Tour & News

Tour Confidential: Tour's Drug Policies, Baltusrol Preview

Tour Confidential: Is the PGA Championship More Important Than Ever This Year?
Jessica Marksbury talks with GOLF.com's Alan Bastable and Sean Zak about the high stakes of this week's PGA Championship and what to expect from the event.

Every Sunday night, GOLF.com conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1.) Scott Stallings, who was suspended in 2015 for violating the PGA Tour’s drug policy, expressed his deep frustration with the Tour’s anti-doping program in a story that appeared on GOLF.com last week. (On the advice of his doctor, Stallings took the over-the-counter hormone DHEA to help offset symptoms of his low testosterone levels. When he realized DHEA was on the Tour’s prohibited substance list, he immediately reported his infraction to the Tour.) One of Stallings’s primary complaints is that he was made to “seem like a bad guy” for taking drugs for a serious medical condition, while the Tour protects the anonymity of players who are suspended for recreational drug use. Stallings admits he made a mistake taking DHEA, but was he treated unfairly?

Pete Madden, senior producer, GOLF.com (@pamadden): John Daly called the PGA Tour's Anti-Doping Program "a big joke." I'll go one step further: It's a big failure. Since the program was adopted in 2008, only four players have been sanctioned -- two for admitted use (Vijay Singh was quickly reinstated but sued the Tour anyway, while Scott Stallings reported himself and provided medical documentation) and two after positive tests (Doug Barron sued and was ultimately granted a therapeutic use exemption, leaving Web.com Tour pro Bhavik Patel as the only player who was seemingly legitimately suspended in eight years of operation). I wish I could say that means that golf must be a clean sport, but it doesn’t. The Tour's unwillingness to conduct blood tests makes its ban on many performance-enhancers all but unenforceable, while under WADA’s more stringent testing, six golfers were sanctioned for doping in international events in 2014 alone. The Tour’s program is nothing more than a paper tiger designed to sanitize its product for corporate sponsorship, and Scott just happened to be one of the players the Tour decided to flex its muscles for. The policy is supposed to protect the integrity of the game AND the health of its players. Suspending Scott did neither. The policy needs an overhaul, and the players should make their voices heard in the process...

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): This all comes back to the PGA Tour’s arcane policy of keeping player discipline private. If your policy isn't transparent, there's no way to show it’s consistent, and if it isn't consistent, it's unfair. The most telling quote in the story is where Stallings says, “Players have been caught with something you could go to jail for, but I seem like a bad guy?" That could be a reference to Dustin Johnson’s punishment last year, which this website reported was a suspension for a positive cocaine test. But who’s to say? As long as the Tour continues to operate in the shadows, every punishment will be questioned, and no one will know what's fair or unjust.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Given how careless Stallings was about taking a PED, the suspension was justified under the rules. But the Tour’s PR machine did hose him. We’ve been talking about the ridiculousness of the Tour’s policy for so long I’m now bored of the topic. It erodes the credibility of the entire sport and hurts the players. It’s a sham.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Stalling's story, expertly reported by Pete Madden, shows the bizarre logic by which this whole program was conceived in the first place.

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Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Jeff, you’ve nailed it—and Alan, I’m with you about the PGA Tour’s drug policy. My head hurts just thinking about how ridiculous it all is. Of course, that’s not limited to golf, either. There’s almost no possibility of deterrence unless you’re transparent about the policies and infractions, while also being consistent in the punishments. It’s so galling that Russia isn’t being totally banned by the most hypocritical organization of all, the IOC, that it actually makes me think the PGA Tour isn’t so bad. Yet, where’s the incentive to report yourself immediately, as Stallings did, if the result is that you’ll be shamed for it? You’re better off hiding and dodging and firing off lawsuits contesting the validity of the tests. Is that what we want?

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): DHEA is a hormonal supplement you can buy off the rack at CVS. The fact that it is somehow illegal is ridiculous. It is not a PED. I took it for several years with the understanding that it helped middle-aged guys have the energy to keep moving and maybe lose weight. Not sure that worked. The Stallings case, like Shaun Micheel’s, shows how much the tour just can’t wait to crack down to prove how effective its drug policy is, even if it is unrelated to reality. Stallings got hosed; Micheel got hosed. The guys who went to rehab over the years—whoever they were—for substance abuse, they got nothing. It’s just not a level playing field.

2.) The PGA of America said the 2017 PGA Championship will remain at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., despite the controversy surrounding North Carolina House Bill 2, which limits anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ citizens. The NBA protested the bill by pulling the 2017 All-Star Game out of North Carolina. Should the PGA of America have followed suit with its marquee event?

Bamberger: I stand proudly with the LGBTQ community in its efforts to secure equal protection under the law. But I don't think taking jobs from North Carolinians of any sexual stripe, not to mention forfeiting a fine sporting and entertainment opportunity, will do anything worthwhile.

Ritter: I would love to believe the PGA stayed put because it is vigorously committed to giving North Carolinians a great sporting event, but my guess is there were too many checks already cashed to move it. Too bad. Relocating would've sent a message on where golf stands on the issue.

Shipnuck: Hey, golf is usually 20-30 years behind society on any issue of inclusion so don’t sweat it. I’m sure the PGA of America will take a principled stand in time for the 2046 tournament.

Passov: Ah, the poor PGA Championship. Had to move the 1962 PGA from California because the state wouldn’t abide by the organization’s Caucasian-only clause that was in place at the time. It got stuck with local advertisers on TV in 1990 at Shoal Creek after the club founder’s explanation about why his club had no black members. They’ll have to deal with Donald Trump again in the next few years, when two of its premier championships are slated to take place at Trump facilities. Yet, for 2017, the PGA got it right. The city of Charlotte and the club itself did everything it could to allow for every accommodation. I’d rather see them get rewarded for attempting to do the right thing. If necessary, figure out a way to call out the state of North Carolina in another way.

Van Sickle: The effort to relocate the PGA would be better spent getting the elected officials who supported this policy un-elected. The best way to protest is with your vote, North Carolinians.

Madden: The NBA showed North Carolina that bigotry has a price. Bravo. The PGA of America could have and should have taken their own stand against LGBTQ discrimination and pulled the event, but they opted for talk over action. I’m reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, that it's not just "the violent actions of the bad people, but [also] the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say 'Wait on time'" that impedes progress. I’m looking forward to asking Pete Bevacqua about it at his press conference at Baltusrol on Wednesday.

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3.) Tiger Woods will not play in the PGA Championship, meaning he will have skipped all four majors this year. How would you assess the first Tiger-less major season since 1994?

Shipnuck: The respite he needs.

Bamberger: I'm glad for Tiger that he has taken this break. I think he's telling us he is now a ceremonial golfer.

Ritter: Each of the majors has produced high drama and worthy champions. Golf is having a good run. As for Tiger, he’s had a better year than he did in 2015.

Madden: Tiger is finally giving his body some much-needed rest, but it’s hard to imagine him returning to compete against the game’s new crop of young talent. Time will tell.

Passov: Sorry, boys, I disagree. I’ve been called the ultimate Tiger apologist—at least by one ding-dong who trolls me on Twitter—but 2016 still felt like something was missing at each major without the Tiger buzz percolating on the grounds. I might feel differently if we had enjoyed a major where the Big Three (or Big Four or Big Five or Big Six) had dueled each other, and helped the memory of Tiger’s greatness fade, but that hasn’t happened. Yes, Spieth’s Masters collapse was shocking and historic, DJ’s U.S. Open win was controversial and well-deserved and Stenson’s mano-a-mano battle with Lefty at the Open was inspiring and unforgettable. What can I say. I still miss Tiger being in the hunt. Maybe a Rory/Jordan/DJ/Jason playoff at Baltusrol will help me.

Van Sickle: I agree with Joe that when Tiger plays, there is an extra buzz, but I didn’t feel anything missing at the majors. Tiger has been effectively gone for a couple of years. We have new stars to follow. Maybe Tiger will take an encore bow at some later time; I don’t know, but you’ve been able to read stories from the major for a couple of years that don’t the name Tiger in them. Not so long ago, that wasn’t the case. We’ve moved on … until such time that Tiger returns.

Tiger Woods Out for Rest of Season
Tiger Woods has withdrawn from the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol, his agent stating that Woods will assess his return for the 2016-17 season.

4.) It’s PGA Championship week—yes, already! With its position on the jam-packed 2016 calendar (two weeks after the British Open and two weeks before the Olympics), is the PGA at risk of being overlooked by casual fans this year?   

Bamberger: Yes, the PGA risks getting overlooked. But this year less than others. It's the lead up to the Olympics!

Shipnuck: You jest, Michael, but it will add a little extra juice and another needed talking point. We all know the PGA is the least prestigious of the majors, and as long as it’s going to boring tracks like Baltusrol, that won’t change. But the Olympics are the de facto 5th major this year—Sorry Players—and will continue the mojo for this blockbuster summer.

Bamberger: I don't jest. Not about this!

Shipnuck: Good, because these Olympics are life and death. Perhaps literally!

Ritter: Only if you drink the water in Rio, Alan! (Or, leave your hotel.) As for the PGA, Balty has produced some great winners, including Phil in ‘05 and Jack twice. If it gets a few high-wattage names in the mix on Sunday, it'll draw its share of eyeballs, even in a busy summer.

Passov: Yes, Balty has produced some great winners ... but it’s also produced Tony Manero in ‘36, Ed Furgol in ‘54 and Lee Janzen in ‘93. Nothing against Lee, who did win another U.S. Open to back it up, but that Sharp’s Non-Alcoholic beer he was touting on his hat tasted awful. Every two years, the PGA gets overlooked, because the powers that be have made it the final event to accumulate Ryder Cup points. Every putt, every shot, the broadcasters are furiously recalculating on what it means for Ryder Cup purposes. I can’t stand that. Let the PGA stand—and thrive—on its own merits. And yes, venues such as Whistling Straits, the Ocean Course at Kiawah, and even Valhalla would help. Baltusrol’s a wonderful classic, but I still think of it as a U.S. Open plodders track.

Van Sickle: The PGA gets overlooked for a lot of reasons every year and this year is no different. Baltusrol is old school but it’s not a track that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It’s a lot of long, tree-lined indistinguishable par 4s. Good course but not truly thrilling. The PGA might actually be more interesting this close to the British.

Madden: Passed over? Come on! This is the last chance for one of the new Big Three to add a 2016 major to his collection! The last opportunity for a surging Phil Mickelson to snap his winless streak! The last tuneup before golf's, uh, long-awaited return to the Olympic Games! Hey, wait, where you guys going? Guys?

5.) The American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament looked like it was quite the time in Tahoe with stars like Stephen Curry, Aaron Rodgers, Justin Timberlake and more showing up and to play and entertain the crowds all week. What’s your best story that came from playing a round with a celebrity?

Bamberger: Bill Murray told me I was sucking the life out of him.

Shipnuck: Steph Curry and I took on his dad and Warriors owner Joe Lacob in a cut-throat match at Spyglass Hill. Lacob was chirping the whole way around until Steph and I (to be honest, mostly Steph) stepped on some necks to win the back, overall, and an extravagant number of presses. In the parking lot we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries and then Lacob jumped in his car and roared off, stiffing me out of $40!

Passov: My first round with Donald Trump, we made the turn and he was going to re-stock the golf cart cooler with Diet Coke. I told him that I had become a fan of Coke Zero, and preferred it to Diet Coke. I convinced him to try one. “Hmmm ... not bad,” mused The Donald. “I still like this (Diet Coke) better.” With that, he glanced at me, and my stomach, then looked back at his own and said, “But it doesn’t seemed to have done either one of us any good.” Say what you will about the man’s politics, but truer words were never spoken.

Van Sickle: I once joined two PGA Tour players (who shall remain nameless in case the statute of limitations hasn’t expired) on the last two holes at Pebble Beach in a late-in-the-day practice round. For gambling purposes, of course. I lost $5 at the 17th and chopped my way up the 18th, fairway to left bunker to over the green, with the pro’s extra-stiff clubs. When I holed an unlikely pitch from behind the green for birdie and the win, one pro, a longtime friend, asked, “Are you really that good?” Nope. But they paid, anyway.

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