'I Really Like It' - Rory McIlroy Supports Golf Ball Rollback Plans
The four-time Major winner supports the governing bodies' plans to rollback the ball at the elite level
Rory McIlroy appears to have changed his mind on the proposed golf ball rollback after previously calling the R&A and USGA's Distance Insights Project a "huge waste of time and money."
While he still believes golf should not be made harder at grassroots and recreational level, he is happy to see the proposal to make the ball shorter in the pro game.
The four-time Major winner says he "really" likes the proposal to reduce hitting distances at elite level and even says he might use the rolled-back ball in PGA Tour play if he doesn't have to in order to gain an advantage for Majors - if the Majors were to implement the proposed Model Local Rule.
The Model Local Rule would allow tournament organisers to ensure competitors use a ball that would travel a predicted 15-20 yards shorter. The testing speed of golf balls is proposed to be increased to 127mph from 120mph but the ball cannot travel further than the current 320 yard limit, meaning that it would have to be rolled back significantly.
“I’ve been pretty adamant that I don’t really want the governing bodies to touch the recreational golfer because we need to make this game as not intimidating and as much fun as possible, just to try to keep the participation levels at an all-time high,” McIlroy told No Laying Up.
“So, I’m glad in this new proposal that they haven’t touched the recreational golfer. But for elite level play, I really like it. I really do. 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.
"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.
“Selfishly, I think it helps me. I think this is only gonna help the better player. You know, it might help the longer player too, in some ways. But I think it's going to help the overall professional game.
"I think making guys hit some long irons again, and some mid irons, and being able to hit every club in your bag in a round of golf. I can't remember the last time when I've had to do that. I don't know if this change in the ball will make us do that, but it certainly is a step closer to that.”
And why did he change his mind? Tennis.
“I was once of the opinion that, you know, they don't try to make Formula 1 cars go slower. Innovation is a part of every sport. It's a part of every industry. But whenever that innovation outgrows the footprint of the game, that's when I think we have a problem," he said.
“I had a really good chat with the chairman of the All England Lawn and Tennis Club when I was at Wimbledon a few years ago. We were just talking about a few things and he said, ‘Rory, back in the early 2000s, when men's tennis was predominantly serve and volley, it wasn't very good for the entertainment aspect of the game. Rallies wouldn't last more than three shots. We can't make the court any bigger.
"So what we did do is we slowed the ball down and we changed the grass on the court to make it a little stickier.’ And then you fast forward from that change three years later and you've got Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal playing, probably one of the best finals of Wimbledon ever.
“They didn't make a big deal of it. They didn't have to go through all the things that the R&A and the USGA have to, but it's another example of another sport slowing the ball down and making some changes that I think has certainly benefited that sport. People can talk about, in this country, about going from an aluminum baseball bat in college to going to a wooden bat in the pros. This isn't unique to golf, this happens in other sports as well.”
Read the full interview with No Laying Up
McIlroy's view isn't the same as a number of pros who have spoken out against the proposal. Bryson DeChambeau called the plans "atrocious" while Jon Rahm said he doesn't know why the governing bodies are "hyper-focused on making professional golf a little bit more difficult than it already is."
Justin Thomas also spoke passionately about why he believes the proposed rollback is "so bad for the game of golf."
Some of the leading golf ball manufacturers are keen on keeping the ball as it is to allow golfers to still play by the same rules no matter what level they're at.
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Rory McIlroy returns this week at the WGC-Match Play after missing his first cut since August at the Players Championship earlier in the month. The World No.3 looks to have put a Scotty Cameron blade putter in the bag to try and turn his form around on the greens.
It's a similar model to the one he used in his first two Major victories at the 2011 US Open and 2012 PGA Championship.
McIlroy plays Scott Stallings in his opening match on Wednesday at Austin Country Club.
Elliott Heath is our Senior Staff Writer and has been with Golf Monthly since early 2016 after graduating with a degree in Sports Journalism. He manages the Golf Monthly news, features, courses and travel sections as well as our large Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. He covered the 2022 Masters from Augusta National as well as four Open Championships on-site including the 150th at St Andrews. His first Open was in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, when he walked inside the ropes with Jordan Spieth during the Texan's memorable Claret Jug triumph. He has played 35 of our Top 100 golf courses, with his favourites being both Sunningdales, Woodhall Spa, Western Gailes, Old Head and Turnberry. He has been obsessed with the sport since the age of 8 and currently plays at West Byfleet Golf Club in Surrey, where his handicap index floats anywhere between 2-5. His golfing highlights are making albatross on the 9th hole on the Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa, shooting an under-par round, playing in the Aramco Team Series on the Ladies European Tour and making his one and only hole-in-one at the age of 15 - a long time ago now!
Elliott is currently playing:
Driver: Titleist TSR4
3 wood: TaylorMade SIM2 Max
Hybrid: TaylorMade SIM Max
Irons: Mizuno MP5 4-PW
Wedges: Cleveland RTX ZipCore 50, 54, 58
Putter: Odyssey White Hot OG #5
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
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