Golf - Johnson 'not suspended for cocaine use' says PGA Tour

Dustin Johnson took the world of golf by surprise on Friday as he announced that he was taking a leave of absence from the game - but he is now fighting an allegation that his sabbatical is actually to cover up a ban for taking drugs.

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Golf - Dustin Johnson tight-lipped about break amid drug accusations
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Dustin Johnson of America (Reuters)

The eight-times winner on the US Tour was enjoying one of his best seasons, and was effectively certain to be on the Ryder Cup team, but he released a statement saying that he was taking a break from the game which will see him miss both the US PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup.

However, Golf.com alleges that Johnson, "is serving a six-month suspension from the PGA Tour after testing positive for cocaine."

Late on Friday night, the US PGA Tour issued a statement denying that he was suspended.

"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.

Golf.com's un-named source claims that Johnson has now failed three drug tests: one for marijuana use in 2009, and two for cocaine, in 2012 and 2014. The website - which is the digital arm of the powerful and well-respected Golf magazine in the US - reports that he was banned for the 2012 test, but covered it up:

"In 2012, Johnson played the Cadillac Championship at Doral in March and then did not play again for 11 weeks, until the Memorial in late May. Johnson said at the time that he was not playing because he hurt his back while lifting a jet ski. However, Golf.com’s source says that Johnson was actually serving a suspension for failing a drug test for cocaine."

Johnson's original decision to walk away from the game appeared to hint at mental health problems:

"I will use this time to seek professional help for personal challenges I have faced," his statement said. "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 fulfil my potential and become a consistent champion."

Golf.com stuck by its story even after the PGA Tour's statement that Johnson had not been suspended, adding the following update:

"The difference may be seen as semantic. Faced with a suspension for a failed drug test, a Tour player has the right, under published Tour guidelines, to appeal his penalty. The Tour was preparing for Johnson to lodge such an appeal. But Johnson waived that right and agreed to leave the Tour for six months.

"The Tour’s one-sentence statement did not address Johnson’s drug test results or say whether Johnson's 11-week absence in 2012 was also a 'voluntary leave of absence.' In that period, when Johnson said he was not playing Tour events (including the Masters) because of bad back, he was seen hitting balls regularly in South Florida, where he lives. The Tour's policy of releasing no information on failed drug tests or resulting penalties essentially allows a player and his advisors to characterize an absence as they wish."

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