If indignant PGA Tour players are to be believed — bear with me — Mike Whan and Martin Slumbers are unaccountable despots bent on ruining golf, in which case they’re due thanks for momentarily distracting us from the unaccountable despot who is actually decimating the game, though MBS won’t ever be criticized for such by players under his writ.
The chief executives of the USGA and R&A have proposed an optional rule that, if adopted by tournaments or tours after January 1, 2026, would force golfers to use a modified ball that pauses rampant distance gains at the elite level. Like everything else these days, reactions have been polarized. Dewy-eyed romantics say it doesn’t sufficiently return us to a bygone era of balata brilliance, while Tour pros sing the sponsor standards, from “Grow the game!” to “Grow the rough!” — views invariably offered while sporting the logos of companies with a commercial interest in seeing no action taken on distance.
Sam Burns went so far as to suggest that players could one day present themselves at a major championship and insist on using regular balls, daring organizers to turn them away. The first opportunity to make such a stand is likely to be April 9, 2026. In Augusta, Georgia. Private Burns would find few in his imaginary army willing to go over the top with him.
There is clearly no widespread support among PGA Tour players for a rule limiting golf balls, but nor is support nonexistent. Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods are among those who have called for distance to be mitigated, and more prominent voices may be added to their chorus in the coming days. While it seems awfully improbable now that the PGA Tour and its members would choose to adopt a new rule, changing circumstances can change minds.
Whan and Slumbers made clear that both Opens will implement the rule if it’s an option in 2026. Those attuned to Augusta National’s hymnal can anticipate Chairman Fred Ridley’s preferred coda: the Masters will join the governing bodies in adopting a modified ball. That creates a dilemma for the PGA of America, which prides itself on not vexing players, either in course set-up or rules disputes. The PGA Championship is already regarded as last among equals. If the other majors go with a modified ball, will the PGA of America really balk and further cleave itself from the club in the minds of fans? If opponents of the proposed rule are hoping for support at the pinnacle of the sport, Frisco…
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