LPGA players weigh in on governing bodies’ decision to dial back distance

LPGA players weigh in on governing bodies’ decision to dial back distance
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NAPLES, Fla. – Nine months after the USGA and R&A said women’s golf would not be the intended target of a proposed rule to reduce the distance of the golf ball, the governing bodies have changed their mind.

Wednesday, the USGA and R&A announced that the women’s game (along with golfers on every level) will be impacted by a universal rollback, a surprise to many on the LPGA as the previous intention was to target elite levels of the men’s game. The new rule will take effect in January 2028.

“I was a little surprised because I don’t think that golf courses for us play pretty short, in my opinion,” said world No. 1 Lilia Vu, who ranked 62nd in driving distance (258.88 yards) on tour in 2023. “You can see from the majors they’re pretty difficult and in my opinion some of our regular-season events, too, so I wasn’t entirely ready.”

Vu wasn’t alone in that sentiment, which was shared by longer hitters as well.

“Silly,” Brittany Lincicome said about the change. Lincicome, who earned the nickname “Bam Bam” for her power, was a three-time leader in driving distance and one of the longest hitters in the women’s game for more than a decade.

“We aren’t asking football players to run slower or tennis players to not hit the ball so hard,” Lincicome said. “Just seems silly.”

The governing bodies estimate that the longest hitters on the LPGA will lose between 5 and 7 yards off the tee by using the modified ball, with little-to-no distance loss with irons.

But Lincicome was skeptical of those estimates. She cited Keegan Bradley saying last week that he “was 40, 50 yards (shorter) with my driver,” when testing a ball he said Srixon made to match the modified standards.

“I haven’t talked to one person who thinks it’s a good idea,” Lincicome said about her fellow pros. And while Lydia Ko wouldn’t say she agreed with the rollback, she said she understands both sides of the argument.

You probably have plenty of questions about the golf-ball rollback. Here’s some answers to the whats and whys.

When Ko joined the tour a decade ago, she ranked 66th in driving distance with an average of 244 yards. Ten years later, she has picked up more than 10 yards in distance but has dropped to 90th on tour, as technology, athleticism and the golf ball have evolved.

“Players are getting more athletic, players are hitting it farther, and sometimes, you know, the maximum length a golf course can play is already what the men or women are already playing, so you might not be able to do other changes,” Ko said.

The governing bodies, as part of their Distance Insights Project, which began in 2018, have noted a steady increase in driving distance on the LPGA. Polly Mack led the tour this past season with an average of 281.7 yards. But she was the only player who averaged more than 280 yards off the tee.

In March, the USGA and R&A proposed a ball rollback targeted at reducing the distances of elite players, primarily men at the highest amateur and professional levels, by creating a Model Local Rule. The organizations admitted that there wasn’t a distance issue on the LPGA.

“You’re certainly seeing changes in the women’s game where more power, longer distances is coming in than maybe even five years ago,” said R&A CEO Martin Slumbers in March. “But, at the moment, there’s plenty of headroom on the golf courses that we have for the women’s game. So we would not be intending to make any application of this rule in women’s elite golf at this point.”

Following that announcement, the LPGA said in a statement, “we do not see distance as a hindrance toward the growth of the LPGA Tour or to the courses on which we can compete” and would therefore, not be implementing the rule. The PGA Tour also stated it would not apply an MLR. The governing bodies responded on Wednesday by saying they would universally implement the modifications (beginning in 2028 for elite players and in 2030 for recreational).

The LPGA reiterated that it still doesn’t view distance as an issue on tour but shared its support for the decision to not bifurcate the sport.

“We support the USGA and R&A’s decision to eliminate their previous proposal for implementation of a Model Local Rule related to the golf ball as we believe a unified approach to the game is important for the continued growth of women’s golf,” the LPGA said in a statement.

“With any decisions it’s hard to make everyone happy and it’s hard to say something is right or wrong, I think everybody has their own perspective of it,” Ko said. “But I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a lot of discussions now, until 2028, to kind of finalize everything and who knows, there might be some changes or additions to it going forward because everything is upgrading and evolving.”

USGA: What years of research, numbers told us

Thomas Pagel, Chief Governance Officer for the USGA, joins Golf Today to review how “exhaustive” and “thorough” the process has been over the last three years for the golf-ball rollback that’s set to begin in 2028.

How many yards – if any – players will lose will vary, depending on the individual’s swing speed.

A report by Trackman indicates the average swing speed on the LPGA Tour is 94 mph, compared to that of the PGA Tour, which was 114 mph in 2022. Players with higher swing speeds, like Lincicome, who says she averaged 108 mph when she was the longest hitter on tour, will see greater losses under the rule change. Players with slower speeds, according to the governing bodies, will not see as significant a loss in distance.

The USGA and R&A’s modified testing conditions will be done at 125 mph with a maximum allowable distance of 317 yards. That’s the same as the current distance max, but up from a 120 mph swing speed.

The governing bodies expect the top PGA Tour players to lose from 13 to 15 yards of distance, with many dropping 9 to 11. Because LPGA players have slower swing speeds, the effects – according to the USGA and the R&A – should not be as great.

“It’s all just about adapting,” Nelly Korda, who was 14th on tour with an average of 268.98 yards, said about the modifications. “Technology constantly changes, and the best players are still going to be the best players. It’s just about who’s going to adapt the quickest and the easiest.”

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