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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 GolfChannel.com 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sixth player suspended by the Tour for violating the anti-doping policy, although Vijay Singh’s suspension was later rescinded.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 Web.com 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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A plan to avoid U.S. Open setup snafus

By Rex HoggardJune 20, 2018, 3:39 pm

It happened again.

It was an inexplicable turn of events after a decade and a half of vehement assurances that this U.S. Open would be different. In the months leading up to the 118th championship, USGA CEO Mike Davis explained that this time the technology was better and many contended that the association was better.

In 2004, the last time the U.S. Open traveled to the East End of Long Island things didn’t go well, with Shinnecock Hills’ greens going dark and dusty for a final round Davis called a “double bogey” for the association.

To be fair, last week’s sequel wasn’t that extreme - let’s call it a bogey - but it was no less baffling.

“It’s more the course, about how they set it up. Because Saturday was a total, it was like two different golf courses, practically, on the greens Saturday versus Sunday,” Jason Day said of last week’s U.S. Open. “I just wish they would leave it alone and just let it go. Not saying to let the greens go and let them dry out and make it unfair, I’m just saying plan accordingly and hopefully whatever the score finishes, it finishes, whether it’s under par or over par.”

There will be those who contend that Day and Co. - Ian Poulter was also a harsh critic - should simply toughen up, that demanding conditions are the price that must be paid if you want to win the U.S. Open. But that ignores the facts and the USGA’s own assessment.

“There were some aspects today where well-executed shots were not rewarded. We missed it with the wind,” Davis said on Saturday. “We don’t want that. The firmness was OK but it was too much with the wind we had. It was probably too tough this afternoon – a tale of two courses.”



The USGA missed it, again.

Perhaps this is the cost of wanting to play a golf course on the razor’s edge, where just a few warm gusts define the line between demanding but fair and over the top. Or maybe this is an issue of continuity.

Every year the R&A holds a championship and nearly every year we spend the days afterward celebrating a champion, not complaining about an unfair course or an incorrect weather forecast.

There are philosophical differences between the USGA and R&A when it comes to golf course setup, with our transatlantic friends wired to accept relatively easier conditions if the wind doesn’t blow. But maybe the R&A gets it right more often than not because each year they deal with a known quantity.

There are currently nine courses (assuming Turnberry returns to the fold some day) in the Open Championship rotation. The R&A will add Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, which last hosted the championship in 1951, to that rotation next year, .

Perhaps the R&A has been able to avoid the kind of setup snafus that have plagued the USGA in recent years (let’s not forget the substandard greens at Chambers Bay in 2015 or the last-minute landscaping in ’17 at Erin Hills) because they know, through decades of trial and error, what happens at Royal Troon when the winds gust from the North and what hole locations should never be used on the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Similarly, the folks who run the Masters regularly get it right. They get everything right, from course setup to parking regardless of inclement weather or extreme conditions, because they’ve had eight decades to figure it out.

Only the PGA Championship travels like the U.S. Open, but then the PGA of America’s setup philosophy is more in line with that of normal PGA Tour events, with officials regularly erring on the side of the player, not some notion that par must be protected.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the U.S. Open that a more standardized rotation couldn’t cure. If, for example, the USGA were to follow the R&A’s lead and set a dance card of eight to 10 regular stops for the national championship they could create the kind of continuity and institutional knowledge that seems to work so well at the Open Championship.

What if Shinnecock Hills, which is among the best venues for the U.S. Open regardless of the setup miscues of ’04 and ’18, hosted the championship every decade? Officials would have a chance to better understand what works and what doesn’t, from golf course setup to traffic (which was just as bad as some of Saturday’s hole locations).

Pick your regulars, from Pebble Beach to Pinehurst, Winged Foot to Torrey Pines, create a rotation and learn whatever it takes to get it right once and for all.

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Mickelson: 'Not my finest moment ... 'I'm sorry'

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 2:41 pm

Days after his putter swipe ignited a controversy that threatened to overshadow the U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson offered an apology.

Mickelson received a two-shot penalty for purposely hitting his ball while it was still in motion on the 13th green during the third round at Shinnecock Hills. In the eyes of the USGA, his actions fell short of a disqualification for a “serious breach” of the rules, and the 48-year-old ultimately matched his age with a T-48 finish after returning to play the final round.

Mickelson declined to speak to reporters after a Sunday 66, but Wednesday he sent a note to a select group of media members that included Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte in which the five-time major champ offered some contrition.

“I know this should’ve come sooner, but it’s taken me a few days to calm down. My anger and frustration got the best of me last weekend,” Mickelson wrote. “I’m embarrassed and disappointed by my actions. It was clearly not my finest moment and I’m sorry.”

Mickelson’s actions drew ire from both media members and his fellow competitors, with members of both groups implying that his actions merited disqualification. His most recent remarks seem to indicate that the decision to run up and stop his ball from tumbling back across the 13th green was more of an impulse than the calculated use of the rule book he described after the third round at Shinnecock.

“It’s certainly not meant (to show disrespect). It’s meant to take advantage of the rules as best you can,” Mickelson said Saturday. “In that situation I was just, I was just going back and forth. I’ll gladly take the two shots over continuing that display.”

Mickelson is not in the field this week at the Travelers Championship and is expected to make his next start in two weeks at The Greenbrier.

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Hubert Green, Hall of Famer, dies at 71

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 20, 2018, 2:06 pm

Hubert Green, a World Golf Hall of Famer who won 19 times on the PGA Tour, including the 1977 U.S. Open and 1985 PGA Championship, died Tuesday from complications following a lengthy battle with throat cancer. He was 71.

A remarkably consistent player, Green used his distinctive swing to finish in the top 25 in a third of the PGA Tour events he entered. He also played on three Ryder Cup teams (1977, 1979, and 1985) and was undefeated in singles play.

A native of Birmingham, Ala., Green graduated from Florida State University in 1968. While at FSU, he won the Cape Coral Intercollegiate tournament by eight strokes and the Miami Invitational, the nation’s largest collegiate tournament, by five strokes. He turned pro in 1969, earned his Tour card in 1970 and was named PGA Rookie of the Year in 1971.

Green's first PGA Tour win was the 1971 Houston Champions International, in which he beat Don January in a playoff. Between 1973 and 1976 he won 10 more times, including a three-week stretch in 1976 when he won at Doral, Jacksonville and Hilton Head.

Green won the 1977 U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., despite being informed of a death threat against him that had been anonymously telephoned to the course. He received the news after putting out on the 14th hole of the final round. He decided to keep playing, and wound up winning  by one stroke over Lou Graham.

“Hubert Green was in incredible competitor whose tenacity on the course defined his playing career," USGA CEO Mike Davis said in a statement. "His 1977 U.S. Open win under extreme circumstances was the definition of grit and perseverance – the true mark of a champion.  We are saddened to lose him among an elite group within our U.S. Open circle.  We extend our deepest condolences to his family as we celebrate his incredible accomplishments today.”

A seldom-remembered fact about Green: he finished third behind Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus in their 1977 "Duel in the Sun" Open Championship at Turnberry. He was 11 strokes behind winner Watson.

Green won his second major championship in 1985, taking the PGA Championship at Cherry Hills. By a margin of two strokes, he denied Lee Trevino's bid to win back-to-back PGAs. It would be Green's last win on the PGA Tour. Afterward, Trevino praised his opponent, saying “He’s a great sand player and probably the best chipper we’ve got. Every time he got into trouble, he chipped it close to the hole.”

“The PGA of America is deeply saddened by the passing of Hubert Green, who epitomized what it is to be a champion within the boundaries of a golf course and then extend that spirit to bravely face all of life’s challenges," Suzy Whaley, PGA vice president, said in a statement. "For more than 40 years, Hubert was a celebrated member of the PGA family. His joy in playing golf spread to giving back to others and setting a standard of what it means to cherish life’s daily blessings. Hubert said that he never judged his career against others. ‘I was just playing golf.’  If we can draw from Hubert Green’s example, we all will have a life well played.”   

Green joined what is now known as the PGA Tour Champions in 1997 and went on to win four times, the first win coming in 1998 in his hometown of Birmingham.

Green was also involved in golf course design, including courses such as TPC Southwind,  Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Ga.; and Greystone Golf & Country Club in Birmingham.

Green was diagnosed with stage-four throat cancer in 2003. Treated with chemotherapy and radiation, he continued playing golf. In 2005, he was named the Champions Tour's Comeback Player of the Year. He also received the Ben Hogan Award at the Masters that year. In 2007 he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Jack Peter, president of the World Golf Hall of Fame, issued a statement reacting to the deaths of both Green a five-time Open champion Peter Thomson:

“It is with great sadness that we report that two of our beloved Hall of Famers, Peter Thomson and Hubert Green, passed away yesterday. 

"Peter was inducted in 1988, and was a true titan of the game. A five-time winner of the Open Championship, he was a favorite son of Australia, and respected around the world not just for his accomplishments on the course, but for the way he carried himself off the course as well. ... Hubert was inducted here in St. Augustine in 2007, and was a dominant force on the PGA Tour in the 1970s and early '80s. ... We will forever remember both Peter and Hubert within the World Golf Hall of Fame.”

Green is also remembered for his philanthropic efforts. Over the years he participated in hundreds of charity tournaments and community fund-raising events that supported a wide range of causes including childhood cancer, united cerebral palsy, and other illnesses.

Green is survived by his wife, Becky Blair, of Birmingham; three sons, Hubert Myatt Green Jr. of Hurricane, Utah; Patrick Myatt Green; and James Thomas Green (Adrienne) of Panama City, Fla.; sisters Melinda Green Powers and Carolyn Green Satterfield and brother Maurice O. V. Green, all of Birmingham, step-sons Richard O’Brien of New Orleans and Atticus O’Brien of Dallas, Texas, and several grandchildren.

A memorial service is being planned at Highlands United Methodist Church in Birmingham, and details are pending. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to Highlands United Methodist Church Community Ministry or to a charity of your choice.

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Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88

By Associated PressJune 20, 2018, 1:35 am

Hailed as a hero to some and as golf royalty to others, Peter Thomson, a five-time winner of The Open and the only player in the 20th century to win the championship for three straight years, died Wednesday. He was 88.

Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for more than four years and died at his Melbourne home surrounded by family members, Golf Australia said.

The first Australian to win The Open, Thomson went on to secure the title five times between 1954 and 1965, a record equaled only by American Tom Watson.

The Australian's wins came in 1954, '55, '56, again in 1958 and lastly in 1965 against a field that included Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Only Harry Vardon, with six titles between 1896 and 1914, won more.

Thomson also tied for fourth at the 1956 U.S. Open and placed fifth in the 1957 Masters. He never played the PGA Championship.

In 1998, he captained the International side to its only win over the United States at the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.

Asked by The Associated Press in 2011 how he'd like to be remembered, Thomson replied: ''A guy who always said what he thought.''

Veteran Australian golfer Karrie Webb was among the first to tweet her condolences, saying she was ''saddened to hear of the passing of our Aussie legend and true gentleman of the game .... so honored to have been able to call Peter my friend. RIP Peter.''

Former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Thomson was ''a champion in every sense of the word, both on the course and in life.''

''Many know him as a five-time champion golfer of the year or as a three-time captain of the Presidents Cup International team.'' Finchem added. ''But he was also a great friend, father, grandfather and husband. He was golfing royalty, and our sport is a better one because of his presence.''



Former golfer and now broadcaster Ian Baker-Finch, the 1991 Open champion, called Thomson his ''hero'' - ''Peter - my friend and mentor R.I.P. Australian golf thanks you for your iconic presence and valuable guidance over the years.''

From Britain, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers praised Thomson's plans for the game's future.

''Peter gave me a number of very interesting and valuable thoughts on the game, how it has developed and where it is going, which demonstrated his genuine interest and love of golf,'' Slumbers said. ''He was one of the most decorated and celebrated champion golfers in the history of The Open.''

Born in the Melbourne inner-city suburb of Brunswick on Aug. 23, 1929, Thomson was a promising cricketer. He scored an unbeaten 150 runs for the Carlton club against a men's side as a 15-year-old.

But golf became his passion, and he turned professional in 1947.

He won the national championships of 10 countries, including the New Zealand Open nine times and Australian Open three times. He first played on the PGA Tour in the U.S. in 1953 and 1954, finishing 44th and 25th on the money list, respectively. He won the Texas International in 1956.

Thomson won nine times on the Senior PGA tour in the U.S. in 1985, topping the money list. His last tournament victory came at the 1988 British PGA Seniors Championship, the same year he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Overall, he won 26 European Tour events, 34 times on the Australasian PGA tour and 11 on the seniors tour in the U.S, as well as once in Japan.

In later years, Thomson wrote articles for many publications and daily newspapers, was club professional at Royal Melbourne and designed more than 100 golf courses. In the 2011 Presidents Cup program, Thomson provided an insightful hole-by-hole analysis of the composite course at Royal Melbourne.

Thomson was always reluctant to compare his wins with anyone else's.

''All records are qualified in that they were made at a certain time in history,'' Thomson told golf historian and author Brendan Moloney for a story on his 80th birthday.

''The circumstances change so much, and so do the players' attitudes. In golf, only in the last 30 years or so has there been a professional attitude to playing for money. The professionals in the USA and Britain and anywhere else all had club jobs as a backstop to their income.

''When they did play and make records, you have to understand that they were taking time off from the pro shop,'' he said. ''So the records that were set were pretty remarkable.''

Thomson always had stories to tell, and told them well. With a full head of hair and a lineless face that belied his age, the Australian wasn't afraid to let everyone know his feelings on any subject.

That was true as far back as 1966. As president of the Australian PGA, Thomson was indignant that Arnold Palmer's prize for winning the Australian Open was only $1,600, out of a total purse of $6,000, one of the smallest in golf.

''Golf Stars Play for Peanuts,'' blared the headline of a story he wrote. ''Never before has such a field of top golfers played for what $6,000 is worth today. Canada offers 19 times that. I know 19 other countries who give more.''

But he was always happy on the golf course.

''I've had a very joyful life, playing a game that I loved to play for the sheer pleasure of it,'' Thomson said. ''I don't think I did a real day's work in the whole of my life.''

Thomson served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years and worked behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.

In 1979, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf, and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.

Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.