In his excellent book Slaying The Tiger, Shane Ryan writes of the PGA Tour’s drug-testing policy, “Executive vice president of communications (for the PGA Tour) Ty Votaw told Sports Illustrated that the goal was ‘was to make sure we are seen as being a clean sport.’ The common thread here is the need to seem a certain way, rather than to actually be that way.”
This isn’t unique to golf partly because no organization is completely free of performance enhancing drugs. Look no further than the NFL and track and field, both of which have had drug testing forever and yet still dish out multiple suspensions each year. Baseball instituted the harshest drug policy in sports to restore its image after the decades-long steroid era.
Image is inextricably tied to golf’s drug policies as well, although the intent is two-fold. Not only does the PGA Tour want to maintain a level playing field, it wants to save face. Golf has the reputation of being a sport overflowing with honor. Players self-report on course rules violations. The hope—or the demand—is that they do the same away from the clubhouse.
Which brings us to Tuesday.
Scott Stallings, ranked 101st in the FedExCup standings and 154th in the world, was suspended by the PGA Tour for three months due to a violation of the Anti-Doping Policy. According to tour officials and Stallings himself, the golfer self-reported the infraction.
“I discovered in February 2015 that I had inadvertently taken a supplement for the prior two months that was not permitted by the PGA Tour. I immediately self-reported this fact to the PGA Tour—consistent with my values and with the long tradition of self-reporting all rules violations on or off the golf course.”
Whether you believe Stallings or not (in regards to him coming forward first), the suspension allows the PGA Tour to maintain its illusion of clean while upholding its honor. Golfers have speculated that Tour players refrain from performance enhancing drug use because it defies the spirit of the sport more than the competition. By their logic, the theory makes sense. But it also ignores the fallibility of humans and the drive of athletes.
Gary Player, brimming with knowledge and willing to share it, speculated a few years ago that 10 percent of golfers used performance enhancing drugs. In fact, one player confided in the Black Knight.
“I took an oath prior to him telling me — I won’t tell you where — but he told me what he did, and I could see this massive change in him,” Player said according to an Associated Press story. “And somebody else told me something, that I also promised I wouldn’t tell, that verified others had done it.”
The statement makes one think twice about the Stallings news.
Have players tested positive but the Tour sweeps the news under the rug? Would we hear about Stallings if he had been caught rather than come forward himself? Likely not.
In golf, if the news fits the agenda, publish it.
VIDEO on Scott Stallings from 2012.
Hard to deny his work ethic:
Scott Stallings profile via @PGATour in 2012: