Mark Hensby is familiar with punishment that seems harsh for the crime. He learned that growing up in Australia, when a sloppily made bed, an untidy closet, even cutlery held the wrong way, led to brutal beatings by his father.
“If you didn’t push the toothpaste from the bottom of the tube, he’d smash you,” Hensby said. The father died almost 20 years ago, but the son’s memories haven’t dimmed. “When we were younger we’d get whipped with a belt. When we got older, it started to be fists. Golf got me through it. I was at the course at five every morning before my dad got home from work. I didn’t want to see him. And I came home at dark because he started work at eight. Most things in my life have been pretty easy since living with that guy.”
Hensby is telling his story over breakfast at TPC Scottsdale, where he spends his days practicing while waiting out a suspension from the PGA Tour. On Dec. 11, the Tour announced Hensby had violated its anti-doping policy by failing to provide a urine sample after the first round at October’s Sanderson Farms Championship. His was the first case after the Tour decided to make drug-test violations public. He was banned for a year.
Sanderson Farms was Hensby’s first PGA Tour start of the year. He had been consigned to the Web.com Tour, logging just one top-20 finish in 14 events. Long gone were the days when he reached No. 27 in the world, won the John Deere Classic and finished top-five at the Masters and U.S. Open. He was 46 and had struggled for more than a decade. He opened with a dismal 78, and on the 18th hole told his caddie that his playing career was about done. That frustration boiled over when he was summoned for a drug test after signing his card.
Hensby says he had urinated on his 17th hole and knew he faced a long wait to produce a sample. When a Tour official admitted he had no authority to keep him at the course, Hensby left. That evening he ignored a call and a text from the Tour’s senior vice president Andy Levinson telling him he needed to return.
“I wasn’t going back. They can do it in the morning. I didn’t see the big issue,” Hensby recalled. “That was my big mistake.”
He was disqualified from the tournament. Several weeks later, he received an email telling him he was benched for a year. Hensby was stunned. He wrote to Tour commissioner Jay Monahan pleading his case, to no avail.
Hensby gives the impression of a man quick to laugh but also sensitive to perceived slights or unfairness. In early January, the PGA Tour announced that Brad Fritsch had inadvertently taken a prohibited substance as part of a weight-loss program, a violation Fritsch had self-reported. His suspension: three months. Hensby called Monahan.
“I just wanted to be treated as fair as everyone else. I think 12 months is too much, and my reaching out to him is to try and get my ban shortened. I think six months is plenty,” he said. His call has not been returned.
“He’s busy, but he’s not that busy,” Hensby said. “I’ve brought this on myself, but 12 months is a long time. I may as well have done drugs and taken the test. I’d get the same result.”
Have you ever used a performance-enhancing substance? I ask.
You know it looks suspicious when you didn’t take the test?
“Of course,” he said. “In the last three years, I’ve made $22,000. If I’m taking a performance-enhancing drug then obviously it’s not performance-enhancing.”
Hensby insists a brighter star would have been treated differently.
“Maybe they did make an example of me. PGA Tour players talk. We all know what goes on. I believe there are guys who are higher-profile players that have probably tested positive and it’s gone by the wayside. Unless you have proof of that …” His voice trails off and he shrugs his shoulders. “The Tour’s always going to say that’s not true.”
The Tour’s policy is to decline further comment on disciplinary action after making its announcement. Shortening Hensby’s suspension seems highly unlikely. That leaves him biding his time until Oct. 26, when the ban ends. He plans to enter Web.com Q-School a few weeks after that.
Meantime, he’s looking at state opens to sharpen his game.
“I’m going to work as hard as I can to get back,” he said. “I have more motivation than I’ve had in years.”
Golfweek, March 11, 2018.