PGA Tour will not support distance rollback, proposes ‘task force’ for LIV discipline

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

These are unprecedented days for the PGA Tour, and the Tour’s leadership is seeking to put out fires — and win support — on multiple fronts. Late Wednesday evening, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, freshly returned from a five-week medical leave, sent a memo to players outlining the Tour’s plans and intentions on a wide range of subjects.

Most notably, Monahan indicated in a paragraph buried near the bottom of the memo that the Tour would not be supporting the so-called “Modified Local Rule” distance-rollback proposal advanced by the USGA, which administers the U.S. Open, and the R&A, which oversees the Open Championship. The Modified Local Rule attempts to address the debate over pros’ spectacular drive distances off the tee, distances that are now threatening the viability of courses all over the world.

“Although there has been some level of support for limiting future increases,” Monahan wrote, “there is widespread and significant belief that the proposed Modified Local Rule is not warranted and is not in the best interest of the game.” Monahan pledged to work with the organizing bodies “and all industry partners” in navigating the distance debate.

Further distance certainly benefits both players and equipment manufacturers, who are not eager to see their sponsored players suffer a 20-yard rollback of their stats via shorter-distance balls. But the drive-and-wedge game that pros now practice renders many of the game’s classic courses obsolete, or at least neutralizes many of their architectural strategies.

The Tour continues to sift through the fallout from its surprise announcement of a new venture with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, an agreement that Monahan called “complicated and time intensive.” Discipline and a path back to the Tour for players who jumped to the upstart LIV Golf tour are key concerns for players who spurned the opportunity. Monahan noted that a “task force” is evaluating potential pathways back onto the Tour for former players, but provided no concrete details.

Monahan also noted that the Tour is compiling player input on a “Player Benefit Program” under the new agreement — in other words, what revenue players could expect as part of the new agreement with the PIF. As with discipline, no specifics were offered beyond a pledge to supply more details at a future date.

Personnel matters dominated much of the announcement. The Tour is seeking a replacement member on its policy board to replace Randall Stephenson, who resigned in protest of the Saudi PIF deal. Current players Patrick Cantlay and Webb Simpson will serve on the board assigned to find a replacement for Stephenson. Former Tour player Jason Gore was named Executive Vice President and Chief Player Officer, in charge of representing the players’ voices to the Tour.

The Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs begin next week in Memphis, where Monahan is expected to address players directly. Given how contentious an earlier meeting with players grew, it’s likely Monahan will face significant backlash from players over the Tour’s direction and aims.

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