‘It’s so bad for the game’: Justin Thomas doesn’t hold back when it comes to new golf ball rollback proposal that would limit distance

PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Justin Thomas believes golf’s governing bodies have created a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. At the Valspar Championship, the 15-time PGA Tour winner didn’t hold back when asked about the USGA and R&A proposal to rollback the golf ball for elite male players.

“It’s so bad for the game of golf,” said Thomas.

The proposal, which wouldn’t be implemented until 2026, would allow tournament organizers to implement a Model Local Rule that would require players to use modified golf balls to reduce distance at the highest levels of men’s golf. The USGA and R&A anticipate a reduction in driver distance of 14-15 yards.

The move would not impact amateur golfers or elite female players.

“For an everyday amateur golfer,” said Thomas, “it’s very unique that we are able to play the exact same equipment. Yeah, I understand that I may have a different grind on a wedge, whatever you want to call it, but you can go to the pro shop and buy the same golf ball that I play, or Scottie Scheffler plays or whatever.”

If adopted, both the USGA and R&A plan to implement the new rule in their respective championships.

“So for two of the four biggest events of the year we’re going to have to use a different ball?” asked Thomas, who is sponsored by Titleist. “Like, try to explain to me how that’s better for the game of golf.

“And 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.”

USGA CEO Mike Whan said the proposal isn’t about how the game stands today but rather where it’s headed, as players continue to get longer each season and courses run out of room. As custodians of the game, R&A CEO Martin Slumbers said it would be irresponsible to do nothing in regards to distance. Whan agrees.

“This is not really about today,” said Whan, “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, the highest-ranked player in the field at Valspar at No. 10, said he’s all for not letting it go any further. But he stands against rolling the game back into the 1990s.

“I mean, people are running faster,” said Thomas, “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.”

Sam Burns, who is going for a three-peat here at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course, thinks the whole idea of a rollback is “pretty silly.”

Burns, who has accumulated the lowest scoring average at Copperhead of 68.63, looks to become the first player since Steve Sticker to three-peat (John Deere Classic 2009-2011). Tiger Woods has won the same PGA Tour event at least three years in a row six different times. Stuart Appleby did the same at the WGC-CA Championship from 2005-2007.

“At the end of the day, no matter what it is, we’re an entertainment sport,” said Burns, “and I think, I don’t think people necessarily want to come out here and watch guys hit it shorter. They enjoy watching guys go out there and hit it 350 yards. I don’t see what the problem is with that. I think that’s a skill, and I don’t really agree with trying to take that away.”