One of the most revealing statistics to come out of this year’s Open was that only eight golfers were drug tested during the 2015 championship.
Why so interesting? Primarily because the former chief executive of the R&A, Peter Dawson, told assembled media at St Andrews last year that ‘a significant number’ would be tested over the course of the week.
To reiterate, eight players out of a field of 156 were tested. If that’s ‘significant’, I don’t want to know what constitutes ‘insignificant’.
Golf has no firm grip on how to deal with doping.
It’s also worth pointing out that, when the question of how many players had been tested was raised by the BBC’s Tom English during the R&A’s pre-championship press conference, not one of its three available representatives - including new chief exec Martin Slumbers - had the number to hand.
What does this prove? Essentially, it reinforces what most of us in the industry have long since suspected: that golf has no firm grip on how to deal with doping.
The sport has had an awkward relationship with the issue since testing was introduced on the PGA Tour in the summer of 2008. At the time, many players voiced opposition to its introduction. Rocco Mediate called it ‘a joke’, Kenny Perry, above, said he didn’t think it was required, whilst Olin Browne described it as ‘contradictory to the ethics of our game’. Not to pick apart his point but surely drug-taking, not testing, is contradictory to the ethics of any sport. But again, each to their own…
Read more -> Vijay Singh hits out at PGA Tour
Since the introduction of testing, golf has duffed its way around the issue. Consequently, unsubstantiated rumours about players being caught with recreational drugs have become the talk of the driving range. A quick Google search will yield the sordid details of most of those rumours but we’ll not go into that here. Let’s just stick to the facts, chief amongst them being this: golf’s anti-doping PR is terrible.
Vijay's was the first major diping issue golf had faced - and it shanked it.
Just look at how, in 2013, it dealt with what turned out to be the complete non-issue of Vijay Singh admitting to using a deer antler spray to improve his performance. The former world No.1, below, didn’t fail a test - but the PGA Tour banned him anyway. It subsequently rescinded that ban after being informed by the World Anti-Doping Association that the spray in question had so little of the banned growth hormone IGF-1 that it could have zero performance enhancing benefits. This was the first major doping issue - certainly the most high profile - that golf had faced… and it shanked it.
So, how are you meant to have confidence in the ability of the powers-that-be to manage the issue? Well, for a start, it would be helpful if they sounded informed and overt about their anti-doping measures. Trouble is, they don’t. Look closely enough when any golf official is asked about doping and you’ll see them shift uncomfortably in their seat. They will assure you that everything is fine but, pressed to explain what they mean by ‘fine’, they’ll try to shut down the discussion as fast as possible. Let’s be clear, I’m absolutely not implying they’re attempting to hide anything; just that they give the appearance of being ill at ease with a subject we need them to be totally at ease with.
This is the point in a nutshell: golf needs to be much transparent about how it deals with doping and drug-testing, and that has to start with the game’s leading organisations: the R&A, the USGA, the PGA Tour, the European Tour, the LPGA and so on. They need to be open, honest and informed on the matter. They cannot equivocate. The more they do, the more scrutiny they’ll invite, which is fair on nobody, particularly the players whose interests they are supposed to preserve.
This isn't necessarily about taking a firmer stance. It's about taking an uncompromising, incontrovertible and assured stance.
And if there are golfers failing drug tests, let’s know about it. Hiding it is not just counter-productive; it’s wrong. Golf needs to understand there’s no shame in revealing that one of its top players has failed a test. That’s on the player. Where there is shame, however, is in appearing ignorant to the seriousness of the issue and negligent in dealing with it.
This isn’t necessarily about taking a firmer stance. It’s about taking an uncompromising, incontrovertible and assured stance. It’s about realising that eight tests, at one of the biggest events of the year, simply won’t cut it. It’s about ensuring golf is clean.
In June this year, the US ended a 20-year ban on importing British beef into the country. Less than three months later, they are taking arguably our prime cut – Andrew Johnston. ‘Beef’, as he is affectionately known, sealed his PGA Tour card with a strong finish at last week’s Web.com Tour event. His plan is to straddle both the PGA Tour and the European Tour next season and good luck to him.
I’m sure he’ll do well. He’s cracked the first nut – making yourself popular with the notoriously tough-to-please American audience – and anyone who plays golf with a permanent smile on their face and gives relentless thumbs-ups to the crowds is alright by me. What he’ll now need to do is back up his big personality with some big results. He has the profile; now he needs to prove he has the game for the much-vaunted ‘big stage’, be a bit like a more consistent version of Boo Weekley. I think he’ll be a success. More to the point, I hope he’ll be a success. Golf needs more players like him, players with transcendent appeal.
This week I have been… wondering what the future holds for the PGA Tour when Tim Finchem steps down. The circuit’s Lilliputian leader is soon to retire, bringing to an end 22 years at the helm of the tour. Is he universally popular? No. But he leaves his organisation in a much stronger position than he found it. People will say that he got lucky, that he steered the ship during the ‘Tiger Woods’ era and the explosive growth thereof. Fine – but he still needs to do his job, irrespective of Woods’ profile and, for the most part, he’s done it very, very well. His replacement, Jay Monahan, is going to have very big shoes (figuratively, if not literally) to fill.
“One thing America hasn't had is good partnerships.” So said Sir Nick Faldo recently when asked by Golf Digest to diagnose the USA’s recent struggles in the Ryder Cup. This from a man who managed to conjure up four wins across a combined 16 foursomes and fourballs matches when he was the European captain in 2008. As bunkered editor Bryce Ritchie remarked, Faldo was ‘a shambles, an absolute disaster who did everything wrong from start to finish so maybe he’s not the best person to be dishing out advice’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
And finally… It has been ten years since Ian Woosnam led Europe to a thumping 18½-9½ win over Tom Lehman’s US side at The K Club. It was a record-equalling defeat for the Americans but, in their defence, a quarter of their team was comprised of JJ Henry, Vaughn Taylor and Brett Wetterich, three consummate journeymen who, frankly, over-achieved a little by qualifying for the US Ryder Cup team. Still, they’ve had the last laugh. Between them, they have career earnings of over $36m. Fair play to them.
Michael McEwan / The Cut Line
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