PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — These should be happy times for golf.
Tiger Woods won for the 75th time on the PGA Tour and set a record with his eighth win at Torrey Pines. It was a command performance, the kind that made people think more about where he is going than where he went.
The next week, Phil Mickelson had a chance at 59 until his 25-foot birdie putt on the last hole took a cruel spin around the cup. He thought he had golf’s magic number and instead shot his tax rate in California. Lefty still sailed to a wire-to-wire win in the Phoenix Open.
It was the first time since 2009 that golf’s two biggest stars won in consecutive weeks.
The trouble is, any discussion about golf these days goes beyond birdies and bogeys. Now it includes “bifurcation.”
And the day after the buzz was about Tiger, the focus shifted to deer antlers.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem might have seen this coming when he said two weeks ago that while he views the professional game as being the strongest it has ever been, “I don’t like to see distractions.”
There are too many of them right now.
Vijay Singh was leaving the practice range at Pebble Beach on Tuesday when one of the few reporters that has a working relationship with the Fijian called out to him. Singh looked at him, said nothing, and kept walking.
“So that would be no comment?” the reporter said.
“Yes,” Singh replied.
Sports Illustrated reported that Singh paid $9,000 to Sports With Alternative to Steroids in November for products that included deer-antler spray, which is said to have an insulin-like growth factor, which is on the PGA Tour’s list of prohibited substances. Singh told the magazine he uses the spray “every couple of hours ... every day.”
Singh might have been better off keeping quiet, as he often does. But he issued a statement confirming he used the spray, but was unaware it had a banned substance.
The tour will not comment except to say it is looking into the matter, though it is backed into a corner.
Singh’s admission alone constitutes an anti-doping violation. The first violation is up to a one-year suspension. The tour has a minimum requirement to publish the name of the player, his anti-doping violation and the sanction.
As long as Singh is in the field, that means the tour has not suspended him. He is playing this week. For now.
The distraction to which Finchem referred was about the proposed rule that would ban anchored strokes – the kind used with long putters and belly putters. It already was a mess because three of the last five major champions used a belly putter, and because the rule would not go into effect until 2016.
But it’s the debate over this proposed rule that has given some corners reason to bring up bifurcation – two sets of rules.
PGA of America president Ted Bishop polled his 27,000 members on anchoring. Just over 15 percent of them responded, and he said 63 percent opposed the ban. The USGA and Royal & Ancient write the Rules of Golf. Bishop noted that the PGA Tour didn’t exist when the USGA was founded in 1894, and that the tour has a “powerful impact” on the game. He suggested golf was at a point where two sets of rules should be considered as a potential solution.
Finchem said he thought there were certain parts of the rules that could be bifurcated “and it wouldn’t hurt anything,” though maybe not in the case of anchoring.
Where will it all lead?
Debate is healthy as long as it’s about golf’s best interest, and not financial interests. Don’t get the idea that golf isn’t growing because the game is too hard. That’s one of its greatest appeals.
In the meantime, Mickelson goes for his fifth win at Pebble Beach this week. All the stars get together for the first time in two weeks at the Match Play Championship.
And the Masters is only two months away.