Tour Confidential: Shocking golf-ball changes, Tiger Woods’ long-awaited return 

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on Sunday on the 1st hole at Albany Golf Course.

Getty Images

Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us at @golf_com. This week, we discuss the USGA and R&A’s rollback of the golf ball, Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, and more.

1. In news reported on Friday by Golf Digest that was confirmed by through multiple industry sources, golf’s governing bodies are preparing to announce a golf-ball rollback (as soon as this coming week) for both professionals and amateurs. This comes after the USGA and R&A proposed a Model Local Rule option for tournament organizers in March, which would have required pros and elite amateurs to play a rolled-back ball while the majority of amateurs would see no change. That option, however, wasn’t well-received. While we’re still waiting to hear more details, what’s your general stance on a golf-ball rollback for everyone?

Golf ball sitting on a golf tee on a golf course
Golf balls to be rolled back — for both professionals and amateurs
By: Nick Piastowski

Ryan Barath, equipment editor (@rdsbarath): As someone who reports on equipment, I expect a lot of people would assume I would be against any sort of rollback, but my view is actually quite the contrary. I believe the governing bodies have the game’s best interest at heart and something needs to be done to curtail the way distance is having a huge impact on the game at both the professional and recreational level. 

Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): There are so many layers here, I’ve long struggled to come up with a proper rollback take, and it’s hard to make one here without knowing all of the details. But my general thought is golf is already stupid hard for 99 percent of the population and I’m against making it harder for your Average Joes. But what if a new ball — which we know little about — might actually help slower swing speeds and be better around the greens, even if it costs a couple of yards? That’s the kind of stuff I’m waiting to learn. I DO like weekend hackers and pros using the same balls, though, so I guess that makes me against bifurcation. I’ll close this rambling thought with something R&A chief Martin Slumbers told Golf Digest recently, which I think is a really smart way of looking at all of this, regardless of what side you are on: “Our responsibility is to the long-term future of the game. … We’re responsible for our period of time, something that has gone on for hundreds of years and will go on for hundreds more.”

Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): For golfers of my level or worse (that is, the vast majority of golfers on the planet), my hunch is that you could slip a rolled-back ball into any of our bags without telling us and we would never know the difference. The main problem here is optics, and it’s a real one for the governing bodies, who now have a serious PR headache on their hands. In an ideal world, the rollback would apply to the elite game only, but the USGA and R&A floated that idea and it was roundly rejected by everyone from the Tour to manufacturers to everyday golfers who say they want to play the same equipment as the pros. At first blush, this new proposal seems like the next-best option. It’s easy to get caught up in the fury of the moment, but this is meant to be a forward-looking decision, and just because it didn’t happen sooner, when it should have, isn’t a good argument for it not happening now. The catch is that now is the age of social media, where levels of outrage routinely distort any real-world impact (he says, flinching in anticipation of being called an idiot on the cordial platform formerly known as Twitter.)

2. The golf-ball news has yet to be officially announced, but that hasn’t stopped pros (including Tiger Woods and Brandel Chamblee) from chiming in. Rory McIlroy added his feedback on Sunday, saying “people who are upset about this decision shouldn’t be mad at the governing bodies, they should be mad at elite pros and club/ball manufacturers because they didn’t want bifurcation.” He also added this will “make no difference whatsoever” to the average golfer. Do you agree with Rory’s comments?

Rory McIlroy tosses golf ball in air during 2023 DP World Tour Championship
‘Don’t understand the anger’: Rory McIlroy hits back at golf-ball rollback critics
By: Kevin Cunningham

Barath: I fully agree with Rory and also agree with the likely decision to not bifurcate the game. Although it’s speculation, I have a feeling that the impact is mostly going to be felt by those with the highest swing speeds producing the highest ball speeds. The best simple analogy I can think of works like car aerodynamics because the relationship is nonlinear — if a car with 100 horsepower goes 100 mph, it takes way more than double the horsepower for that same car to get to 200 mph because as the car gets faster there is greater air resistance. So for those average golfers with average to moderate swing speed, any loss of distance will be marginal comparatively. On top of that, golf has never been bifurcated, and I’m glad to hear that it’s likely going to stay that way.

Berhow: Rory could be right that most players might not see much of a difference, but it’s difficult to point fingers at anyone at this point. Parties always want what’s best for them, and it’s hard to blame that thinking. There’s a trickle-down effect here, though. If the ball goes shorter, I would assume courses are more conscious of where tees go. Everything here is linked.

Sens: I’m not going to tell people not to be mad because it’s not my place to deprive people of something that clearly gives them pleasure. But I do agree with McIlroy that a rollback is not going to make a tremendous difference in the average person’s game. Yes, as my esteemed colleague Mr. Berhow mentions above, golf is “already stupid hard” for most people, myself included. But the incredible challenge is a big part of the appeal. To the extent that a rolled-back ball has any real effect on my game, maybe it will help me learn a few new shots. 

3. Tiger Woods returned to action for the first time since he withdrew from the 2023 Masters, finishing 18th in a 20-player field at his Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas (Scottie Scheffler won). What did you learn after watching Tiger walk 72 holes the past few days?

Scottie Scheffler hits a drive at Albany in the Bhamas.
Scottie Scheffler dominates Albany to win Hero World Challenge
By: Jack Hirsh

Barath: First off, I learned that the man truly has no quit. He’s reached the top of the game more than once and has records that will likely stand the test of time, but even after multiple injuries and surgeries, he refuses to give up trying to compete and at this point, you really gotta hand it to him. Secondly, I never realized just how much people care about Tiger’s (or any golfers’) shoes. And finally, he still has game. I think that if the stars align and you give him conditions that play into his hand and current skill set, he has a chance to maybe win once more.

Berhow: That he’s aging, like all of us do. Albany is relatively flat and there are lots of birdies available on this course, but that’s also why it’s a perfect spot for Woods to return. He looked good at times and made some rust-induced big numbers as well. I think it was kind of expected. But based on all his injuries, surgeries and just his body simply getting older, this is the norm we should get used to seeing. 

Sens: That he still can still compete but that, more than ever, he will have to pick his spots. He himself said it. The most recent surgery has forced him to make all kinds of compensations, which increase strain on other parts of his body. How long before another one of those parts wears out?

4. As for what’s next, Woods will play the PNC Championship in a couple of weeks but said his goal for 2024 is “maybe a tournament a month.” Do you see this type of schedule at all feasible? And based on what we saw and heard from him in the Bahamas, does he have any chance to contend?

Tiger Woods smiles during a press conference at the Hero World Challenge on Tuesday.
Tiger Woods targets surprisingly ambitious playing schedule for 2024
By: Josh Berhow

Barath: I think Tiger’s chances of week-to-week contending are slim to none but that doesn’t mean he won’t be able to put himself into a position to do it if, and it’s a big if, he is able to stay healthy. He had a few moments that week, like when he stepped out of the bunker on 9 in the final round and winced pretty hard toward his caddie, and that’s not a great sign for long-term outlooks. So with that in mind, I think playing once a month is still a pretty unlikely scenario.

Berhow: His comment about a tourney a month seemed like a lot, but in reality, it’s probably just him trying to play the Genesis, the Players and then the four majors, which seems like a good goal. As long as he doesn’t have any long-term setbacks, I can see him playing the majority of these, but probably not all of them given his injury issues. I don’t see him contending much, but that doesn’t mean he can’t put together a really good round, or tournament, here or there. I mean, did we really expect him to win the 2019 Masters?

Sens: if he is healthy enough to play, no reason he can’t be in the mix. But that’s a big if. Playing once a month strikes me as a big ask. It would be great to see him in all the majors. What seems more likely is that the wear and tear of high-level competition will force him to take a longer break at some point in the season. We will obviously have a much better sense after he’s had to walk a bunch of rounds on those hilly grounds at Augusta. 

5. The Hero was also the first time Woods has fielded questions from reporters in months, and he touched on a variety of topics — his health, the PGA Tour/PIF merger, the golf ball and more. What’s the one subject or answer that stood out to you?

Barath: With so much talk about the golf ball, Tiger’s take on bifurcation was interesting and talked about the difference between wooden and composite bats. He also talked about how the same technology that brought others closer to him now allows him to keep up with younger players. “I think I was saying to you guys yesterday that I’m hitting the ball further than I did when I first came out on Tour,” he said. “I’m slower, but tech, I’m still able to hit the ball in the middle of the face so there’s always an advantage to do that.”

Berhow: His “that can’t happen again” comment about players being left in the dark with zero involvement regarding the merger was telling. He’s on the board now and I’m sure will be a big part of everything going forward, but I can’t imagine any big decision happening in the future without the game’s most important player being a part of it first. 

Sens: His comments about how his body hurts “everywhere.” It’s only natural that he’d be sore in his first tournament back. But Tiger himself said that other parts of his body are bearing more brunt than they used to. Obviously, tomorrow is promised to no one. We are all day-to-day. But Woods’ description of his own modified swing — and the soreness it is causing — is another reminder: Enjoy watching him now because who knows what’s next.

Golf Magazine

Subscribe To The Magazine

generic profile image