This week the Round Table weighs in on an impending decision to roll back the golf ball for everyone, a reputed $600 million offer to Jon Rahm to jump to LIV Golf and the feel-good story of the year.

A rollback for all, $600M for Rahm and the feel-good story of the year

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Reports indicate that the USGA and R&A will announce a golf ball roll-back this week that will become effective in 2028. The decision comes after years of study and a Model Local Rule proposal that would have adopted a bifurcated standard for pros and amateurs. In the end, bifurcation was rejected in favour of a roll-back for all. Players, fans and media on all sides of the debate are vocal about the imminent decision. Rory and Tiger suggest it was needed at the pro level and won’t really affect amateur golfers. Others like Mackenzie Hughes think they should have done nothing. How do you feel about a distance roll-back that will affect all golfers? 

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I would have preferred bifurcation.  I have no interest in playing a deader ball, but then, at my age and reduced distance, I may not notice a speck of difference.  My sons, who hit the ball at least 280 yards, might.  But I do think it’s good for professional golf.  Players routinely hitting drives of over 350, and eight-iron second shots into par 5’s, are making a mockery of golf courses that were never designed for such distances.  I’ll be delighted to see the return of 3-4-5 irons.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I’ve been around the game a while now, long enough to know any rules change like this will be met with great controversy and dislike. That said I’m for the change. There will be pushback for a few years (no doubt) from some, but honestly, this simply moves the goalposts and new norms/standards will be set. Fast forward 20 years from now, do you think golfers will be talking about this? Are we still arguing about gutta-percha vs feather balls? Are we still arguing and talking about the groove change? Are we still arguing persimmon vs metal/graphite equipment changes? Throughout time changes have been made, its inevitable in any sport. I don’t believe for a second that average players will notice the difference. Do they (or you) know how far they will hit their 8 irons or driver on any individual swing? I don’t. I read its about a 3% change on average. As a 1 handicapper I have a depth dispersion with my 8-iron of about 10-15 yards. I don’t suspect I’ll notice a 5-yard average difference with that club. And its about 8 yards on average with the driver for me. Will golfers quit in droves because of this? I very highly doubt it. I do ponder though, there are plenty of “illegal” balls (and clubs mind you) on the market right now that go straight, fly farther/go longer (and clubs that hit the ball farther) …. why aren’t we buying those balls (and illegal clubs) now if distance/game improvement matters so much to the masses? Get your popcorn, the announcement is going to provide some fireworks. The PGA Tour will appreciate having the spotlight off them for a while.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: This isn’t the first time the powers that be have been confronted with a distance dilemma. The Guttie went further than a Featherie and the wound ball went further than a ‘Guttie’. The difference this time is that there is a combination of factors including the introduction of the Pro V1 in 2000, improvements to graphite shafts, increased Coefficient of Restitution, playing surfaces and of course at the elite level, physical training. Not to mention advances in teaching technology. Gutties and the Bounding Billy produced instant increases in distance resulting in many course re-designs and some controversy, but people welcomed their newfound length. However, in those days land wasn’t proportionally as expensive and for a course to sell a downtown site and move to a country location didn’t result in an exhaustive drive to the new facility. Many did it! Such a move today is unrealistic. That leaves us with a diminishing capacity equation. Since 2000, the game is no longer the same! Due to prodigious drives, forgiving hybrids, decreased lofts on irons and multiple wedges players no longer require the same skill level. The game is now played in the air and not on the ground; crisp little pitches and chips are no longer part, and neither are artfully played iron shots made to draw or fade and then roll toward the hole. The 5% rollback being suggested does nothing! People won’t pay to see bifurcation when members at their club hit the ball further than Tour players. Hickory Golf is fun but hasn’t caught on because it is a difficult game to play. My answer: put limits on new distances, increase the length of the green side rough and make the greens smaller. This places a premium on tee shots and irons and allows today’s course to remain as they are. Better the Devil you already know.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I don’t get it to be honest.  I would be in favour of bifurcation, but to roll the ball back for the average player. It doesn’t make any sense.  The game is in the best place it has been in decades and then they go and do this.  Why would players want to hit the ball shorter?  Rory’s comment was interesting in that it suggested that the manufacturer’s were against bifurcation because of the financial impact.  If that’s the case, then they should have done nothing in my mind.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Had breakfast with Jack and all he wanted to talk about was the ball going too far. That was about 35 years ago. Not to put too fine a point on it, this so-called “rollback” is long past its due date. But, it won’t have much effect on slow-swing-speed average players ( the vast majority of the sports’ raison d’etre) and not enough effect on the hyper-swing-speed current pros and especially the young guns coming along after them. It will have its greatest yet still marginal impact, so to speak, on the driver. Today’s trampolining and ultra-forgiving faceplates will have to be ‘rolled back” at the same time or this is a classic too little, too late.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I like it. Doing nothing was never a solution and bifurcation perverts one of the major attractions to the game – the fantasy that anyone can play like the pros. I don’t believe amateur golfers will notice much of a difference. If they feel like they’re being shortchanged, they can always move up a tee deck. Come to think of it, maybe they should do that anyway.

Jon Rahm is allegedly reviewing an offer from LIV Golf that could see him paid as much as $600 million to jump to the rival league. The offer comes during the LIV off-season but also at a critical time amidst negotiations between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf about a potential merger. Assuming the offer is for real, how do you view it and its ramification for the PGA Tour moving forward?

Deeks: First of all, the word “obscene” isn’t strong enough to describe the alleged offer.  With the gross disparity of wealth in the world today, it’s unconscionable that someone would be offered such a sum, and my respect for Jon Rahm would plummet if he were to accept it.  The man already has way more money than he and his family will ever need or spend, why does he need probably ten times more than what he has?  Show some integrity, Jon, and turn it down… then earn it through continued on-course performance over the next twenty years.  As for ramifications… what does this alleged offer say about the proposed “merger”?  Poaching players when you’re supposedly about to join forces makes me think there’s no merger happening.  And I wouldn’t want to merge with poachers anyway.

Loughry: Rahm should take this offer. His ranking is high enough he’ll get into all the Majors and should be able to perform well enough like Koepka to continue playing in them for years to come. Should Rahm leave, I believe we will see others slide over and doesn’t look good for the PGA Tour. Here’s why its not good for the Tour, as they lose star power, they will inevitably lose partnership and sponsorship money because the talent isn’t there. The same reason the NHL has dynamic pricing, when a premium team or superstar is in town, ticket pricing changes accordingly.

Schurman: Remember the ugly talk this time last year condemning players for accepting big money from LIV and LIV will be gone by now? Guess what! They are still here and not only that, but they are also on the verge of buying the PGA TOUR. How could Jon Rahm possibly turn down $600M? If he does sign with LIV who else is being courted? We aren’t very far away from seeing top players defect so they can play against the best field and for the most money. I do wonder when Phil’s contract comes open for negotiation. Surely, he is close to needing a refill by now.

Rule: This would be the big shoe to drop in my opinion.  Up until now there hasn’t been one player that would have made a significant enough impact to scare the PGA Tour.  But this one has to. Perhaps it speeds up the negotiations between the two entities and eventually leads to a resolution between the PGA Tour and LIV.  If he does sign with LIV, you’d have to think that there is something in place for LIV to get world ranking points and for their players to play in other big events aside from the four majors.  It will be interesting to watch.

Quinn: If indeed the rumoured numbers are even close to a real offer, it makes the stomach turn. And if real, it would signal that the Saudis have no confidence in any merger. Even without any concern for a bottom line, why would any organization want to align with a profligate, chaotic, self-destructive cabal? The Tour has DQ’d itself.

Mumford: How can anyone turn down more than half a billion dollars? He’s still going to play professional golf, still going to be in all the majors for at least the next five years and will have a lighter schedule. The timing of this offer puts enormous pressure on the PGA Tour to get a deal done with LIV or lose one of their marquee players. The PIF definitely wants at least a foothold in pro golf, if not outright control. It makes you wonder if they are willing to pay Rahm $600 million to play, how much might they be offering Jay Monahan to deliver an entire Tour?

This past season we saw plenty of victories that were more than just a W on the scoresheet. For example, Nick Taylor won the RBC Canadian Open, not only notching his third PGA Tour title but also becoming the first Canadian male to win his and our national championship in almost 70 years. Others like Camilo Villegas overcame great personal grief and got back in the winner’s circle. Still others, like Tiger Woods perhaps, didn’t win but overcame personal loss or injury to rebound this year. Which pro – male or female – had the best feel-good story in 2023?

Deeks: For Canadians, it had to be Nick Taylor’s victory… even though the Canadian Open has far less prestige than it once did.  But I particularly like comeback stories, and Justin Rose winning the AT&T at Pebble Beach, Rickie Fowler at Rocket Mortgage, Jason Day at the Byron Nelson, and Lucas Glover’s two late season victories, were all very gratifying for me to watch.

Loughry: For me the best story of the year is Camillo’s win in Bermuda. He worked incredibly hard on his game and his life. There’s no way this isn’t the best feel good story of the year, perseverance, character, rising above adversity, and the fact he’s a good human (I was lucky enough to spend two days with him in New Zealand on the old days, and crossed paths a few times after that), this story has it all.

Schurman: My best feel-good story about a Pro isn’t about a Tour Pro. It’s about a PGA of Canada member and my good friend Sam Young. For the past many years, Sam quit playing due to a bad back. A couple of years ago, he had surgery that allowed him to swing with little or no pain. We now play at Shelburne G.C. every Tuesday. Watching him enjoy playing and work to regain some morsel of form is exhilarating!

Rule: I’m a big Camilo Villegas fan so that win ranks right up there with the best stories of the year given what he’s gone through the past few years, both on and especially off the course. But for the best feel good story – even though it may have been overplayed a bit since May – I’d have to choose the Michael Block story at the PGA Championship. The fact he played as well as he did and capped off the week with an ace while playing with Rory on Sunday, that’s tough to beat.  He deserved all of the attention he got the rest of the year.

Quinn: Well, it was going to be — hands down — my three-foot eagle putt on a drivable par 4 until …. missed the putt. And so, unquestionably, it was a guy making a putt, namely Mr. Oh Canada Taylor, just the second Canadian-born winner of his home and native land’s Open (Karl Keffer 1909, 1914). It didn’t quite have the neighbours out in the street like Weir’s Masters, but he sure had the phone lighting up with OMGs. Taylor’s great week and that phenomenal putt made a lot of Canucks feel real good, eh?, no matter how their week was going.

Mumford: Brooks Koepka coming back to contend at the Masters and then win the PGA Championship after wrestling with his demons is a powerful story, but the best feel good story has to be Camilo Villegas getting back in the winner’s circle. The loss of a child is so devastating, no one even wants to contemplate it. Overcoming that and all the grief that never goes away shows remarkable fortitude and character.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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