There will be at least one player in this week’s Frys.com Open field who has embraced the PGA Tour’s version of Opening Day on Thursday with profound zeal.
If the Tour’s nearly non-existent off-season – it’s been exactly 17 days since Jordan Spieth wrapped up a historic campaign at the Tour Championship – makes it difficult for some to embrace the wraparound schedule consider Scott Stallings’ last 90 days.
In July, Stallings became the third player suspended under the Tour’s anti-doping policy for taking an over-the-counter supplement, DHEA, for fatigue. The anabolic agent is a precursor to testosterone production and is banned by the Tour.
For three months Stallings has watched and waited. He played with his son, spent time with his wife and friends and discovered, thanks to a litany of tests, that the fatigue that led to the bizarre violation was curable.
“That was the biggest priority – we didn’t know. I didn’t know why I was feeling bad. It almost drives you crazy because you feel good one day and bad one day,” Stallings told GolfChannel.com. “To find out ultimately that I had to have throat surgery was the last thing in my mind I thought I was going to have.”
It was a doctor at UCLA who eventually unraveled Stallings’ medical mystery through multiple tests, from a sleep study and allergy tests to a CT scan of his head.
Doctors discovered that Stallings was suffering from a severe case of sleep apnea that resulted in about 15 minutes of REM sleep a night. On July 28, he underwent throat surgery in Knoxville, Tenn., to repair a deviated septum as well as other “soft palate” repairs.
“They basically cut out an opening in my throat,” said Stallings of the 45-minute procedure. “It felt like you swallowed acid coated nails.”
The improvement for Stallings has been profound.
“It will change your life,” he said.
In many ways the entire surreal episode has changed Stallings’ life.
The 30-year-old never intended to become a talking point for a performance-enhancing drug policy that leaves no room for intent or interpretation, but his brush with the anti-doping world has prompted many to question the status quo.
Stallings was suspended for taking a supplement, DHEA, that many medical experts say has no performance benefit when taken orally, and he never failed a drug test while taking the substance.
“Hopefully it will create some type of transparency between the Tour and the players,” Stallings said. “I hope what happened to me doesn’t happen to anyone else. Understanding the policy and agreeing with it are two different things, but I should have checked. Hopefully it makes guys more aware to what is going on.”
Stallings, who said he took, and passed, two drug tests while taking the supplement, essentially turned himself in for the violation when he realized he may have violated the policy.
He also didn’t care for the way the Tour portrayed the incident. In accordance with the circuit’s policy, neither the drug nor the details of the violation were disclosed to the public, which prompted plenty of speculation.
“The innocence of intent has no bearing on what happens. I didn’t know, and I think if you are intending to break the rule you are aware of the rule,” said Stallings, whose Tour status remained unchanged thanks to his victory at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open. “I think everyone says [the anti-doping policy] has some flaws.”
Stallings said the support this week at Silverado Resort from his fellow players has been overwhelming and getting back to work has rejuvenated him.
His plan is to play in as many of the fall events as possible, including next week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, and although he anticipates that his game will be rusty after three months away from the Tour he is looking forward to getting back to work.
“I just realized that I really missed playing,” he said. “You can take a step back and realize I really love this. I’m thankful for the opportunity the Tour provides.”
He also said he expects to be selected for a “random” drug test this week, “guaranteed,” he laughed.
But most of all he’s looking forward to moving on after a peculiar three months, healthy and happy.
“I would have liked to go out and have surgery on my own terms and not be forced into it,” Stallings said. “But it was just nice to be a dad and a husband.”
It’s also nice to get back to work.