After taking time off to deal with a health issue, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan is back at work. Monahan’s break came shortly after he announced a shocking and polarizing framework agreement with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. Upon his departure, Monahan’s public image and approval rating among players had never been worse. A looming question within golf spheres is about how long Monahan will be in this role and whether or not he will be able to win back the support of the PGA Tour players he represents.
On Wednesday, Monahan took a first step toward rebuilding confidence with players through a memo that covered two hot topics on the PGA Tour: the framework agreement and the rollback. Let’s get into the details of each and give some thoughts on how each could play out:
The Framework Agreement
The success or failure of the framework agreement between the PGA Tour and the PIF will be, in part, determined by the ways that PGA Tour and LIV players will coalesce over the coming months and years. The memo gave a glimpse of how Monahan intends to make the rejoining of those groups as smooth as possible. There will be a new Player Benefit Program, and a task force has been created to make decisions on player discipline for those returning to the Tour from LIV.
If one had to guess, the Player Benefit Program will include hundreds of millions of dollars from the PIF that will be dispersed to the biggest names in the sport that opted to remain loyal to the PGA Tour. Unfortunately for the outspoken Chesson Hadley, I don’t think he will reap any rewards. Think: Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy all the way down to players like Shane Lowry. Players who turned down tens of millions of dollars. These payouts will pale in comparison to those that LIV offered but hey, it’s better than nothing.
What Monahan envisions in the realm of “player discipline,” though, is not very clear. The memo has very few details. What we do know is that the “task force” running it will be comprised of Andy Pazder, Jason Gore and Neera Shetty. This one will be fun to watch. If I had to guess, the level of discipline will vary depending on said player’s standing in the game as well as how they left the Tour. Some pro golfers might be playing under the same rules as us mere mortals: if you leave your previous employer in a contentious manner, it can have some down-the-road ramifications.
Players who publicly and loudly went after the PGA Tour and participated in the lawsuit against it will likely be given no favors. Think Pat Perez, Talor Gooch, and Phil Mickelson.
Those who left gracefully without parting shots at the Tour like Brooks Koepka, Cam Smith and Dustin Johnson will likely be welcomed back with fewer penalties. Overall, expect a lot of LIV players to be forced to earn back their card through Q-School or the Korn Ferry Tour if they want to play on the PGA Tour again.
The MLR Ball
Perhaps Monahan’s most interesting comments in the memo centered around the USGA and R&A’s proposed MLR Ball:
“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 PAC 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.”
This is the most divisive topic in the sport. Nearly everybody who cares about golf either believes that modern technology and increased driving distances are making the game more unsustainable and less interesting at the highest levels or that, because of modern technology, the game has never been healthier or better.
The PGA Tour finally taking a strong stance against the MLR ball is a big domino that has now fallen. Among golf’s five families (USGA, R&A, Masters, PGA and PGA TOUR) the scoreboard reads 3-2 for the MLR ball. The USGA, R&A and Masters support a reduced-flight ball for the highest levels of the sport while the PGA Tour and PGA of America oppose it. This puts the ball back in the USGA and R&A’s court. They can move forward, in which case three of the four major championships would require the use of a new ball while the PGA Championship and PGA Tour would use the current golf ball. The other option would be to go back to the drawing board and possibly settle on a reduced-flight ball that is longer than what the USGA and R&A are proposing but shorter than the current ball.
Monahan’s decision to come down strongly against the rollback makes sense. Right now, he’s attempting to win back the support and trust of the majority of the PGA Tour. This will be a popular statement among Tour pros who fear any changes to the game could ruin their standing. It’s an understandable stance, but one that largely has to do with financial bias and self-interest.
The issue I find with this stance from the Tour is that it comes to the detriment of its most valuable asset, its product. This decision is meant to appease players, who don’t necessarily have the product in mind.
Stop for a second. If you were thinking that long drives create interest, I’d ask you what your favorite shots from golf have been in 2023.
I asked this on Twitter and the majority of answers centered on two types of shots: approach shots and shots around greens. The Tour should emphasize these types of shots with their setup and rules. That would improve the product. Today’s brand of golf features a driver-wedge style. It limits the number and variety of interesting approach shots and outcomes. A wedge approach has a lot fewer potential results than a six iron. So a golf ball that goes shorter would create a wider variety of approach shots and also more missed greens, and thus more around-the-green recovery shots.
It was also interesting to see that when Twitter responders said they enjoyed a tee shot, most of the time they were either talking about greens being driven or comically wild drives. To that, I’d say: it’s a common misconception that players won’t be able to drive greens if the ball is rolled back. If the ball goes 20-30 yards shorter, all you’d have to do to make that same hole drivable is move the tee box up.
As it stands now, it seems like the Tour is unlikely to change its position on the golf ball. That’s a bummer for golf fans and the game of golf as a whole. This memo and the distance announcement were about Monahan politicking to retain his position and boost his approval among the PGA Tour masses.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.