Patel's PED violation raises more questions for Tour's testing policies

By Rex HoggardJanuary 14, 2015, 6:41 pm

Doug Barron can finally give up the infamous title he was saddled with in the fall of 2009. No longer is the former journeyman alone atop the PGA Tour’s anti-doping hit list.

On Wednesday the circuit announced that Bhavik Patel, a Web.com Tour member who has never played a PGA Tour event, had become the second player suspended for violating the performance-enhancing drugs policy.

Barron, you may recall, was bounced for a year for a variety of violations that stemmed from a low testosterone level and severe panic disorder, while Patel began his suspension on Oct. 7 for what appears to be a bona fide violation.

“In an effort to overcome an injury, I made a lapse of judgment. I regret my decision but have learned from the experience and look forward to returning to competition,” Patel said in a statement released by the Tour.

Unlike Barron, who was later granted a therapeutic use exemption for at least one of the substances that caused his suspension, and Vijay Singh, who was initially sanctioned when he admitted to taking a banned substance in 2013 but was later absolved when the World Anti-Doping Agency reversed its decision on the use of IGF-1, Patel appears to have run afoul of the anti-doping policy for all the wrong reasons.

Not that those reasons are particularly clear at the moment, which leads to even bigger concerns involving the Tour’s anti-doping program that go well beyond a lone pair of non-descript violators.

Whatever it is Patel did to warrant his one-year suspension remains unknown. Although the Tour’s original PED manual in 2008 stated, "... the PGA Tour will, at a minimum, publish the name of the player, the anti-doping rule violation, and the sanction imposed,” for a performance-enhancing violation, that policy was amended in January 2009 when “the anti-doping violation” wording was removed from the policy.

However subtle the reworded policy may seem, it only serves to further extend a cloak of secrecy that has defined the anti-doping program since its inception.

The radio silence is particularly concerning following reports last fall that Dustin Johnson had been suspended for six months following a third failed drug test. The Tour’s policy is to not comment on violations involving recreational drugs (the Golf.com report stated Johnson tested positive for cocaine according to an unnamed source), but the Tour later sent out a release clarifying, “Johnson has taken a voluntary leave of absence and is not under suspension from the PGA Tour.”

It’s exactly the kind of obfuscation an anti-doping policy is designed to avoid, particularly for a sport that is less than two years away from returning to the Olympics.

In fact, it’s likely the 2016 Games prompted the Tour to double its efforts to weed out violators.

In a little over a year each country’s Olympic committee will submit a list of potential golfers to play the Games at which time those athletes will be subject to testing through WADA, which doesn’t hold a player’s privacy in as high regard as the Tour.

A recent Reuters story pointed out the significant differences between the Tour’s anti-doping program versus WADA’s program and a recent move to help educate potential Olympic golfers.

“What's going to be key is a full understanding of the differences, how that impacts a clean player and making sure a clean player has an opportunity to be successful,” U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) chief Travis Tygart told Reuters.

“The WADA code has things like the beta-2s (agonists that are used to treat asthma and other pulmonary disorders) that are going to be different than what the current (PGA Tour) list looks like.”

To Tygart’s point consider that the WADA code is rather clear on the publication of violations, stating, “The anti-doping organization responsible for results management must publicly report the disposition of the anti-doping matter including the sport, the anti-doping rule violated, the name of the athlete or other person committing the violation, the prohibited substance or prohibited method involved and the consequences imposed.”

With few exceptions, the Tour has followed the WADA code and has largely deferred to the agency in its ongoing lawsuit with Singh, but when it comes to public disclosure, something the circuit has always been adverse to, it has deviated in a crucial way.

If transparency is what Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., is vying for so be it, but Wednesday’s announcement only served to leave a cloud of more uncertainty.

Perhaps Patel’s violation is a sign of increased scrutiny by the Tour, but after six years and untold thousands of tests (each player is reportedly tested twice a year) the circuit’s anti-doping efforts have yielded a grand total of two violators – the 971st-ranked player in the world, who appears to have taken a mystery substance to recover from injury, and a forty-something journeyman whose most egregious violation seems to have been an aversion to the proper paperwork.

Despite six years of trial and error, the Tour seems to be missing the key component of an affective testing program – transparency.

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Dunlap, in 'excruciating pain,' shares early Dominion lead

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:29 pm

RICHMOND, Va. – Scott Dunlap and Fran Quinn shot 5-under 67 on Friday to share the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Fighting a left wrist injury that will require surgery, Dunlap matched Quinn with a closing birdie on the par-5 18th on The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course.

''Maybe excruciating pain is the key to playing good golf because I'm not getting nervous on a shot, you're just trying to get through it,'' Dunlap said. ''The worst parts are gripping it and getting the club started ... that's when that bone hits that bone.''

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 on Sunday will get spots next week in the Invesco QQQ Championship in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.


Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic


The 55-year-old Dunlap entered the week 29th in the standings. Playing through the wrist injury, he's coming off ties for ninth and seventh in his last two starts.

''I think I finally taped it the right way,'' Dunlap said. ''Or maybe it's the pain meds kicking in. I don't know, one of the two.''

Quinn is 64th in the standings.

''I finished up strong last year, too, kind of secured my privileges for the following year making eagle on 18,'' Quinn said. ''I played solid all day. I had a lot of opportunities. A couple hiccups.''

Jay Haas was a stroke back with Kent Jones, Stephen Ames, Woody Austin and Tim Petrovic. The 64-year-old Haas won the last of his 18 senior titles in 2016.

Vijay Singh and Miguel Angel Jimenez, second in the standings, were at 69 with Joey Sindelar, Tom Gillis, Billy MayfairLee Janzen, Glen Day and Gene Sauers.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer opened with a 70. The 61-year-old German star won the SAS Championship last week in North Carolina to take the points lead. He has two victories this year and 38 overall on the 50-and-over tour.

Defending Charles Schwab Cup champion Kevin Sutherland had a 71. He's 14th in the standings. No. 3 Jerry Kelly shot 72. No. 4 Scott McCarron, the 2016 tournament winner, had a 74.

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Weather continues to plague Valderrama Masters

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 7:55 pm

SOTOGRANDE, Spain  -- Marc Warren helped his chances of retaining his European Tour card by moving into a tie for second place behind Englishman Ashley Chesters at the rain-hit Andalucia Valderrama Masters on Friday.

Bad weather interrupted play for a second straight day at the Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain before darkness caused the second round to be suspended until Saturday, with overnight Chesters still ahead at 5-under.

Weather delays on Thursday, including a threat of lightning, had kept 60 golfers from finishing their opening round. They included Scottish player Warren, who went out on Friday and finished his first round with a 2-under 69.

He then made three birdies to go with one bogey on the first nine holes of the second round before play was halted. He joined Frenchman Gregory Bourdy one shot behind Chesters.


Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters


''I'm hitting the ball as well as I have in a long time,'' Warren said. ''Hitting fairways and greens is the most important thing around here, so hopefully I wake up tomorrow with the same swing.''

Chesters and Bourdy were among several golfers unable to play a single hole in the second round on Friday.

Warren, a three-time European Tour winner, has struggled this season and needs a strong performance to keep his playing privileges for next year.

Currently ranked 144th, Warren needs to break into the top 116 to keep his card.

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Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

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Cut Line: Johnny's exit, Tiger's fatigue

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.


Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.