Dustin Johnson case exposes tour's failings

2014 08 Dustin Johnson

The smoke and mirrors surrounding Dustin Johnson’s ‘leave of absence’ from the PGA Tour tells you everything you need to know about the circuit's inefficiency when it comes to dealing with trouble.

The rumours are that the American has been given a six-month ban for testing positive for taking recreational drugs, and not for the first time. Not so, insist the people at PGA Tour HQ.

The problem is that nobody believes them. The evidence against Johnson is compelling. The fact that neither he nor anyone close to him has refuted the claims made against him speaks volumes. If you’re innocent, you come out swinging for the fences. Nobody wants to be falsely accused of anything. To this point, no denials have been made – other than by the PGA Tour.

But why should we trust them? Because they’re the custodians of the world’s richest tour? Not a good enough reason.

Remember, its commissioner, Tim Finchem, was opposed to drug testing being introduced on the tour. Cast your mind back to March 2006, where he insisted there is ‘no reason to jump into the testing arena’. After the World Golf Federation revealed an anti-doping policy in September 2007 – presumably with a view to improving the sport's prospects of being granted Olympic status – Finchem relented. Two months later, confirmed that the PGA Tour would begin testing its players in July 2008.

In the time since, only one player has ever been publicly suspended for testing positive for a banned substance. That was journeyman Doug Barron, who was pinged for one year after traces of supplemental testosterone and a beta-blocker were found in his test from the 2009 St Jude Classic. Barron, though, had been diagnosed with a heart condition in 1987 and was prescribed beta-blockers at the age of 18 and testosterone in 2005 to help manage the condition. He was subsequently granted a therapeutic-use exemption for the drugs, as per PGA Tour policy. The right decision, no doubt. But enormously after the fact.

At the start of 2013, Vijay Singh was suspended by the PGA Tour for confessing to the use of a deer antler spray, which was found to contain the banned substance IGF-1. After a 12-week investigation, the tour dropped its case against the Fijian, who, lest we forget, hadn’t failed a test. He had admitted using a substance, not been caught doing so. There is a difference.
The tour is poor to the point of incompetent when it comes to dealing with such problems.

In any event, the tour’s case against the former world No.1 collapsed when it discovered that the quantities of IFG-1 in the spray had been so minute that they would have been unable to produce any sort of performance enhancement. Scientists hired by Singh’s lawyers discovered the substance in cow’s milk and that the amount used in the deer antler spray ‘would be comparable to pouring a shot glass of bourbon in an Olympic-size swimming pool, and then drinking a shot from the pool water’. In May 2013, Singh sued the PGA Tour for its mismanagement of his case. The matter remains unresolved.

What both the Barron and Singh incidents – coupled with Finchem’s initial opposition to drug testing – have demonstrated is that the tour is poor to the point of incompetent when it comes to dealing with such problems.

But that’s not the issue. The real question here is why is the tour like that?

There’s no doubt that drug use is bad for business. Just look at cycling. But, then again, cycling’s problems stemmed from executive-level complicity in cover-ups. Surely it’s not like that in golf. Is it? If so, how deep does the rabbit hole go? How many other failed tests might be hiding down it? More to the point, whose names and reputations might be getting protected and why?

Rightly or wrongly, those are the questions that the PGA Tour and, unfortunately, some of its players are now facing. And, for that, it the tour has nobody to blame but itself.

It’s reluctant, ham-fisted attempt at giving golf the appearance (at the very least) of being a ‘clean’ sport lit a fire. The rumours surrounding Dustin Johnson fanned those flames. Now, the game is on the brink of being engulfed in full-blown, white-hot scandal.

All of which could have been avoided with two things that every fan and sponsor has a right to expect from those in charge: honesty and transparency.

Is that too much to ask?


Dustin Johnson, the PGA Tour, and drug-testing - your thoughts

What is your take on Dustin Johnson's 'suspension' and the PGA Tour's 'closed-shop' policy when it comes to disciplining or suspending its players? Leave your thoughts in our 'Comments' section below.

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