Stallings' case further highlights Tour's anti-doping inadequacy

By Rex HoggardJuly 8, 2015, 5:30 pm

On the same day the World Anti-Doping Agency announced it would begin to use “nighttime raids” to catch doping violators at the Tour de France, the Tour de PGA announced Scott Stallings was the third player suspended under the circuit’s anti-doping program.

That’s raids of racers’ compounds – at night – and Stallings, a 30-year-old father and husband who is guilty of nothing more than a simple lack of due diligence.

But the real guilt here rests with the Tour and an anti-doping policy that even seven years down the line seems to be a round peg in the square hole of professional golf.

The new face of performance-enhancing drug use for the Tour is a three-time winner who, at the urging of his doctor, walked out of a health food store with an $11 bottle of DHEA in an attempt to overcome the fatigue that had made life so difficult.

Stallings took DHEA, a precursor to testosterone production and a substance that is banned by the Tour’s anti-doping program, for about two months. He even took a Tour-administered drug test at the Humana Challenge in January while using the supplement, a test which came back negative to any violations.

And then Stallings, after realizing he may have taken a banned substance, took his story to the Tour, turning himself in on Feb. 10 to a stunned official.

“I think they’ve all waited for that moment, but it was a shock that it actually happened. It caught everyone by surprise. Especially when it came from me,” he told on Wednesday.

One of the more popular players on Tour, Stallings was arguably the last guy one would have expected to run afoul of the anti-doping program and earn himself a 90-day suspension.

“Anybody that knows Scott knows he’s not doing it to get an advantage,” Scott Brown, the 2013 Puerto Rico Open winner, said.

To many the punishment didn’t fit the crime.

"He was, in my opinion, trying to help his overall health, doing something that every other citizen in the country has the right to do, and it was taken away from him because he plays golf for a living and I don’t necessarily agree with that," Phil Mickelson said Wednesday at the Scottish Open.

“I think a month would have been totally fine,” Brown added. “If you’re doing it to gain an advantage three months is fine, but he was just trying to be healthy.”

But then the benchmark of fairness has never been a part of the Tour’s anti-doping program, which is modeled after the one used by WADA and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

In 2009, Doug Barron was suspended for one year after testing positive for supplemental testosterone and a beta-blocker, both of which were prescribed by a doctor and he was later granted therapeutic-use exemptions to use.

Stallings’ case, however, more closely resembles that of Vijay Singh’s dustup with anti-doping in 2013. Both players admitted to using a banned substance (the Fijian told Sports Illustrated); both took substances that many argue have no performance benefit if taken orally; and neither failed a drug test.

While Singh was absolved of any sanctions when WADA refined its ruling on the use of IGF-1, the banned substance he admitted to taking, Stallings will miss the rest of the season and was forced to address an extremely personal issue in a very public way.

The Tour had a chance to deviate from the anti-doping world dogma with a player who was clearly not trying to gain a competitive advantage, but instead clung to a notion that drives PED use in other sports – if you’re not cheating you’re not trying.

It’s not as though the circuit hasn’t colored outside the lines when it comes to parts of the anti-doping policy. When the Tour introduced testing in 2008 it didn’t fully follow the WADA list of banned substances or the hallmark transparency that defines the global effort to end doping.

Instead, the Tour announces violations involving performance-enhancing drugs, however innocent they may be, yet remains mum when it comes to failed tests involving recreational drug use.

“What I don’t understand is if you are going to announce names for PED violations why not for recreational offenses?” asked Zach Johnson, a member of the Tour’s policy board when the circuit enacted its anti-doping program. “I’ve never asked.”

Now seems like an opportune time to ask. Now also seems like an opportune time to address the key differences between golf and other Olympic sports.

Stallings said his decision to turn himself in was no different than if his golf ball moved in the rough. While there was no competitive gain and no one around to witness the infraction, that’s not the way golf works.

Referees don’t carry flags in golf, players do.

“There is a character and honesty element in golf that is different from other sports,” Johnson said. “It’s not better or worse, just different.”

A day removed from the announcement Stallings maintained his path on the high road, taking responsibility for his actions and looking ahead to next season and the health challenges that lay ahead.

He paused for a moment when asked if there was a lesson to be learned from his predicament.

“Do your due diligence,” said Stallings, who plans to have surgery on Friday that he hopes will help him sleep better and alleviate his fatigue. “Don’t take anything for granted. Whether we agree with it or not – it’s not our job to justify it – it’s our job to follow those rules. At the end of the day we’re responsible for our actions.”

Never before has the distinction between golf and other Olympics sports been so profound. Lance Armstrong would never “self-report” a doping violation, which at least partially explains the night raids in France. It’s a dramatically different reality that may require a dramatically different approach to anti-doping.

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Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from a trip to Augusta.

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquinn Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is likely poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.