After the USGA and R&A announced their proposal for a new Model Local Rule that would limit distance at the elite level last week, several of the game’s biggest names unanimously stated their disdain for the potential change.
“It’s so bad for the game of golf,” Justin Thomas said before the Valspar Championship.
“I think it’s the most atrocious thing that you could possibly do to the game of golf,” LIV golfer Bryson DeChambeau said.
We could go on.
However, Rory McIlroy is on the other side of the fence. He spoke with No Laying Up Tuesday ahead of this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, and explained why rolling back the ball in 2026 would separate the best golfers from the rest of the pack.
“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,” he said, “just to try to keep the participation levels at an all-time high. 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.”
If the governing bodies’ goal is met, driving distance will fall ~15 yards. For McIlroy, this means longer clubs into greens and another opportunity for the best players to rise to the top.
“Selfishly, I think it helps me,” he said. “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.”
The unique thing about the proposed rule is that the PGA Tour does not have to adopt the change. Meaning, if the Tour sticks with the existing ball, players would have to use a different ball at the U.S. Open or Open Championship than they do at the Travelers Championship, for example.
Instead of going back and forth, McIlroy said he would stick with the new MLR ball.
“Honestly, for me, the major championships are the biggest deal,” he said, “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. And again, this is personal preference and personal opinion at this stage of my career. I know that I’m gonna be defined by the amount of major championships that I hopefully will win from now until the end of my career. And that’s the most important thing for me.
“If that gives me the best chance to succeed at the major championships and feel as prepared as I possibly can be, then that’s what I would do.”