A favorite motion picture quote comes from Billy Murray, who in the film “Tootsie” plays Dustin Hoffman’s friend and roommate. When Hoffman’s character reveals his scheme in pursuing his transgender acting opportunity, Murray furrows his brow and remarks, “Ok, we’re getting into a weird area here.”
Such is the state of the PGA Tour these days. Dustin Johnson takes a “leave of absence” from the tour for personal and physical reasons. Various media outlets report that Johnson has been suspended from the tour for cocaine use. The Tour denies that he has been suspended. Of course, the Tour, ever image-conscious, never announces any fines or suspensions for alleged misbehavior – although John Daly, bless his heart, was having none of that when he took a break back in 2008. “Oh, no, I was definitely suspended,” said Long John, who felt that he owned it to his fans and the public to be honest about his issues.
Other juicy tidbits have emerged regarding Johnson’s suspension, including 1) speculation that his previous absence from the Tour (officially attributed to injury) was in fact drug-related, and 2) a rumor that he was involved with another Tour player’s wife (say what you will about Tiger Woods, but at least he confined himself to porn stars and Denny’s waitresses).
I wish the Tour would be more transparent in these cases so that we are not left to conjecture (and whatever issues Johnson is facing, I would hope he can learn to deal with him), but there has always been a curious relationship among the Tour, its players, and the golf press, all buttressed, naturally, by corporate sponsors that drive tournament purses. Professional golf sells itself as a clean sport, where never is heard a discouraging word. On the flip side, golf “journalists” have largely played along, trading “access” for relatively tame questions of the players. Stepping outside these bounds can have consequences to those covering the game. When noted writer Charles Pierce dared to suggest in GQ back in 1997 that Woods, while regarded potentially the most talented player ever, was a normal 21 year old and not the second coming of Gandhi (as Woods’s father suggested in a Sports Illustrated article), he was accused of “ambush journalism” and was largely blamed for Woods’s guarded relationship with the press going forward.
Running parallel to this is the notion of Woods being chosen for the US Ryder Cup team (a team, by the way, that is seriously impacted by Johnson’s absence). I’m still amazed that captain Tom Watson has not put this to rest. It’s apparent to everyone (save for 90% of golf commentators and ESPN) that Woods is nowhere near top form and that his back is still an issue. Yet the golf world collectively holds its breath – on Wednesday, the Golf Channel waited for him to show up at Valhalla, and 1) provided commentary on his health based on him opening the tailgate of his SUV and stretching on the bumper, and 2) analyzing his shots on the practice range.
Words is that Woods is “desperate” to be chosen for the Ryder Cup – although “desperate” might be the word that would be best applied to the various media outlets who will cover the event and that seem to go into withdrawal when there he is not in the field. But has anyone even bothered to look at Woods’s Ryder Cup record? First off, it’s below .500. Secondly, there is always major consternation as to who will partner with him, although the question should probably be, “Who the hell WANTS to partner with him,” given his record. Finally – since 1999, the US has won exactly one (1) Cup, in 2008. Guess who wasn’t on the team that year?
Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy (who Jack Nicklaus has officially hexed by stating that he should win ‘”15 to 20 majors”) waits in the wings with a chance to win his third tournament in a row (two of them being majors), with a bevy of young challengers waiting in the wings. That should be the major story going into the PGA Championship this week. I don’t need to watch Tiger Woods practice, and if he chooses to play (and if he were to make the cut), I certainly don’t need to watch him hit another 290-plus shots. If he truly wants to benefit golf (and himself), he needs to shut it down until he is ready to play again, and stop kidding himself and us.