Rory McIlroy last night launched a withering attack on golf’s governing bodies by branding their Distance Insights Report “a huge waste” of time and money.
Speaking ahead of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he is joined by Pádraig Harrington hoping to end his 15-month victory drought, he also revealed the PGA Tour only discovered on Monday that a volunteer had actually stepped on his ball in the third round of last week’s Farmers Insurance Open.
McIlroy was relieved to discover that he was not mistaken in claiming embedded ball relief, having passed an uneasy night on Sunday wondering if he’d done the right thing after a TV replay released by the Tour to show he’d acted similarly to Patrick Reed at the 10th also showed that his ball had bounced, not plugged, on impact.
While it was not altogether surprising to hear one of TaylorMade’s highest-paid players slam the R&A and the USGA for plans to roll back the ball and equipment, his tone was eye-opening.
“I think the R&A and USGA are looking at the game of golf through such a tiny little lens,” McIlroy said at TPC Scottsdale.
“What they are trying to do is change something that pertains to 0.1 per cent of the golfing community. 99.9 per cent of the people that play this game, play it for enjoyment. They play it for entertainment. They don’t need to be told what ball or clubs to use.
"We have to make the game as easy and as approachable as possible for the majority of golfers.
“Honestly, I think this Distance Insights Report has been a huge waste of time and a huge waste of money because that money could have been way better distributed to getting people into the game, introducing people to the game, introducing minorities to the game.”
As for the embedded ball incident on the 18th at Torrey Pines on Saturday, he admitted he began to doubt himself after PGA Tour video showed his ball had bounced.
“At that point I'm like, well, it must have went into its own pitch mark or something, because the ball was obviously plugged,” McIlroy explained. “Did I do the right thing? Did I play by the rules? Did I see something that wasn't there? It was a bit of a rough Sunday night. I just started to doubt myself a little bit, which is not like me.
“But I was convinced that it was an embedded ball. Then it's funny, the Tour got an email on Monday that it had been stepped on and the volunteer said something like, ‘I'm so sorry that Rory is being dragged into this scenario, but I didn't tell him that I actually stood on his ball to find it.’”
Reed, who was heavily criticised for his drop by social media users, returns to action at the European Tour’s Saudi International alongside Bryson DeChambeau, World No.1 Dustin Johnson and Irish golf’s Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell, Paul Dunne and Cormac Sharvin.
But like McIlroy, Lowry is dubious about the efforts of governing bodies to curb distance gains.
“The only reason they are doing it is because one person keeps talking about it all the time, and about how far he is hitting it,” Lowry said, referring to DeChambeau. “I think the game is fine the way it is. The best players are the best players in the world because they are all round better golfers than everyone else, not just long hitters.”