PGA Tour triggers fresh battle with majors after opposing plans to roll back ball

Bryson DeChambeau at the Open - PGA Tour triggers fresh battle with majors after opposing plans to roll back ball

A number of tournament venues have been left defenceless in the face of modern distance – Shutterstock/Adam Vaughan

Just as peace is negotiated in one golfing civil war, the PGA Tour has opened up a new battlefront by telling the game’s governing bodies it opposes plans that will rein back how far the professionals can hit the ball.

In a memo to players issued late on Wednesday night, Jay Monahan announced that the United States circuit would fight the proposals to introduce a Model Local Rule in 2026 that would regulate the type of ball used in elite competition and would not affect recreational players.

The PGA Tour commissioner has only recently returned to his role after being sidelined by an unspecified medical condition in the wake of last month’s shock announcement with the Public Investment Fund, the Saudi funders of LIV Golf.

One might think Monahan would now seek a period of peace. But although the language employed in the missive tries to be collegiate, the underlying message to the R&A and US Golf Association – and, indeed, Augusta National, the Masters hosts who back the overhaul – most definitely does not.

At the very least, it could reach the stage where at least three of the majors use the MLR – which will effectively reduce driving distances for the biggest hitters by up to 15 per cent – while the Tour carries on with the present ball.

“As you know, we have spent the last two years undertaking a comprehensive analysis of distance on the PGA Tour and its impact,” Monahan wrote. “Although there has been some level of support for limiting future increases, there is widespread and significant belief the proposed Modified Local Rule is not warranted and is not in the best interest of the game.

“Following a discussion on the topic at a recent [players advisory committee] meeting, 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.”

Rory McIlroy tees off at the Open at Royal Liverpool -

Proposed measures could reduce drives of the longest hitters by up to 15 per cent – Getty Images/Warren Little

How the R&A and USGA react to the refusal remains to be seen, although they are determined to act to arrest the relentless increase in distance that has already rendered classic courses as obsolete at the same time as multiplying environmental concerns and threatening to make the game too one-dimensional.

The R&A and USGA have tried via the MLR route to ensure it is a smooth, friendly revamp, but the Tour’s stance has opened up the possibility of the governing bodies forcing through overarching changes that would be carried out for the entire sport. The Tour would have no choice but to follow suit in that scenario, although there would be plenty of bloodletting in that string-handed process. However, at last week’s Open Championship at Hoylake, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers sounded ready for the fight.

“Our role, indeed our responsibility, is to do what is right for the sport when we reach our determination on the way forward,” Slumbers said. “All I really will say at this stage is that I would echo [USGA chief executive] Mike Whan’s sentiments when I say that doing nothing is not an option. We’ve put forward a targeted and proportionate measure to address a complex issue, which we believe is key to preserving the inherent challenge of golf and to ensuring that it has a sustainable future.”

In the memo, Monahan also confirmed that talks between the Tour and the PIF were “ongoing”. These centre around the future of the LIV Golf League, as well as creating a pathway back to the Tour for rebels who want to reapply for membership. The latter is a brutally complex issue that is also tied up with the compensation packages to which the players who did not jump ship might be entitled. Monahan indicated these would be “financially significant” payments, but no other details were forthcoming.

“We are currently in a notice and comment period where we are listening to views from throughout the golf industry,” a statement from the R&A read. “We appreciate the contributions we have received so far about the proposed Model Local Rule, including that of the PGA Tour.”

The issue has already divided the locker room, with Rory McIlroy in favour of the roll back while European Ryder Cup team-mate Jon Rahm believes the money would be better spent on grass-roots levels. There is also a suspicion with the governing bodies that the PGA Tour’s stance is being shaped by the fact the equipment makers, who would face financial implications of the change, are such huge sponsors of players, broadcasters and the game as a whole.

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