Man Up: McIlroy Endorses Distance Proposal
After a week of peers whining about the governing bodies, McIlroy tells No Laying Up he agrees with proposed changes and says he might play the tourney ball whether or not the PGA Tour is on board.
And then there were two real sportsmen.
Last week Brandon Matthews expressed excitement—giving the governing bodies too much credit in the ball-will-spin-more department—by welcoming the idea of a tournament ball that would fly differently. Nonetheless, huge points for the outlier take.
Since then, we’ve had no shortage of whining, fussing, shilling and neuroses from players and former players oblivious to genuine insight beyond their immediate selves and selfish interests. But on Wednesday Rory McIlroy became the second professional golfer to man up. To take individual responsibility and unlike so many peers, realize there is more to the sport than free gear and corporate cowtowing.
In an co-bylined item from No Laying Up’s Chris Solomon and Kevin Van Valkenburg, the four-time major winner suggests the manner in which golf is play might actually supersede consumerism or pleasing corporations who, at every opportunity, show they only care about the bottom line.
Despite McIlroy’s lucrative arrangement with Taylormade Golf and disappointing lapse lamenting the R&A/USGA research to find a solution, McIlroy offered a stunning rebuttal to the plaintive cries of his peers: I will play this ball because the majors are all that matter, and I’ll do it on the PGA Tour even if my peers vote to ignore a proposed “Model Local Rule” requiring a ball tested under different parameters.
“I’m glad in this new proposal that they haven’t touched the recreational golfer,” he told No Laying Up. “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.”
It’s been something to watch the self-described athletes remind us they’ve never been in better shape, never done more to “grow the game” when they haven’t, and to hear them tell us golf has never been harder when in fact, it’s never been easier and their physical fitness plays only one part in the massive distance increases of the last 25 years.
They can tap spike marks, have access to launch monitors and no shortage of support wisdom, can push down the turf behind their ball to improve lies without repercussion, travel by private jet, enjoy perks galore, play on turf manicured like never before, recover from bunkers primped so they won’t embarrass themselves on television and of course, bask in gobs of money thrown shown to them despite drawing the same niche sport ratings—except when you know who plays. 🐅
Players also come and go faster than ever due to parity, increased injury from swinging harder and the gobs of money needing to be savored while they have it. The last twenty years have shown that tournament golf is much more fun for all when played on an artfully-designed, time-tested course presented reasonably so that players can show off immense skill under pressure. But it’s taken millions to maintain the relevancy of these grand stages. The overall expansion of golf’s footprint, whether reasonable for some facilities, has been terrible when juxtaposed against the newfound popularity of Par 3 courses, simulators and Topgolf, smaller-scale and time-efficient experiences are cherished.
Many other layers are thrown into the equation, from increased safety issues, slower rounds and even the depressing view that an aspirational golfer had better reach certain numbers or there is no hope. Yet after a week of ill-informed cries in response to a watered-down remedy for the unsustainable distance chase, it’s been fair to question whether those who bemoan the R&A and USGA proposals are proper sportsmen?
Thankfully, McIlroy stopped the hemorrhaging with his comments a day after Jon Rahm, 93-under-par in 2023, lamented how difficult the governing bodies want to make golf “a little bit more difficult than it already is.”
Pro golfers should have a desire to be tested by the great courses. Rahm has said what a privilege and joy it is to win on a work of art where other greats have excelled. The best players through history have valued such an opportunity and even cherished “the test” as long as no one is artificially attempting to engineer a score. But for those trying to make the case on a rollback or the legends who have played in an era of poor regulation, it’s a delicate topic to suggest parity has possibly cost them wins. McIlroy did not explicitly say so, but he seems to understand what so many have lamented for too long: real power should be rewarded and generational skill has been watered down by technology.
“I think this is only gonna help the better player,” he told No Laying Up. “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.”
Hey, how about we get those numbers up to 10% off today’s drives with a little more spin? The comment period is open until August.
We know from those who’ve won on time-tested venues that a significant win feels better when mastering a historic and skill-emphasizing design. Winning without having been asked to hit the shots envisioned by the architect is not nearly as gratifying for the real athlete not shilling or lamenting how murderous the game is to play. McIlroy finally realized all of this and smartened-up the conversation in sharp contrast to corporate lapdogs who’ve sullied themselves over the last week.