My Shot: Why Tour Players Are Getting Testy

My Shot: Why Tour Players Are Getting Testy

Finchem (with Trevor Immelman) is accused of ignoring the pros.
Sam Greenwood/

Paul Azinger knows George Bush, the elder. He remembers the old Saturday Night Live bit about the former president, with Dana Carvey squinting and saying, “Not gonna do it — wouldn’t be prudent.” Azinger is the American Ryder Cup captain. He realizes he shouldn’t get in the commissioner’s face or dis the new drug policy (which will take effect in July) or talk about players organizing. Wouldn’t be prudent. Not now, anyway.

Yet the words gurgle out of him. He says, “They want us to pee into a cup with our trousers at our ankles and our shirts hiked up our chests with some guy watching us to make sure we don’t have a jar of urine taped to our leg.” He’d like to stop, but he can’t. “It’s so degrading.”

One minute turns into 45. “If you polled the players, you’d find 95 percent of them think the time has come to have mandatory drug testing,” Azinger says. “Zero percent would say we’re doing it the right way.”

Worker discontent has always led to talk of unions. Azinger doesn’t like the u word. He’s a Rush Limbaugh guy. Many of the lodge brothers are. “This is the kind of thing that could push for a real players’ association to speak with one voice,” Azinger says. “[PGA Tour commissioner] Tim [Finchem] is ignoring us. He has his own agenda.” That agenda, in the gospel according to Paul, is to satisfy the Tour’s nine-man policy board, only four of whom are Tour players. That board signs off on Finchem’s pay package, which is reportedly more than $5 million a year, nearly four times more than Azinger made on Tour in his best year.

Azinger has no problem with the compensation. Azinger’s problem — and why he says you can hear the phrase collective bargaining on the driving range these days — is with the Tour’s new drug-testing procedures, the list of prohibited drugs and the commissioner’s wide discretion in punishing, or not, players who fail the tests. “Is marijuana a performance-enhancing drug?” Azinger asks. “I doubt it. It’s already illegal. You don’t need it on the list. If you get arrested for pot, that’s already covered [in the Player Handbook & Tournament Regulations], under Conduct Unbecoming A Professional. Tim’s trying to protect our image, but he’s putting our image at risk.”

Ty Votaw, a PGA Tour executive vice president, said last week that Finchem and Tour officials received input from the golfers, through the 16-man Player Advisory Council, before the policy board voted to adopt Olympic drug-testing rules. He also said Tour officials are available at each tournament to explain every arcane element of the testing program. Votaw said the players have no need to unionize because “the PGA Tour already is a players’ association. It has been since 1968, when Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer broke away from the PGA of America and started the modern Tour.”

Azinger’s not feeling the love, or the solidarity. “Tim answers to his board,” he says. “We answer to our money list.”

Azinger’s bold. But not a revolutionary. Not for now. He wants to use his boldness first to secure an American victory in the Ryder Cup, crown jewel of the PGA of America. Along the way, Captain Paul is looking for every possible edge and advantage he can find. Legal ones only, of course.