PGA Tour's integrity questioned

AKRON, Ohio -- Among Dustin Johnson's eight PGA Tour victories was a win last fall in China, an impressive showing at the WGC-HSBC Championship that kick-started an impressive 2013-14 season. Johnson was humming along with more than $4 million in earnings and status as one of the top American players.

Nobody would have been surprised to see him notch his first major title next week at the PGA Championship, but Johnson won't be at Valhalla in Louisville, Kentucky, where the rest of the game's greats will convene for the fourth major championship of the year.

He announced a leave of absence on Thursday, and then on Friday, Golf.com followed with the bombshell report that his absence is due to a failed drug test that involved cocaine. According to a source that the website did not identify, it is the third time that Johnson has failed such a test, and he is being suspended for six months.

And of course, not a peep from the PGA Tour.


The story first broke early Friday afternoon, and PGA Tour vice president Ty Votaw initially told ESPN that "the Tour does not comment on rumors and speculation." And that is in keeping with the tour's stance to never comment on any kind of disciplinary matters.

Then hours later, the PGA Tour released another statement, saying that "Mr. Johnson has taken a voluntary leave of absence and is not under a suspension from the PGA Tour."

So what's the policy?

Do you comment on suspensions or don't you?

And if the report was egregious, why would the tour -- or Johnson's representatives -- not scream at the top of its lungs, crying foul?

Typically, the answer is so rehearsed there is little need to ask.

If a player is fined for dropping an F-bomb, there is no disclosure. Slow play? Same thing. A failed drug test? You got it.

The only exception: if a player failed a performance-enhancing drug test, which has happened exactly once in the six-year-plus history of the tour's drug-testing program.


The PGA Tour has long been chastised for its lack of transparency in these matters, and while a fine for cussing might not be worth telling the world about, a failed drug test that results in a player being sent to the sideline for any length of time and kept from competing is absolutely information that should be disclosed.

Johnson is ranked 16th in the world and would have been a key member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team next month. He is a fan favorite, fun to watch, drawing the praise of none other than Tiger Woods, who is awed by the length Johnson can hit a golf ball.

Given the conflicting reports that are out there, it's fair to wonder if the two sides came to some agreement to call it a voluntary leave.

Could you imagine the NFL trying to keep secret the recent Ray Rice suspension? So why does the PGA Tour believe it is above such disclosure to its fans and sponsors?

Commissioner Tim Finchem has been asked about this numerous times, and the response is always similar to this 2009 answer he gave at the season-opening tournament in Hawaii, when the subject was John Daly and a suspension he received -- learned only because Daly said so.

"Why don't we talk about it or give out the details? One, we don't feel like people really care that much," Finchem said. "We don't get emails from fans saying, 'Why don't you tell us.' So we don't think there's this hunger for that information. Two, candidly, we don't have that much of it, and we don't want to remind people about it."


So in November, when the HSBC Champions rolls around, and Johnson is a potential no-show because of the alleged suspension, we're all supposed to believe that he simply decided not to play?

It's insulting, and should be to any fan or sponsor who supports the game.

On another occasion, Finchem was asked about recreational drug use by players and its potential problems.

"We don't publicize those," the commissioner said. "We treat those as conduct unbecoming. I'm not saying this has happened or not. I'm just saying what the process is. If we get a test like that, we will consider it conduct unbecoming, and what are our choices? We can suspend a player, we can fine a player, can we do both of those and put a player into treatment. We could also add to that regular testing."

Just not tell anybody -- which might help send a lesson to deter the behavior.

Few care about the little wrist slaps the tour hands out because a player swears or throws a club or misses some function. Well, maybe in the case of Tiger Woods, who has probably provided a decent amount of petty cash for the tour office based on some not-too-subtle outbursts heard on the airwaves.

But anything that has to do with the competition itself should be announced. Instead, here comes a press release about the official mattress of the PGA Tour!

Slow play is not as serious as a drug-related issue, but it is a blight on the game. Players are routinely fined for a series of bad timings. Wouldn't public disclosure -- and perhaps the ridicule that comes with it -- help get players moving faster?

In Johnson's case, if the Golf.com report is accurate, he had two previous failed drug tests: for marijuana in 2009 and for cocaine in 2012. That suggests some issues for one of the game's top players. In 2012, Johnson missed three months with what was then announced as a back injury. Now it's fair to wonder if he was suspended.

Perhaps he would have gotten the help back then that he announced on Thursday if -- had he been suspended -- fans and sponsors were aware he was forced to take his clubs and go home, not allowed to make a living, maybe having to suffer some criticism.

You think Rice hasn't been shamed by the very public nature of his case with the NFL?

This is the biggest blight on Finchem's otherwise sterling 20-year tenure as the PGA Tour commissioner. His attitude is that what us golf geeks don't know won't hurt us. Friday's late flip-flop on what the tour will and won't say certainly doesn't help matters. It's sloppy.

If the tour had a policy like every other major sports league, there would be no reason to doubt a player who decides to take a leave, or is gone from the game due to injury.

Instead, it forces all of those involved in the process to perpetuate lies. Quiet please. Nothing to see here.

"Tour policy that does not announce when a player has been suspended makes it difficult for that player's agent to maintain his integrity," said veteran PGA Tour player Bob Estes via Twitter on Friday.

The same could be said for the PGA Tour.