Disclosing doping violations step toward transparency

By Rex HoggardJune 20, 2017, 11:25 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – When newly-minted PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan sat down with a group of golf writers earlier this year in Hawaii, one of the first things he was asked about was the circuit’s policy regarding the publication of fines or suspensions.

“I think the system works,” he reasoned. “I know there is a desire to know everything that happens, but we’re a family. If there is an issue in your family you deal with it with your family. That has worked really well for us.”

The family became a little more transparent on Tuesday when the Tour announced it would begin announcing violations of the circuit’s anti-doping program that include “drugs of abuse,” like marijuana and cocaine.

Since the circuit’s anti-doping program began in 2008, the policy has been to announce violations that lead to suspensions for drugs that were deemed performance enhancing, like steroids and testosterone, but not recreational or drugs of abuse. If the new policy is a dramatic and somewhat surprising change of course, the motivation behind the shift is still somewhat unclear.

“The more transparent you are the better,” said Jason Bohn, one of four player directors on the policy board. “The more honest you are it leads to no speculation. It’s straight out in front of you. Other sports do it, this is what happened.”

While the Tour’s new policy may be a step in the right direction, it’s only a step. Unlike violations that involve performance-enhancing drugs, the commissioner still has leeway in cases involving drugs of abuse. Monahan can decide to fine or require counseling and not suspend a player who tested positive for recreational drugs, and therefore the violation would never be made public.

But even with that proviso, the new rule is a vast improvement over the old line, which held that if a tree fell in the woods, the public and press would never hear it.

Over the years, that kind of obfuscation only led to wild speculation, both among traditional media and now on social platforms, if a player took an extended leave from the Tour. The hope is the new policy will end that kind of rumor-mongering.

“We didn’t want the possibility with social media and things to create a story that wasn’t even there,” Bohn said. “By being transparent it’s right there in front of everybody.”

Internally, this seems to have been a compromise between those in the old guard who held that the Tour must protect the brand at all costs and a growing sentiment among players for clarity.

To be clear, this was not a bold move by the new commissioner to make his mark on the Tour.

“This has been talked about way before Jay,” said Bohn, of the new commissioner who took office in January. “We’ve talked about this for many years.”

The policy changes seemed to gain momentum earlier this year when Tour officials presented the plan to the policy board and 16-member player advisory council at the Farmers Insurance Open.



What exactly prompted the change depends on who you ask. According to Bohn, the Tour came to the players and asked their opinion and the vast majority were in favor of a little more transparency.

“The thinking changed because it was approached way more by the players. They put it in front of the players and the PAC, they talked about it and we had multiple meetings and discussed it and they were asked how they feel about it?” Bohn said. “Management saw that guys think this is a good idea. They felt like they were trying to protect us, which is nice from a management point of view, but once the players kind of spoke and said this is a better way to protect us they opened their ears.”

An informal and unscientific poll of players on Tuesday at the Travelers Championship, however, provided a slightly different snapshot. There were certainly plenty of players who applauded the move as long overdue.

“You break the rules, we’re going to enforce them and if you break them you should be held accountable,” Lucas Glover said. “If there is a penalty or a fine it all should be announced. If I snap my 3-wood on 15 because I hit a bad tee shot and I get fined for it, I would hope they would announce it because they probably showed it on TV.”

And there were those who seemed to have come around on the new policy somewhat begrudgingly.

“I’m not big on that completely, I’m 50/50,” said Geoff Ogilvy, a member of the player advisory council. “Transparency when it comes to drugs of dependence [abuse], in some ways I don’t think it’s anyone’s business, at least outside of the Tour, and on the other hand, it might just put the nail in the coffin and convince players not to do it.”

Ogilvy also had a different take on why the Tour came to such a surprising crossroads.

“You guys [the media],” Ogilvy said when asked what prompted the Tour’s change of course. “You guys win when it gets announced because more people read your stories. If a conduct issue happens that no one knows about, as long as it is dealt with I’m not 100 percent sure everyone needs to know that.”

The idea that improved transparency, however qualified, could serve as a more powerful deterrent than fines or Tour-imposed treatment programs could, in theory, be applied to all of the circuit’s disciplinary policies.

Would it not help speed up the play of some of the Tour’s more sluggish members if the circuit started publishing a weekly list of players who had been fined for slow play?

“That would be awesome,” Billy Hurley III said. “It’s an added deterrent for things, but I’m in the top of the Tour in pace of play. You’re seeing our sport evolve and governance evolve, but I don’t know.”

While there are probably plenty of players who agree with Hurley, it doesn’t appear as if the Tour’s new spirit of transparency transcends the rulebook. Asked if Tuesday’s announcement could open the door for more changes to the Tour’s don’t-ask-because-we’re-not-telling protocol, Bohn smiled.

“Business wise, I don’t think so,” Bohn said. “I don’t think it should, to be honest.”

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

BORN IN 1912

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


BORN IN 1949

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


BORN IN 1955

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


EUROPE'S BIG 5

Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


BORN IN 1980

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.