3. Dustin Johnson announced that he was taking a “leave of absence” from golf this week and wouldn’t be playing in the PGA Championship or the Ryder Cup. Golf.com later learned that Johnson had failed a drug test for cocaine prior to his “leave,” though the PGA Tour refused to describe it as a “suspension.” Why is the PGA Tour -- which prides itself on its players’ honor and integrity –- so hesitant to publicize discipline against those players?
BAMBERGER: The Tour's drug policy is insincere. It developed its drug policy to keep up with other prime-time sports and be considered for the Olympics. Tim Finchem never really wanted a drug policy, and the Tour doesn't really have one. It only pretends to have one. The key word in its drug manual is "may." Faced with a failed test, the commissioner may do this, the commissioner may do that. Including nothing. The Tour must have found it tantalizing, the idea of having Tiger Woods play in the Olympics. What an opportunity to grow the brand! (Gag me with Gene Sarazen's spoon). But professional golf doesn't need the Olympics, and the opposite is true, too. As far as so-called recreational drugs, the Tour might have been better served to let the law and a player's performance address it. But if it wanted to come in on that issue, it should have come all the way in, and it didn't. As far as PEDs, their use is not only a danger to their users, PEDs also make a mockery out of any normal definition of fair competition. Their use also sends a horrible message to aspiring athletes. But the way the Tour tests for PEDs, with a haphazard request for urine samples, does virtually nothing to keep PEDs out of professional golf. For years, the Tour has tried to convince the public that the Tour players weren't like other people and other professional athletes. I don't know a person who was fooled.
SHIPNUCK: There's no rational explanation -- this code of omerta has always been part of the Tour's culture. Maybe when lawyer/master of spin Tim Finchem steps aside, there will be a philosophical change. The irony is that the institutional paranoia harms the players. If they publicized Johnson's failed drug test and leave/suspension, it's a one-day story. But thanks to our dogged reporting, it hijacked numerous news cycles -- questions about Johnson's character followed by days of hand-wringing about Tour policy.
LYNCH: The Tour’s refusal to even acknowledge -- let alone publicize --disciplinary sanctions has nothing to do with protecting players’ privacy and everything to do with sanitizing its product for corporate sponsors. And that lack of transparency -- particularly on drug testing -- serves only to enable repeat offenders who know there is no risk of public shaming by the Tour. Other major sports have enacted disciplinary systems that afford equitable treatment to players and respectful information for fans and player sponsors, who have an equal right to know about their conduct. In golf we are treated to Nixonian obfuscation and semantic gymnastics worthy of a low-rank banana republic.
GODICH: You'll have to ask Tim Finchem. Doesn't the Tour owe it to its fans and sponsors to be candid about PED use and failed drug tests?
VAN SICKLE: The best deterrent against drug use -- or slow play, even -- is publicity. Nobody wants to be branded with those. It would be in the Tour's best interests to disclose the failed tests and the slow-play fines. But the Tour is all about image. It thought it could stonewall its way around DJ and that didn't work. Meanwhile, Vijay Singh's lawyers are licking their chops. His lawsuit is looking more and more like a slam dunk.
MORFIT: Money. It's bad for business if it gets out that golf is not squeakier and cleaner than every other pro sport.
RITTER: It appears that the Tour has one motivation, and it isn't Dustin Johnson's well-being: it's to protect its own image and keep the corporate sponsor cash flowing. They seem willing to do whatever it takes to avoid rocking the boat. By treating player disciplinary issues as state secrets, the Tour weakens its brand and looks woefully out of touch. You'd hope the DJ mess might spur them to reevaluate a few things. We'll see.
PASSOV: Image is everything. Honestly, Tim Finchem and his henchmen have done an outstanding job at presenting a picture of perfection to corporate sponsors, and succeeded magnificently, thriving in an awful business environment. He's presented the Tour as an entity that rises above all of the other scandal-plagued major and second-tier sports, and it's worked -- but at a cost. Compared to the NFL, NBA and the Olympics, golf has been perceived with the purity of a fresh snowfall. I'm not defending how the PGA Tour does business, but you've asked why they do it that way. That's why. Avoid the taint, keep the cash register ringing.
SENS: The Tour is an organization of the players for the players, so everything is done to spare its stars from embarrassment even if it means presenting a facade. Call it a Clinton marriage, a sportsworld Potemkin village. You get the drift.
4. How does the absence of Dustin Johnson -- and possibly Tiger Woods -- affect the U.S. Ryder Cup team? Does Tom Watson have enough talent to choose from to match a stacked European side?
SHIPNUCK: Phil, Keegan and Sneds -- the probable picks this minute -- are all studs, even if their form has been iffy. Europe is stacked and will deservedly be the favorite, but the U.S. will have more camaraderie without Tiger on the team and should put up a good fight.
SENS: Clouds with silver linings, at least for Watson, as it saves him from having two distractions on his team. The U.S. will have less firepower on paper, but there’s a positive in that, too. The Americans will relish coming in as underdogs.
LYNCH: Johnson’s absence will hurt more. He was unbeaten two years ago, and his teammates would have been lining up to partner with him in alternate shot. Not many would want to hit from where Tiger is driving it. Watson won’t be too worried, though. He has a solid lineup of qualifiers and more than enough talent to spend his picks on.
PASSOV: It always makes for good copy, but I can't figure out why we exhaust so much effort and speculation on Ryder Cup selections and match-ups. The U.S. almost always has the edge in talent and preparation, and we almost always lose. In 18 holes of match play, the 12th guy on the team seems to come through as often as the first. Captain Watson will be fine. Dustin Johnson will not be missed -- except that he deserved the honor, given how well he performed in the past 12 months. I would miss Tiger. His Ryder Cup record isn't stellar, and the U.S. won without him in '08, but he remains the most compelling presence in the game and the intensity of any event he appears in skyrockets compared to those where he's absent.
GODICH: Tiger may have done Watson a favor. Never mind the erratic play. The Ryder Cup is all about birdies, and Tiger hasn't been making enough of them. It's time to give the young guns a shot.
MORFIT: I love the whole underdog thing at the Ryder Cup. Think this sort of helps the Yanks, actually.
BAMBERGER: I think Watson is lucky, now that he doesn't "have" to pick Woods. Johnson's driving game will be missed, but you hope, for his sake, he is doing something far more valuable with his time.
RITTER: The U.S. team's uphill climb is now even steeper, mostly thanks to Johnson's absence. On the bright side, Watson should now be able to assemble two more successful veteran pairings through a combination of qualifying and his picks: Dufner-Zach and Mickelson-Bradley. That helps, but it's still advantage Europe.
VAN SICKLE: I always doubted that Woods would be well enough to play, so his loss, if that's the case, isn't unexpected. Watson is going to have to pick some hot hands who are untested…if he can find any. It was looking like this would be a good year to pass up Mickelson, but maybe Watson will have to take him now.