Tour's silent strategy a double-edged sword


AKRON, Ohio – In a wild 48-hour period during which Dustin Johnson announced a self-imposed leave of absence from professional golf, followed by a report alleging he’s been suspended for six months, then followed by a PGA Tour statement denying that report, the latest news cycle has turned into an increasingly public game of “To Tell the Truth.”

Much of the confusion stems from the PGA Tour’s lack of transparency when it comes to announcing punitive measures.

When the story first broke, Tour executives only offered up the usual rhetoric: They won’t comment on matters of player conduct. Which only led to more of a head-scratcher when, on Friday afternoon, the organization did just that by denying the initial report.

This long-standing policy was first enacted in an effort to not only protect the Tour's image, but those of its players. In an age where every other major professional sports association publicly announces punishments, the executives in Ponte Vedra Beach cling to this outdated notion.

Changing this policy would be beneficial because such transparency could thwart future attempts to violate any rules. The theory goes: If a player earns a public reputation for a specific violation, he's less likely to commit that act again than if it's swept under the rug and kept a secret.

Another reason for transparency is exactly what we're witnessing in the case of Johnson right now – and apparently the PGA Tour agrees.

By issuing its statement, the Tour is basically telling us that it won’t comment on player suspensions ... but it will comment on player non-suspensions, as the case may be.

That's the irony of the policy. It's meant to protect players who have been suspended or fined, yet it's guilty of the very opposite when no violation has been committed. As the Tour's legal staff undoubtedly understands, they can't remain mum on punishments while willfully offering up information when a player hasn't been punished. As Tour winner Bob Estes tweeted Thursday night, "I think this is that point in time where the Tour's silence does more harm than good."

Now that the silence is broken, perhaps it will set a new precedent. Maybe this will finally lead to more transparency when it comes to these situations.

For players who miss a tournament or take a leave of absence without suspension, it’s unfair to be subject to such speculation. For those who have, it’s time for public admissions rather than private confidentialities.

That’s the policy in every other major professional sports association. It should be good enough for the PGA Tour, as well.