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Golf Australia Express : August 2014
I T WAS a ticking time bomb set to explode unless diffused. Sadly, the PGA Tour's drugs policy was left to tick away, the inevitable countdown reaching zero and blowing up in the Tour's face with all the ferocity of a Dustin Johnson drive. In the wake of the Johnson scandal, the Tour's drugs policy — which in essence is to keep everything hush hush behind closed doors — has left it grasping for some of that integrity it so often self-extolls to the rest of us. Late last month, Johnson issued a statement saying he was "taking a leave of absence from professional golf, effective immediately" and would "use this time to seek professional help for personal challenges I have faced". The Tour issued a statement the same day, saying: "We have nothing to add to Dustin's statement, but we wish him well and look forward to his return to the PGA Tour in the future." The Tour has long stood by its 'no comment' position on matters of disciplinary action, with performance enhancing drug cases the sole exception. What that means is players can choose their own story for why they're missing from the Tour, without the custodians of the truth stepping in to correct false accounts. Why would a Tour have such a policy? Simple. Self-preservation. The PGA Tour has a lucrative brand to protect, and drug- using, philandering golfers couldn't exist in the gentlemanly sport of golf, now could they? [Ahem.] PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem needs to quell this saga sharply, and the only way that can be done is with full, transparent disclosure. Fat chance of that happening if the Tour's response to the Golf.com article breaking the Johnson story is anything to go by. "With regard to media reports that Dustin Johnson has been been suspended by the PGA Tour, this is to clarify that Mr Johnson has taken a voluntary leave of absence and is not under a suspension from the PGA Tour," the statement read. The semantics around whether Johnson jumped or was pushed are trivial given the nature of the claims leveled at both the player and the Tour. The Tour's silence on the real matter — did Johnson fail a third drug test? — remains deafening. The PGA Tour certainly gets a lot of things right. A lot. But its policy on recreational drug use and silence on disciplinary sanctions is not one of which it can be proud. We get that it's not necessarily in the public's interest to know every time Tiger Woods gets a fine for dropping the F-bomb after a missed putt. But drug use is of public interest. Not to condemn the player in question, but to highlight, educate and rehabilitate. Nothing is gained from hiding the truth. But, clearly, much is lost. When the focus of such a policy is designed to protect an organisation’s brand rather than the integrity of the game or the health of its players, something is seriously awry. This policy does not work. It is insulting to fans who support the Tour and it unfairly casts a cloak of suspicion over a wider playing group. After all, what else is the PGA Tour hiding from us?, one might ask. Having drugs in a sport, whether performance-enhancing or otherwise, won't kill it. Most fans are smart enough to understand drug abuse is a social issue. But secrecy and a lack of transparency by those supposedly protecting the game? Well, that pill is a little harder to swallow. OTG the Editorial Tour's Drugs Policy Hurts its Brand... and Players By otG editor-In-Chief DAMIAN SHUTIE