The timing of Dustin Johnson’s announcement that he was “taking a leave of absence from professional golf, effective immediately” surprised many, but it was the context of his statement that will likely draw the most scrutiny.
In a two-paragraph release, Johnson referenced “personal challenges” that he was facing and his plan to commit “(t)he time and resources necessary to improve my mental health, physical well-being and emotional foundation, I am confident that I will be better equipped to fulfill my potential and become a consistent champion.”
Some PGA Tour observers have speculated that Johnson had violated the circuit’s anti-doping policy and his absence was Tour imposed, but neither Johnson nor the Tour indicated that was the case.
In a statement the Tour would say only, “We have nothing to add to Dustin’s statement. But wish him well and look forward to his return to the PGA Tour in the future.”
It is the Tour’s policy to announce violations of the anti-doping policy if the substance is considered performance enhancing, like it did in 2013 when Vijay Singh admitted to using a banned substance in a Sports Illustrated article.
Suspensions stemming from recreational drug violations, however, are not made public, like in the case of Matt Every, who was arrested in 2010 on a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession. Every later announced he had been suspended for three months for “conduct unbecoming a professional,” but the Tour declined to comment citing, its longstanding policy on player matters.
In November 2013, Singh, who is suing the Tour over his suspension, which was later lifted, filed a motion in New York Supreme Court asking for any information “related to any positive tests by any golfer for any substance listed as a banned substance under the program, (and) any discipline imposed,” including anything related to a “possible or actual violation of the program,” by five current or former Tour players, including Johnson.
When Johnson missed more than 11 weeks because of an injury in 2012, some speculated it was because of a suspension stemming from a possible violation of the anti-doping policy, but the player’s manager with Hambric Sports, David Winkle, told CBSSports.com, “Dustin is not serving a drug suspension. I will make it clear, he has been injured. He is playing golf again; he is very rusty but champing at the bit to get back out there.”
In a December Q&A with GolfChannel.com's Jason Sobel, Johnson addressed being mentioned in Singh's lawsuit, saying: "There’s nothing I can really say. I don’t know why he would call me out. Obviously, he’s in a situation where he’s looking to better himself somehow, but there’s nothing there." When asked if he had ever been punished or reprimanded for any violation, Johnson replied: "No."
In his statement, Johnson gave no indication when he may return to the Tour but informed PGA of America officials the he will not play the Ryder Cup in September.