Proposed rule changes that would limit how far players can drive the ball at elite golf tournaments would be detrimental to the sport, two-time major winner Justin Thomas said.
“You’re trying to create a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. To me, it’s just so bad for the game of golf,” Thomas told reporters Wednesday ahead of this week’s Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida.
Average driving distances are around 300 yards on the PGA Tour, but many players hit well in excess of that, meaning some courses are in danger of becoming obsolete.
The proposal by the Royal and Ancient and United States Golf Association would give competition organizers the option to require players to use only balls that meet maximum-distance criteria. Under the proposal, which would be effective starting in 2026, balls would have to not exceed 320 yards with a clubhead speed of 127mph.
“If you can swing 127mph, power to you,” Thomas said. “People are running faster, so, what, are they just going to make the length of a mile longer so that the fastest mile time doesn’t change, or are they going to put the NBA hoop at 13 feet because people can jump higher now? Like, no. It’s evolution.”
Former U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, one of the longest hitters in the sport, said it would be “the most atrocious thing that you could possibly do to the game of golf.”
“It’s not about rolling golf balls back. It’s about making golf courses more difficult,” DeChambeau said Tuesday ahead of a LIV Golf event in Tucson, Arizona. “I think it’s the most unimaginative, uninspiring, game-cutting thing you could do. Everybody wants to see people hit it farther.”
The governing bodies are taking feedback from manufacturers and others on the proposed changes until Aug. 14.
“In the debates and the arguments that will certainly ensue over the next days and weeks that we’ll all be a part of, I think we’ll constantly find ourselves in this discussion about somebody saying, ‘Why would you do this today, the game is fine today,'” USGA CEO Mike Whan said. “… This is not really about today. It’s about understanding the historical trends over the last 10, 20, 40 years and being able to be very predictive in terms of those trends over the next 20 or 40 years going forward and questioning whether or not the game can sustain 20 or 40 years from now the kind of increases that are so incredibly easy to predict.
“If we simply do nothing, we pass that to the next generation and to all the golf course venues around the world for them to just simply figure out.”
Thomas said he was disappointed but not surprised by the proposal.
“I think the USGA over the years has — in my eyes, it’s harsh — but made some pretty selfish decisions,” he said. “They definitely, in my mind, have done a lot of things that aren’t for the betterment of the game, although they claim it.”
Information from ESPN’s Mark Schlabach and Reuters contributed to this report.