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Rory McIlroy Comes Out In Favor Of Rolling Back The Golf Ball, Claims He'd Use Shorter Ball Even If PGA Tour Doesn't Adopt Rule

Harry How. Getty Images.

If the last two years have proven anything in golf, beyond the rather obvious but oft-forgotten notion that many professional golfers play golf primarily for money, it's that Rory McIlroy is not afraid to make his opinions known. He's emerged as the de facto spokesman for the PGA Tour, often speaking in lockstep with commissioner Jay Monahan and presenting a united front with other PGA Tour-loyal stars like Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas. 

Interesting, then, to see him differ from his fellow Ponte Vedrans on such a pivotal topic as the golf-ball rollback debate. In case you missed it: the USGA and R&A announced a proposed Model Local Rule last week that would see a bifurcation of the rules: recreational golfers can still play today's golf balls, but elite competitions would begin requiring contestants to play a ball that goes about 15-20 yards shorter than today's golf balls. Because it's a local rule, organizations are free to implement the regulation or ignore it. The PGA Tour could, in theory, choose to say screw that new rule, we're going to keep doing our own thing with our own rules. 

That's what Thomas and Rahm and the vast majority of other touring professionals want. They don't want to have to change such a vital part of their arsenal like the golf ball. They also don't want to have to use new clubs to match that golf ball. They want their endorsement checks to keep cashing from the manufacturers. And, in theory, some genuinely believe that nothing is so vastly wrong with the game to justify such a wholesale change, which will come with significant ramifications. 

"I think the USGA over the years has -- in my eyes, it's harsh, but made some pretty selfish decisions," Justin Thomas said at last week's Valspar Championship. "They definitely, in my mind, have done a lot of things that aren't for the betterment of the game, although they claim it. I had conversations with some USGA members and it just -- to me, I don't understand how it's growing the game. For them to say in the same sentence that golf is in the best place it's ever been, everything is great, but… And I'm like, well, there shouldn't be a but. You're trying to create a solution for a problem that doesn't exist."

You might expect Rory to fall in line with that thinking—especially after he hammered the USGA for its Distance Insights Project just a few years ago, calling it a "huge waste of time and money." You'd be wrong. McIlroy told No Laying Up that he is, in fact, in favor of the proposed rollback and a bifurcation of the rules. 

“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 NLU. “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. 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. 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.”

Whether he's right—that the game has been "dumbed down" to a bomb-and-gouge fast—would seem to be a matter of opinion given the lack of concrete evidence supporting his hypothesis. It sure doesn't look like a mash-fest weekly out there. The longest guys on Tour don't win every week, at all, and watching Scottie Scheffler and Rahm as closely as I have the last few years, I don't feel as though the game has been "dumbed down" at all. But everyone's entitled to their opinion, and Rory deserves credit for zigging when everyone else zags and saying things that TaylorMade probably won't love. 

He didn't stop there, however. McIlroy actually claimed that he would play the shorter ball even if the PGA Tour decides not to implement the rule because, in his words, the major championships are essentially the only thing that matters—despite the fact that he's spent all this time and energy into building up the PGA Tour. 

“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."

Yep, we're calling BS on that. Maybe it's just a leverage play, who knows, but there's no chance he'd voluntarily give up 15-20 yards on every tee shot in a tournament with a $20 million purse. Now, it's not likely that scenario plays out—it's hard to imagine a different ball for the PGA Tour and for the majors, and Rory likely knows that, and so this might be his way to convince the PGA Tour to go along with the new rule. We still reserve the right to call out a statement like that.