NAPA, Calif. -- Stepping onto the tee for the first time in more than three months was a bit like starting his career as a rookie. The excitement of hearing his name called. The rush of competition. The feeling that this was a new part of Scott Stallings' life.
The most recent part certainly wasn't any fun.
Stallings, 30, is a three-time winner on the PGA Tour and is playing the Frys.com Open after a three-month suspension for taking performance-enhancing drugs.
As harsh as that sounds, Stallings said he never tested positive despite twice taking random tests under the PGA Tour's drug testing program after a doctor prescribed a supplement to fight lingering fatigue. As it turned out, Stallings had a form of sleep apnea and underwent surgery in July.
Now he's trying to get his game back while also hoping that his situation might help others who have health issues and mistakenly take something that is on the banned substance list. Stallings was just the third player suspended since the PGA Tour enacted the policy in 2008.
"Obviously that situation was ridiculous,'' Stallings said at the Silverado Resort, where he is playing his first tournament since the Greenbrier Classic in June. He ended up 3-over after the second round of the Frys.com Open and missed the cut. "But it definitely gave me a new perspective. I never took golf for granted, but I don't think I realized how much I really truly love it out here and I want to have an opportunity to be out here for a long time."
Stallings said he took an over-the-counter supplement called DHEA, an anabolic agent that is considered a precursor to testosterone production. It is banned by the PGA Tour, and Stallings admits his mistake was not going through the process of finding out if it was allowed.
Stallings said he alerted tour officials in February that he had taken 25 mg oral pills -- "they were $10.58," he said -- and wasn't told until late March that by admitting he had taken a banned substance, he would be subject to the tour's anti-doping penalties.
It wasn't until July that he was handed a 90-day suspension, which he began serving immediately, with the idea to use the time to get his health in order.
"I think the way I handle myself out here, my fellow players fully understand. We call penalties on ourselves when we mess up. I'm not vengeful. I understand what the tour did. I don't agree with it. I just think there should be a little more accountability on both sides." Scott Stallings
Stallings was not happy with how the matter was handled by the tour. He understands that it was his fault for not checking, but under the tour's policy, neither the drug nor any details are disclosed, just that he had violated the PED rules. He felt it could possibly hurt his integrity.
"When I went down this whole road, golf wasn't even a question,'' he said. "I felt awful. I had no idea what was going on. From September of last year until May, I had my blood drawn 41 times. Golf is just not a priority. You're out here playing and doing the best you can but you're not clicking. Whether it was the suspension or surgery, I needed to get away from the game and take care of myself.
"But I wish I could have gone off on my terms. I hope it opened the door to more transparency with the tour and this won't happen to anybody else. It was very unfortunate. It needs to be better. If we have a player who has a health issue, we need to stick beside him and not think he is trying to get an edge."
As is the PGA Tour's policy, officials would not comment on any aspect of the case, other than the statement released at the time of Stallings' suspension in which the tour acknowledged that Stallings self-reported the violation.
According to Stallings, the dosage he was taking would have never been close to triggering an positive test. He said he was tested twice after taking the supplement and passed both tests. Typically, he said, triggering the amount needed to gain an athletic advantage would require taking DHEA via injection.
None of that, however, helped Stallings get to the bottom of his issues. Finally he saw a doctor at UCLA who put him through multiple tests including a sleep study and a CAT scan of his head.
"I thought I had a fairly significant issue," Stallings said. "I'd sleep for 10 hours, wake up and go right back to bed. No energy level. I went out there [to UCLA] to make sure I didn't have something life-threatening, and they had me go through about 10 tests."
Stallings said he was diagnosed with obstructive apnea. He had surgery on July 28 in Knoxville, Tennessee -- where he lives -- which included a tonsillectomy, the removal of the uvula and sinus reconstruction.
You'd never know now that Stallings had endured any of that, but he admitted eating in the aftermath was as bad as any of the symptoms.
"The best way to describe it is imagine taking those little tack nails, coating them in acid and trying to eat them,'' he said. "My throat hurt so bad."
Hitting a few bad shots now that he is back on tour is unlikely to bother Stallings too much. He plans to play as much as possible during this six-week stretch to start the new season, including next week's Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas.
As for any stigma that might be attached to his name, Stallings is hoping that his story will help others and possibly lead to changes.
"I think the way I handle myself out here, my fellow players fully understand,'' he said. "We call penalties on ourselves when we mess up. I'm not vengeful. I understand what the tour did. I don't agree with it. I just think there should be a little more accountability on both sides.
"I'm not sitting here throwing stones at the tour. I'm very happy with the opportunity they provide. But I do think what happened to me should open the door to doing this better. Guys should not be fearful about taking things for their health. You should have the opportunity to live a normal life."