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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sixth player suspended by the Tour for violating the anti-doping policy, although Vijay Singh’s suspension was later rescinded.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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OB tee shot, bunker trouble dooms Rahm to MC

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:24 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The key to surviving Carnoustie is avoiding the bunkers.

Jon Rahm found three bunkers to close out the front nine Friday, the start of a triple bogey-double-bogey run that led to a second-round 78 and missed cut at The Open.

“All of them were as bad a lie as they could have been,” he said. “Besides that, things didn’t happen. I can’t give an explanation, really. I don’t know.”

Rahm’s troubles started on the seventh hole, a par 4 with a steady left-to-right wind. Out of bounds loomed left, and Rahm, who primarily plays a cut shot, hadn’t missed left all week. This time, his ball didn’t curve, and the OB tee shot led to a triple.

“Whenever I start missing shots to the left,” he said, “it’s really hard for me to play.”  

After a career-best fourth-place finish at the Masters, Rahm has now missed the cut in consecutive majors.

“Right now I’m not in any mental state to think about what happened, to be honest,” he said.

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Three of world's top 5 MC; not 60-year-old Langer

By Mercer BaggsJuly 20, 2018, 7:04 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Three of the top five players in the world missed the cut at The Open.

Bernhard Langer did not.

The 60-year-old, who is in the field via his victory in last year’s Senior Open Championship, shot even-par 71 on Friday. At 2 over through 36 holes, he safely made it under the plus-3 cut line.

"You know, I've played the Masters [this year], made the cut. I'm here and made the cut. I think it is an accomplishment," he said. "There's a lot of great players in the field, and I've beaten a lot of very good players that are a lot younger than me."

Langer had three birdies and three bogeys in the second round and said afterwards that he was “fighting myself” with his swing. He’s spent the last few days on the phone with his swing coach, Willy Hoffman, trying to find some comfort.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Despite his score, and his made cut, Langer the perfectionist wasn’t satisfied with the way he went about achieving his results.

"I wasn't happy with my ball-striking. My putting was good, but I was unlucky. I had like four lip-outs, no lip-ins. That part was good. But the ball-striking, I wasn't really comfortable with my swing," he said. "Just, it's always tough trying stuff in the middle of a round."

Langer, a two-time Masters champion, has never won The Open. He does, however, have six top-3 finishes in 30 prior starts.

As for finishing higher than some of the top-ranked players in the world, the World Golf Hall of Famer is taking it in stride.

"I'm not going to look and say, 'Oh, I beat Justin Rose or beat whatever.' But it just shows it's not easy. When some of the top 10 or top 20 in the world don't make the cut, it just shows that the setup is not easy," Langer said. "So I got the better half of the draw maybe, too, right? It wasn't much fun playing in the rain, I guess, this morning for five hours. I had to practice in the rain, but I think once I teed off, we never used umbrellas. So that was a blessing."

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Kisner doubles 18, defends not laying up

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 6:42 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It was only fitting that Jean Van de Velde was there working as an on-course reporter on Friday as Kevin Kisner struggled his way up Carnoustie’s 18th fairway.

Rolling along with a two-stroke lead, Kisner’s 8-iron approach shot from an awkward lie in the rough from 160 yards squirted right and bounced into Barry Burn, the winding creek where Van de Velde’s title chances at the 1999 Open Championship began to erode.

Unlike Van de Velde, who made a triple bogey-7 and lost The Open in a playoff, Kisner’s double bogey only cost him the solo lead and he still has 36 holes to make his closing miscue a distant memory. That’s probably why the 34-year-old seemed at ease with his plight.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It just came out like a high flop shot to the right. It was weird. I don't know if it caught something or what happened,” said Kisner, who was tied with Zach Johnson and Zander Lombard at 6 under par. “You never know out of that grass. It was in a different grass than usual. It was wet, green grass instead of the brown grass. So I hadn't really played from that too much.”

Like most in this week’s field Kisner also understands that rounds on what is widely considered the most difficult major championship venue can quickly unravel even with the most innocent of mistakes.

“To play 35 holes without a double I thought was pretty good,” he said. “I've kept the ball in play, done everything I wanted to do all the way up into that hole. Just one of those things that came out completely different than we expected. I'll live with that more than chipping out and laying up from 20 feet.”

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Wind, not rain more a weekend factor at Open

By Mercer BaggsJuly 20, 2018, 6:39 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – After a half-day of rain in Round 2 of the 147th Open Championship, the weekend offers a much drier forecast.

Saturday at Carnoustie is projected to be mostly cloudy with a high of 62 degrees and only a 20 percent chance of rain.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Sunday calls for much warmer conditions, with temperatures rising upwards of 73 degrees under mostly cloudy skies.

Wind might be the only element the players have to factor in over the final 36 holes. While the winds will be relatively calm on Saturday, expected around 10-15 mph, they could increase to 25 mph in the final round.