The PGA Tour is considering changes to how it publicizes disciplinary measures taken against its players.
Speaking to the media prior to the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem acknowledged that the Tour's policy of not commenting on conduct violations, which include recreational-drug suspensions, has cast doubt on the motivations behind some players' extended breaks from play.
"If it triggers a situation where a player is stepping away from the game or getting, maybe being suspended but we really don't know, does that create confusion, and that's one point that we are giving some thought to on that particular situation," Finchem said.
Doral winner Dustin Johnson recently returned from a leave of absence, which Golf.com reported was in fact a six-month suspension following a third failed drug test for cocaine. The Tour disputed that Johnson had been suspended and insisted that his absence was voluntary but declined to comment on his drug test results. Asked following his one-shot victory on Sunday if he had ever failed a PGA Tour drug test, Johnson responded: "No. Thanks."
In February, 14-time major champion Tiger Woods announced his own indefinite leave of absence from golf to get his game "tournament-ready" following a discouraging two weeks in which he missed the cut at the Phoenix Open and withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open after 11 holes. Former Tour pro Dan Olsen claimed Woods' absence was also a Tour-imposed suspension for a failed drug test though he quickly retracted the accusation after strong denials from both Woods' camp and the Tour. Olsen also admitted he had no evidence to back up his original claim.
If a player is suspended after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, the Tour publishes the name of the player, the fact he committed an anti-doping rule violation, and the length of the suspension. The Tour disciplines its players for recreational drug use and other “conduct unbecoming a professional” in secret.
Finchem downplayed the value of alerting the public to those types of conduct violations, which could include anything from using profanity to throwing a club to public intoxication.
"We don't think the fans really want to know about most of the stuff we would be talking about," Finchem said. "We don't think there's a large volume of it and we don't think much of it is very serious."
Still, Finchem suggested that the Tour could change that policy in the future.
"I can see some of the benefits of dealing with that differently," he said. "Thus far, we have chosen not to."
According to Finchem, the Tour handles substance abuse differently than performance-enhancing drug use because the cases are more complicated.
"It's more related to: Do you have a problem, and if you have a problem, we work with the player on dealing with the problem," Finchem said.
The commissioner also responded to criticism from David Howman, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, who told Golf.com last week that there are "gaps" in the PGA Tour's anti-doping program and expressed concern over the program's lack of transparency.
"If people have questions, we try to answer them," Finchem said. "The doping program we have is the best in our sport globally."