Mark Hensby spent most of 2018 waiting for the year to be over.
An end of sorts finally came on Oct. 26, when his 12-month suspension from the PGA Tour expired, leaving a 47-year-old veteran unsure of how much game he has, where he will play and whether he’s even welcome.
“It was a learning year in terms of dealing with what transpired,” Hensby said. “But it’s a lost year in that I probably could have gotten into eight or nine PGA Tour events.”
What transpired is this: after the first round of the Sanderson Farms Championship in October 2017, Hensby was summoned for a random drug test. Having just urinated on his 17th hole — and facing a long wait during which he could ruminate on his round of 78 and flagging career — he left the golf course and ignored a request from officials to return.
He was DQ’d and in December the PGA Tour announced the ban under a new policy of making public the names of those suspended for violations of drug test protocols.
The Australian still believes his penalty was excessive. He points to Brad Fritsch, who got a three-month ban in January for admitting to inadvertently taking a banned substance.
“A guy gets three months for saying he was taking something and I get a year for not doing the test at the time they wanted me to do it,” he said. “Nine extra months for that is a little bit harsh.”
At first, Hensby considered doing something else for a living but golf has been his focus since childhood, when he spent every daylight hour at the course to avoid an abusive father at home. So he waited and worked on his game.
Last month he entered the New Mexico Open and finished T-26 in his first competitive start since that DQ. Next month he heads home to play the New South Wales Open and, exemption permitting, the Australian Open. But before then a bigger challenge looms: he has entered this week’s second stage of Web.com Tour Qualifying school in California.
“These kids are pretty damned good,” he replied wearily when asked about his prospects. “Do I feel like I can get through? Yes, or I wouldn’t be going. But I’m going to have to play well. It’s probably going to be a little harder for me since I haven’t played much.”
Hensby did ask the Tour if he could enter the Monday qualifier for last week’s Sanderson Farms Championship, a mischievous request given that it was the scene of his “crime” and four days before his suspension was up. The Tour declined his request and said he was welcome to enter the next qualifier in Las Vegas.
Monday qualifying events are the Hunger Games of the PGA Tour, a battle for survival in which even most of the strong perish every week. Hensby will enter that arena in 2019, at least until he turns 48 in June, when he hopes his career money list rank will provide the Web.com Tour status reserved for those nearing the PGA Tour Champions.
This season will be a fresh start, but Hensby confessed to a residue of bitterness.
“A guy of my age, they don’t care and I understand that. I’m not going to draw people to a tournament. But I did play on a Presidents Cup team and at one time they felt like they needed someone like me to play tournaments,” the former Tour winner said. “Once they know there’s no need for you any more, they throw you away. That’s kind of what it feels like to me.”
He’s OK with his journeyman treatment, but insisted some rules that should be applied equally to all are not.
“Obviously there’s so many rumors about other players. It makes me angry,” he said. “But it also makes me sad because there’s no one standing up for the players. We have guys on the [PGA Tour] board who are ‘Yes’ men, go along guys. They’re not supporting the players.”
He paused and chortled. “Not all the players anyway.”
Golfweek, October 28, 2018.