Justin Thomas believes the prospect of a shorter ball being used in elite competition is “so bad” for golf and has criticised the “pretty selfish decisions” made by one of the game’s governing bodies.
The R&A and USGA said in February 2020 that they intended to “break the ever-increasing cycle of hitting distance” and on Tuesday announced the proposal of a Model Local Rule (MLR) to give tournament organisers the option to require the use of balls which will travel around 15 yards less.
R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers and USGA counterpart Mike Whan confirmed that the MLR would be used in their own elite events, most notably the Open Championship and US Open respectively.
However, the PGA Tour did not immediately back the proposal with top equipment manufacturing company Acushnet, which produces the Titleist balls used by Thomas, claiming it would turn back the game 30 years.
“My reaction was disappointed and also not surprised, to be honest,” former world number one Thomas said in a press conference ahead of the Valspar Championship.
“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 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 so bad for the game of golf.
“I mean, some of the great things to me is the fact that you can play the exact same golf ball that I play. I mean, that’s cool. For an everyday amateur golfer, 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.
“But the USGA wants to bring it to a point where that’s not the case. They want it to be, ‘OK, well, the pros play this way and the amateurs play this way’ and I just don’t understand how that’s better for the game of golf.
“The amount of time and 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 – two of the four biggest events of the year, we’re going to have to use a different ball?”
If the views of Thomas are widely reflected among his fellow professionals it would appear unlikely that the PGA Tour would agree to adopt the MLR before its intended introduction in January 2026.
And the two-time major winner suggested that could lead to a split between the governing bodies and the Tour.
“Why are this group of call it five to 15-handicap amateurs determining the rules of golf for professional golfers or why are they saying that we have to do something?” Thomas added.
“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-centred to what you believe in, then maybe we’ll just create our own or we’ll do our own thing.
“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 rolling the ball back.”