News & Opinion

Tour’s drug policy has rings attached to it

If orange is the new black, if 50 is still the new 40, then marijuana is the Comeback Player of the Decade. Once scorned as a catalyst for more dangerous drugs, a cultural divider in the 1960s that can be blamed for Cheech & Chong and a lot of bad fashion, the stuff known as pot is now very, very hot. Just 10 U.S. states remain fully opposed to legalization, the same number that have decriminalized it altogether.

If orange is the new black, if 50 is still the new 40, then marijuana is the Comeback Player of the Decade. Once scorned as a catalyst for more dangerous drugs, a cultural divider in the 1960s that can be blamed for Cheech & Chong and a lot of bad fashion, the stuff known as pot is now very, very hot. Just 10 U.S. states remain fully opposed to legalization, the same number that have decriminalized it altogether.

So, if recreational use has become somewhat acceptable, the medical powers of marijuana are emerging as indisputable. Cannabis is proved to have a positive medicinal effect on dozens of serious ailments, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. It remains a banned substance in all major sports leagues, including the PGA Tour, although there’s reason to believe that soon will change.

“We should follow the science,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in December. “This is not an ethical issue for me. It’s not a moral issue for me. I obviously see what’s happening in states around America.”

Robert Garrigus
Robert Garrigus, back on the PGA Tour after a 3-month suspension for violating the Anti-Doping Program, says that the Tour’s marijuana ban is outdated.

One big difference is that pro golfers don’t have a players’ union fighting for them, which takes us to the case of Robert Garrigus. A career journeyman whose lone big-league victory came at the defunct Orlando event in 2010, Garrigus, 41, was suspended for three months in March for violating the PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Program (“Tour’s outdated drug policy nabs Garrigus,” March 25). He returned to action last week in Minneapolis, where he protested the suspension and vowed to discuss the issue this week with commissioner Jay Monahan.

Marijuana, Garrigus pointed out in a Golf Channel interview, “doesn’t help you get it in the hole,” an ostensible reference to performance-enhancing drugs and the tour’s definition of an illicit substance. “Anything you are doing to cheat the game, you should be suspended,” he added. “Everything else should be a discussion.”

Those comments were in significant contrast to what Garrigus had said when the suspension initially was made public. His tone in March was one of contrition; an apology on Twitter and usage of words such as “relapse” and “addiction.” Perhaps this line from the 14-year tour veteran offers the most capsulized version of the situation: “Legal doesn’t mean there aren’t potentially severe consequences if you use it.”

He wasn’t wrong there. If Garrigus indeed meets with Monahan to lobby for removing pot from the naughty list, he’s not going to get very far, if anywhere at all. This is about something much bigger than some dude smoking a joint on his back porch late Saturday night. It’s about golf’s successful attempt to become an Olympic sport in 2016, a lengthy journey that included the tour’s inception of a drug policy in 2008 that adheres strictly to guidelines established by the International Olympic Committee.

“You can debate whether banned substances should [only] be performance enhancing, but the list is the list, and the tour doesn’t make the list,” a knowledgeable source told me.

From there, it all begins to make sense. Pro golf’s Olympic crusade started to gain momentum in the mid-2000s, when former commissioner Tim Finchem hired ex-LPGA commish Ty Votaw to oversee the Tour’s international affairs. Votaw’s job? Handle the paperwork, which required someone of vast legal expertise, and build a relationship with the guys who wear five rings on their blazers.

Enter the “anti-doping” policy, a European term if ever there was one. By 2010, Camp Ponte Vedra’s drive for inclusion in the Summer Games was equal parts obsessive and oppressive. The Tour simply wasn’t going to be denied, nor did it take kindly to dissenting articles or public voices opposed to the matter. At some point, former Augusta National chairman Billy Payne, who had presided over Atlanta’s hosting of the 1996 Summer Olympics, surely played a crucial role in the campaign.

Eventually, golf got in. Why do you think Payne recently was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame?

All that said, it’s not as if Garrigus doesn’t have a point, at least when he’s not contradicting himself. Despite the transient legion of Deadheads and celebrated stoners such as Jeff Spicoli, whom Sean Penn portrayed so memorably in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” marijuana has found a comfortable home in American society. Respectable citizens partake in cannabis via various forms, from gummy bears to vaporized cartridges, oils and creams.

Gone are the days when a teenager had to hide his bong from mom, perhaps because the old lady is catching a little buzz herself. Garrigus said he had a prescription for marijuana to ease knee and back discomfort, but he did nothing to fight the suspension when it originally was imposed, speaking instead of his decision to check into a drug-rehab center in 2003.

As far as I’m concerned, a man can get as high as he wants, talk out of both sides of his mouth and spearhead a revolution with the sharpest bayonet on the shelf, but one thing never will change.

A rule is still a rule.

Period.

John Hawkins is a longtime sportswriter who spent 14 years covering the PGA Tour for Golf World magazine. From 2007 to 2011, he was a regular on Golf Channel’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole.” Email: johnhawkinsgolf@gmail.com