For anyone suggesting that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan isn’t listening to what his players are saying, they need only glance at the Monahan memo to his constituents that surfaced last week to see otherwise.
The memo provided updates on a grocery list of items, the most immediately impactful being the tour’s decision, in consultation with its players, not to support the USGA and R&A’s proposed model local rule intended to roll back how far elite players now hit the ball.
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jack Nicklaus have publicly supported the rule, which could knock about 15 yards off the longest hitters’ tee shots, but the tour has taken a different position.
That doesn’t mean a rollback isn’t coming – the USGA and the R&A are too far down this road to turn back now without a serious loss of credibility – but the PGA Tour doesn’t like what has been proposed.
What does that mean?
It means there is more work to be done to find a workable solution for everyone, particularly the PGA Tour, which drives the game, and the equipment companies, who thrive on selling all of us something that was better than the last great thing.
“We have notified the USGA and The R&A that while the PGA Tour is committed to collaborating with them – and all industry partners – to arrive at a solution that will best serve our players, our fans and the game at all levels, we are not able to support the MLR as proposed,” Monahan wrote in his memo.
Monahan acknowledged the need for a solution, which suggests a problem, and the words “as proposed,” which is another way of saying find a different and better proposal and we’ll at least listen.
Two things jump out in that comment:
As if the PGA Tour-LIV Golf schism weren’t a painful enough fracture within the sport, dividing the game by swing speeds, smash factors and coefficients of something too complicated to explain only makes it worse.
Has distance, particularly at the game’s highest level, distorted the game?
It has tilted the scale toward distance more than finesse, athleticism more than art, science more than skill.
Some of it is the natural evolution of the sport. Games change. It wasn’t that long ago that running backs in the NFL were franchise makers. Now, they’re being devalued like new cars when they’re driven off the lot for the first time.
Golf hasn’t lost the battle against power, but in the same way the warning signals about climate change all point to the need to do something now (as if the hottest month on record didn’t get the point across), it’s important to find a solution before the game that Lee Trevino played and the one the next generation plays don’t look alike.
It’s not just about where the game is today. It’s where it’s going. The idea behind the rollback is a bit like what Wayne Gretzky said about how he played hockey: he always tried to be where the puck was going to be, not where it was.
By deciding not to go along with the proposed new rule, which would affect only the best of the best professional and amateur players while leaving the rest of us to scuffle along chasing all the distance we can find, the PGA Tour could find itself playing with one ball while at least two major championships use a different, slightly more restrained ball.
That, of course, would force players to adapt for the U.S. Open, the Open Championship and, perhaps, the Masters. It seems less likely that the PGA of America would go along with the proposed new rule, but it hasn’t taken a firm position yet, at least not publicly.
That’s a bad solution.
Not because it bifurcates the game – golf is already bifurcated with different tees – but because it would make the majors feel more like exceptions and, perhaps, a little less exceptional.
Players could adjust; they do it from week to week in different weather and grass conditions. The 7-iron shots players hit at Pebble Beach in February don’t fly like the ones they hit at Muirfield Village in June. Nature does that, though, not arbitrary equipment rules.
The PGA Tour is an entertainment product, now more than ever. It sells sizzle. Watching Cam Young rip a 340-yard drive has a “Mission: Impossible” stunt value to many of us.
Would taking 15-18 yards off Young’s best tee shots hurt the sport?
Only in the sense that something had been taken away, but the awe factor and the majesty of watching the best do what they do would not be diminished. The shots we see played over and over reminding us how good the players are generally are not tee shots anyway.
There are workarounds to the distance debate, but narrowing the fairways and growing thick rough 300 yards from every tee pushes everyone to play from the same spots. Creative design is the best counterpunch to distance gains, but not every place has Harbour Town’s brilliance built in, and not every place should.
The paradox is that both things in this discussion can be true: the PGA Tour likes its product and doesn’t want to take a step backward, and the rules makers are justifiably concerned about the impact increased distance has had on the game, particularly at courses with no land or money to expand.
The public comment period about the proposed rules change runs through Aug. 14 after which a final decision will be made by the USGA and the R&A.
Mike Whan, the CEO of the USGA, and Martin Slumbers, CEO of the R&A, have said that doing nothing is not an option.
They are right.
But doing this, the PGA Tour told them last week, is not an option either.
Top: It wasn't exactly a "you gotta be getting me" moment, but commissioner Jay Monahan let it be known that the USGA and R&A proposal on rolling back ball distance wouldn't work for the PGA Tour.
BRIAN SPURLOCK, ICON SPORTWIRE VIA GETTY IMAGES