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Why Robert Garrigus's marijuana ban raises further questions about PGA Tour's drug policy

The world No 458 was banned from competition for three months

Tom Kershaw
Saturday 30 March 2019 11:30
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Only three players have publicly failed drugs tests in the last 11 years on the PGA Tour
Only three players have publicly failed drugs tests in the last 11 years on the PGA Tour

Can you smell that? Can you whiff it seeping from behind the caddyshack? An obnoxious puff of freshly cut grass snaking its way from behind the 18th green?

Last week, PGA Tour veteran, world No 458 Robert Garrigus, was banned for three months for failing a random drugs test for marijuana. No sooner had he been forced to take the tee-box confessional.

“After a long period of sobriety, I had a relapse and subsequently failed a drug test for marijuana, a drug that, although legal in many states, is not permitted under the PGA Tour’s anti-doping rules,” Garrigus said.

“I mention that it is legal in many states not as an excuse but as a word of warning to many people who use or try marijuana. Legal doesn’t mean it isn’t addictive and legal doesn’t mean there aren’t potentially severe consequences if you use it.

As alluded to in his statement, Garrigus has previously struggled with drug addiction and expressed his trials in a series of emotive interviews after spending 45 days in rehab. What he also, naively, admitted to back then was that players on the Nationwide Tour, a rung below the PGA, were frequently pausing mid-round to puff joints in temporary toilets dotted around the course. Those were the dizzy highs of 2002, six years before the PGA Tour belatedly introduced drug testing.

Except, since 2008, only three players have been publicly outed for failing drugs tests. Dustin Johnson, yes, that Dustin Johnson, world No 1, 20-time Tour winner, 2016 US Open champion, fifth-highest earner in the sport of all time having cooped almost $60m, has failed three drugs test: one for marijuana in 2009 and two for cocaine, in 2012 and 2014, according to Golf.com. Yet, rather than being publicly outed, Johnson departed on a mysterious self-imposed six-month leave of absence to resolve “personal issues”.

It’s a curious case of pin the plastic baggie by the PGA Tour. A sport intent on neurotically sanitising its image in order to attract the next Swiss watchmaker and more perceptive at picking off the unknowns and the minnows.

Dustin Johnson failed three drugs tests in five years, according to Golf.com

Vijay Singh remains the only high profile player to be banned for drug use, and on that occasion the powers that be were left with little option after the Fijian admitted to using a deer antler spray that contained human growth hormone in a magazine interview.

In the US, it’s believed almost 80% of NBA players use marijuana recreationally. In the NFL, that figure is believed to be even higher. The drug is legal for recreational or medical use in the vast majority of US states. Even in the Premier League at home in the UK, marijuana is permitted for use outside of competition. Are we truly to believe that only three out of the hundreds of Tour samaritans have been tainted by the devil’s lettuce since the PGA pledged to publicly reveal cases of recreational drug use in 2017?

Vijay Singh is the highest-profile player to fail a drugs test

The Tour themselves admit that marijuana is likely not used as a PED by players, instead its gripe is that it goes against the “spirit of the game”. Alas, it seems rather more of a nose-wrinkling, backwards PR exercise, assuring onlookers that the sport is proactive in its vanish by casting relatively unknown and rapidly forgotten villains. After all, the idea of a professional standing over his putt with veiny red-eyes, pale cheeks and a half-eaten chocolate bar in their pocket doesn’t quite fit the prototype.

There was, of course, no public punishment regarding Tiger Woods, when found keeled over his steering wheel and posing in an orange jumpsuit across the world’s front pages after being found with a chemical contained in marijuana in his system - along with a heap of prescription pills.

But in a sport where the top-heavy rule, that appears to be the modus operandi. The occasional straggler, in this case with a sad history of struggles, picked off to protect the sanctity of the fettered inner-circle. Are the pros still passing the dutchie ‘pon the right-hand side? Well, rumour has it some of those first-class portable toilets may be smelly-proof.

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