PGA Tour issues denial over Dustin Johnson ban reports
His break from golf 'voluntary' says Tour
Johnson announced Thursday he was facing 'personal challenges'
NEW: Sergio Garcia leading storm-hit WGC tournament in Ohio.
The PGA Tour has issued a denial over reports that American golfer Dustin Johnson is serving a suspension for failing a drugs test.
World No.16 Johnson said Thursday that he would be taking a break from the sport to seek “professional help” to improve his mental health.
It ruled him out of next week’s PGA Championship at Valhalla and the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland, where he was expected to be a key member of the United States team.
In the aftermath of his announcement, a published report on Golf.com made a series of allegations about his use of recreational drugs and claimed he had actually been banned from the Tour after testing positive for cocaine.
In response, the PGA Tour issued a statement on its website.
“With regard to media reports that Dustin Johnson has been been suspended by the PGA Tour, this is to clarify that Mr. Johnson has taken a voluntary leave of absence and is not under a suspension from the PGA Tour,” the statement read.
Johnson, who finished 12th at the British Open last month, paired on the final day with eventual winner Rory McIlroy, did not specify the exact length of his absence from golf in the statement released by his management company.
“I am taking a leave of absence from professional golf, effective immediately. I will use this time to seek professional help for personal challenges I have faced,” it read.
“By committing the time and resources necessary to improve my mental health, physical well-being and emotional foundation, I am confident that I will be better equipped to fulfill my potential and become a consistent champion.”
THE PGA of America, which runs the PGA Championship and the U.S. Ryder Cup team, later confirmed his withdrawal from those to events.
Reacting to the announcement Friday, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson told the PGA website: “We will certainly miss Dustin Johnson at Gleneagles, and we wish him the best.
“As one of the longest hitters in the game with an undefeated record of 3-0 at Medinah in 2012, he has clearly been an asset for the United States team. That said, the United States is a team with an abundance of talent.”
Tiger Woods added to his captain’s words. “I’ll tell you what, with his power, you always want guys with that kind of power to play on any team. I’ve been his partner in the Presidents Cup in Australia, and the fire power that he has, it’s pretty cool to be around,” said the 14-time major winner.
“It’s not too often you see a guy carry the ball 320 (yards) without even trying, and then when he steps on it he can hit it even further. When he gets it going, it’s awfully impressive.”
Johnson, who is currently ranked fifth in the standings of U.S. golfers would have almost certainly been an automatic pick for the Ryder Cup.
The 30-year-old has won eight titles on the PGA Tour and is highly regarded by fans and fellow professionals for his big hitting game.
Former U.S. Open champion and European Ryder Cup opponent Justin Rose also passed on his regards to his friend and colleague.
“I just wish him well, whatever he’s facing right now,” Rose said in quotes carried by UK news agency, the Press Association.
“(It) can’t be easy for him. I wish him all the best. He’s a friend of mine (but I) didn’t really know that that was on the cards.”
Johnson rounded off his statement by requesting privacy in the months ahead as he begins his time off.
“I respectfully ask my fans, well-wishers and the media for privacy as I embark upon this mission of self-improvement,” he said.
Johnson had earlier pulled out of this week’s WGC-Bridgestone International at Firestone GC, Ohio, citing “personal reasons.”
That tournament was being led by Sergio Garcia after a third round 67, which was interrupted by thunderstorms.
On 14-under, the Spaniard was three clear of McIlroy, who is playing his first event since his British Open triumph.
Defending champion Tiger Woods again struggled with a two-over-par 72 for one-over with a round to go.