Patel's PED violation raises more questions for Tour's testing policies

By Rex HoggardJanuary 14, 2015, 6:41 pm

Doug Barron can finally give up the infamous title he was saddled with in the fall of 2009. No longer is the former journeyman alone atop the PGA Tour’s anti-doping hit list.

On Wednesday the circuit announced that Bhavik Patel, a Web.com Tour member who has never played a PGA Tour event, had become the second player suspended for violating the performance-enhancing drugs policy.

Barron, you may recall, was bounced for a year for a variety of violations that stemmed from a low testosterone level and severe panic disorder, while Patel began his suspension on Oct. 7 for what appears to be a bona fide violation.

“In an effort to overcome an injury, I made a lapse of judgment. I regret my decision but have learned from the experience and look forward to returning to competition,” Patel said in a statement released by the Tour.

Unlike Barron, who was later granted a therapeutic use exemption for at least one of the substances that caused his suspension, and Vijay Singh, who was initially sanctioned when he admitted to taking a banned substance in 2013 but was later absolved when the World Anti-Doping Agency reversed its decision on the use of IGF-1, Patel appears to have run afoul of the anti-doping policy for all the wrong reasons.

Not that those reasons are particularly clear at the moment, which leads to even bigger concerns involving the Tour’s anti-doping program that go well beyond a lone pair of non-descript violators.

Whatever it is Patel did to warrant his one-year suspension remains unknown. Although the Tour’s original PED manual in 2008 stated, "... the PGA Tour will, at a minimum, publish the name of the player, the anti-doping rule violation, and the sanction imposed,” for a performance-enhancing violation, that policy was amended in January 2009 when “the anti-doping violation” wording was removed from the policy.

However subtle the reworded policy may seem, it only serves to further extend a cloak of secrecy that has defined the anti-doping program since its inception.

The radio silence is particularly concerning following reports last fall that Dustin Johnson had been suspended for six months following a third failed drug test. The Tour’s policy is to not comment on violations involving recreational drugs (the Golf.com report stated Johnson tested positive for cocaine according to an unnamed source), but the Tour later sent out a release clarifying, “Johnson has taken a voluntary leave of absence and is not under suspension from the PGA Tour.”

It’s exactly the kind of obfuscation an anti-doping policy is designed to avoid, particularly for a sport that is less than two years away from returning to the Olympics.

In fact, it’s likely the 2016 Games prompted the Tour to double its efforts to weed out violators.

In a little over a year each country’s Olympic committee will submit a list of potential golfers to play the Games at which time those athletes will be subject to testing through WADA, which doesn’t hold a player’s privacy in as high regard as the Tour.

A recent Reuters story pointed out the significant differences between the Tour’s anti-doping program versus WADA’s program and a recent move to help educate potential Olympic golfers.

“What's going to be key is a full understanding of the differences, how that impacts a clean player and making sure a clean player has an opportunity to be successful,” U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) chief Travis Tygart told Reuters.

“The WADA code has things like the beta-2s (agonists that are used to treat asthma and other pulmonary disorders) that are going to be different than what the current (PGA Tour) list looks like.”

To Tygart’s point consider that the WADA code is rather clear on the publication of violations, stating, “The anti-doping organization responsible for results management must publicly report the disposition of the anti-doping matter including the sport, the anti-doping rule violated, the name of the athlete or other person committing the violation, the prohibited substance or prohibited method involved and the consequences imposed.”

With few exceptions, the Tour has followed the WADA code and has largely deferred to the agency in its ongoing lawsuit with Singh, but when it comes to public disclosure, something the circuit has always been adverse to, it has deviated in a crucial way.

If transparency is what Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., is vying for so be it, but Wednesday’s announcement only served to leave a cloud of more uncertainty.

Perhaps Patel’s violation is a sign of increased scrutiny by the Tour, but after six years and untold thousands of tests (each player is reportedly tested twice a year) the circuit’s anti-doping efforts have yielded a grand total of two violators – the 971st-ranked player in the world, who appears to have taken a mystery substance to recover from injury, and a forty-something journeyman whose most egregious violation seems to have been an aversion to the proper paperwork.

Despite six years of trial and error, the Tour seems to be missing the key component of an affective testing program – transparency.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.


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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x