparently listening to SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio on his way into work on Friday, called in to the 'A New Breed of Golf' radio show to discuss the USGA's local rule proposal of rolling back the ball for elite competitors.

In the clip posted to Twitter, Whan stated that: “Nobody loves a drivable par 4 more than us. We love the game right now. I watched that last night and loved every second of Rory doing that. So, let’s just do this for example: For example, if this were to go in place in 2026, and the PGA Tour still wants that to be a drivable par 4, they’re going to take the tee box and they’re going to move it up 15 yards, and Rory’s going to do the same thing that he did last night. Now, the difference is, Rory’s kids and his kids' kids, if athleticism continues to grow, which we both know is true – I don’t want to hinder athleticism, I don’t want to hinder advancements, I want to watch people continue to grow, but I don’t want to watch a golf course have to go buy another 17 acres of land just for Rory’s kids’ kids.

“So, if we implemented this and the PGA Tour still wanted scoring to be as low or lower than ever; if college golf, Korn Ferry, anybody who implements this, they can pick up their tees and make this a complete non-issue as it relates to scoring, excitement, drivable par-4s, and the difference is, we’ve put something in place that Rory’s kids can accept and Rory’s kids’ kids can accept, as opposed to saying to 30,000 golf courses around the world, you know it and I know, but you better figure out an investment plan because it’s coming. If you want to keep up with the elite level of golf, you better find another 30 yards in the next 30 years, and if anybody argues with that, including you, Michael, you either don’t care about the history of what’s happened in distance or you’re arguing against yourself, which is athleticism, speed training, enhancements are all coming, and quite frankly they’re exciting in the game."

Wahn went on to add: “Distance is worth pursuing. It’s an advantage that’s good in the game, and the game certainly creates that as an incentive. We don’t want kids or future players to not be pursuing it; we just want to make sure that that pursuit doesn’t require golf courses all around the world to have to continue to make changes, and we’ll never build a golf course next to a city again, where there’s all kinds of golf courses that are completely landlocked for all kinds of reasons. 

"Yes, we’ve all got a few golf courses in our community where you go, that’s a great ol’ track, it’s a shame we can’t play anything big there, and that’s OK. I’m not saying the sky is falling, but that list is only going to get longer in the next 20, 40 and 60 years, and we just have to decide as an industry, do we just not care about that? I’ve never been about scoring, I’m not about trying to make the game more difficult, this is not some big coup because we don’t like how many under somebody is.”

Following the show, Michael Breed, who hosts the programme, thanked Wahn for phoning in, with the CEO's comments getting a response from Tiger Woods' former coach, Hank Haney, who said: "Why does any golf (course) have to buy another 17 acres of land? I just don’t get it. Go play a different course, there’s plenty of golf courses long enough to host tournaments for pro golfers."

Matt Cradock
Staff Writer

Matt joined Golf Monthly in February 2021 covering weekend news, before also transitioning to equipment and testing. After freelancing for Golf Monthly and The PGA for 18 months, he was offered a full-time position at the company in October 2022 and continues to cover weekend news and social media, as well as help look after Golf Monthly’s many buyers’ guides and equipment reviews.

Taking up the game when he was just seven years of age, Matt made it into his county squad just a year later and continues to play the game at a high standard, with a handicap of around 2-4. To date, his best round came in 2016, where he shot a six-under-par 66 having been seven-under through nine holes. He currently plays at Witney Lakes in Oxfordshire and his favourite player is Rory McIlroy, despite nearly being struck by his second shot at the 17th during the 2015 BMW PGA Championship.

Matt’s current What’s In The Bag?

Driver: Honma TW747, 8.75°

Fairway Wood: TaylorMade Rocketballz Stage 2, 15°, 19°

Hybrid: Adams Super Hybrid, 22°

Irons: Mizuno MP54, 5-PW

Wedges: Cleveland 588 RTX 2.0 Tour Satin, 50°, 56°, 60°

Putter: Cleveland TFI 2135 Satin Cero

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x