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Fritsch returns from suspension, but drug policy still flawed

By Rex HoggardMarch 7, 2018, 1:57 pm

At the Monday qualifier for this week’s Valspar Championship, Brad Fritsch shot 5-over 77, a round that most players would rather forget.

But for Fritsch all 77 strokes were meaningful. Although he finished well outside the top 4 qualifiers who earned a spot into this week’s field, simply having the chance to tee it up at Southern Hills Plantation in Brooksville, Fla., was a reason to celebrate.

Monday’s qualifier was Fritsch’s first official PGA Tour-sanctioned round since being suspended on Jan. 8 for violating the circuit’s anti-doping policy.

Fritsch told that he spent his time away from golf with his family, practiced when the weather allowed and occasionally checked social media.

“On Twitter the responses [to his suspension] were 99.9 percent positive,” said Fritsch, who also participated in last weekend’s Puerto Rico Open charity event. “The way the news came out and the way I presented my story, people appreciated it.”

Fritsch, who, when his suspension was announced, took to social media to explain his situation, never made any excuses. He never blamed the system or attempted to avoid responsibility. Nor did he ever fail one of the Tour’s mandated drug tests.

Fritsch turned himself in when he discovered a supplement he was taking to lose weight (BioSom) contained DHEA, an over-the-counter anabolic agent that is the precursor to testosterone production and banned by the Tour.

“It was my own fault,” he acknowledged.

Fritsch became the sixth player suspended by the Tour for violating the anti-doping policy, although Vijay Singh’s suspension was later rescinded. Of that half dozen, there is a pattern that has emerged.

Just two of those players – Doug Barron (2009) and Bhavik Patel (2015), a Tour member – would qualify as anything close to bona fide violations. Barron failed a drug test and in a statement following his suspension Patel referred to a “lapse of judgment.”

But Singh, Mark Hensby, Scott Stallings and now Fritsch would all fall into more non-traditional categories.

Singh admitted in an article to taking deer-antler spray, which contained trace elements of IGF-1, which is on the Tour’s list of banned substances but is not considered a violation without a positive drug test.

In 2017, Hensby was suspended for a year when he declined to take a drug test at the Sanderson Farms Championship. And Stallings – well this is where things really get surreal – was suspended for 90 days for taking DHEA, which he self-reported.

Sound familiar?

It’s what makes Fritsch’s brush with the anti-doping policy so puzzling because for the second time in less than three years an innocent mistake involving the same substance cost a player.

“My situation and Brad’s were similar, the Tour sets a policy and we’re supposed to abide by it, but Brad would probably tell you he’s not in the greatest shape and when I was going through my health issues I definitely wasn’t either,” Stallings said. “We clearly weren’t trying to gain any kind of advantage on our peers. We were trying to do things we needed to do to live a normal life.”

After three months of reflection, Fritsch said he had “nothing negative” to say about the Tour’s performance-enhancing drug policy; although, like many players he believes parts of the banned list, which is pulled from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list, could be better tailored to golf.

“I’d like to see us get away from the list we have,” Fritsch said. “So much is for fast-twitch sports. To think Sudafed [pseudoephedrine] is on the list is strange to me.”

Stallings, however, has taken a slightly more analytical approach to the Tour’s policy. It still stings the three-time Tour winner that despite multiple tests, both blood and urine, he’d taken at the Mayo Clinic while he was taking DHEA that indicated no doping, he was still suspended.

“I asked, ‘How can you take something that’s banned and pass [multiple] tests?’ I was just trying to understand why we have it in the policy, because not only did I pass your test but I went and paid for the Mayo Clinic to run an Olympic test – blood and urine – and I passed that,” Stallings said. “I asked for a meeting, and walked in and was handed a letter telling me I was suspended and [then-Tour commissioner Tim] Finchem looked at me directly and said, ‘I believe you were trying to gain an advantage.’”

Like Fritsch, Stallings took full responsibility for his actions despite the fact that a doctor had advised him to take DHEA. At this point, it’s not about guilt or innocence as much as it is an attempt to understand a policy that can be downright Draconian.

The Tour’s anti-doping policy can be confusing and, as evidenced by at least four of the six suspensions doled out since the circuit began testing in 2008, can lead to unfortunate violations.

Perhaps the biggest concern is that the policy is not entirely transparent. Violations involving what are considered performance-enhancing substances are made public, but not recreational violations.

There’s also a question of selective enforcement.

According to the policy, “The Commissioner, in consultation with the program administrator, shall consider any information submitted by the player and shall then decide whether to go forward with an anti-doping rule violation against the player.”

This is one of the key elements of Singh’s lawsuit against the Tour, which was filed in New York Supreme Court in 2013 and claimed, among other things, disparate treatment of players under the policy.

“There’s not a perfect scenario that works, but as long as the policy still grants the commissioner discretion to do whatever he wants, the policy is irrelevant to me,” Stallings said. “They can say they are WADA compliant, but when that caveat is in there it throws a grey area over the whole thing.”

Drug testing in golf, which holds itself to a higher standard than other sports, was always going to be an awkward fit, and as Stallings correctly points out there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.