Padraig Harrington aside, Tour pro fans of the USGA’s proposed ball rollback have been few and far between. Though the soonest the rollback could take effect is 2026, players haven’t been shy about expressing their displeasure.
Chief among them: Justin Thomas.
At the Valspar Championship Wednesday, when Thomas — a Titleist endorsee — was asked about his reaction to the proposal, he didn’t hold back, delivering a three-minute “rant” (his word).
“My reaction was disappointed and also not surprised, to be honest,” he began. I think the USGA over the years has — in my eyes, it’s harsh, but made some pretty selfish decisions. 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. To me, it’s just — it’s so bad for the game of golf.”
Thomas cited recreational players’ ability to purchase and play the same equipment as the pros as one of the great things about the game — and an element that will be in jeopardy if the proposal is adopted at the highest levels.
“The USGA wants to bring it to a point where that’s not the case,” he said. “They want it to be, okay, well, the pros play this way and the amateurs play this way, and that just doesn’t — I don’t understand how that’s better for the game of golf,” he said. “The amount of time, money that these manufacturers have spent trying to create the best product possible and now you’re going to tell them and us that we have to start over for potentially if the PGA Tour, PGA of America, don’t adopt this local rule. So for two of the four biggest events of the year we’re going to have to use a different ball? Like, try to explain to me how that’s better for the game of golf.”
The other problem Thomas cited with the proposal is that the “problem” it’s addressing is only applicable to a small pool of elite players.
“They’re basing it off the top .1 percent of all golfers. You know what I mean? I don’t know how many of y’all consistently play golf in here, but I promise none of you have come in from the golf course and said, you know, I’m hitting it so far and straight today that golf’s just not even fun anymore. Like, no, that’s not — it’s just not reality.
“It irritates me because it’s consistent with, I feel like, decisions and things that the USGA has done in the past when it comes to rules or whatnot and data,” Thomas continued. “I mean, what is it, using 127-mile-an-hour clubhead speed? Like, if you can swing 127 miles an hour, like, power to you. I mean, 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. We’re athletes now. Like, we’re training to hit the ball further and faster and if you can do it, so good for you. So yeah, as you can tell, I’m clearly against it.”
This isn’t the first time Thomas has been publicly critical of the USGA.
In 2019, Thomas called the newly-revised USGA rules “terrible.” Days later, Thomas quote-tweeted a post from PGA Tour Communications about a two-stroke penalty that was assessed to Adam Schenk during the Honda Classic. Thomas used the hashtag #growthegame in a sarcastic manner, and tagged the USGA. In a separate tweet, he expressed a desire for the USGA to “start communicating” with the players. The USGA PR handle responded with “Justin, we need to talk,” before accusing Thomas of cancelling meetings and reminding him that his tour has “a seat at the table.”
The USGA later issued a tweet saying Thomas had not cancelled meetings, and issues between Thomas and the governing body were ostensibly put to rest offline. But the ball rollback proposal has apparently reignited Thomas’ grievances with the governing body as a whole.
“Why are this group of call it 5- to-15-handicapped amateurs determining the rules of golf for professional golfers or why are they saying that we have to do something?” Thomas said. “So is it something where down the road where it’s like, you know what, then fine, if you want to change something based off of your data that we feel like is pretty biased and incorrect and self-centered to what you believe in, then maybe we’ll just create our own or we’ll do our own thing. So I don’t know where the Tour stands on that. I can’t speak on behalf of what they’re planning on doing.
“But to my knowledge, they haven’t necessarily been on board with it or wanting to pursue the rolling the ball back,” he continued. “I mean, I’m all for not letting it go any further. And I think this is another important thing, like, this would help me. Rolling the ball back is only going to help, I feel like, somebody who hits it far and is a good ball-striker. It’s just an advantage for me even more so, I feel like, than I have and I’m still not for it. It’s just — it’s a bigger picture. It’s about the game of golf. If I can hear some reasons that claim it’s better for the game of golf, then so be it, but I’ve yet to hear any.”
Once again, it sounds like JT and the USGA need to talk.
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