Whether by design or default, the list of prohibited substances in the PGA Tour’s anti-doping manual begins with entries for anabolic steroids directly followed by peptide hormones, a group that includes HGH.
While steroids will always be the face of anti-doping, many golf fitness experts contend that HGH (Human Growth Hormone) would be the drug of choice if a professional golfer were inclined to dope.
This is particularly troubling to Travis Tygart – the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the organization that will oversee testing next year for America’s potential Olympic golfers – because the Tour’s performance-enhancing drug program doesn’t include blood testing, which is currently the only way to detect HGH in athletes.
“It’s a big concern, obviously. All you have to do is look at page 28 of their [anti-doping] policy and they ask the question, in the FAQ guide for players, how can hormones be used to enhance performance in golf?” Tygart said.
“There’s a full paragraph of all the benefits hormones would give you. Recovery, club-head speed, a whole lot of stuff there. Then you look back and say, if that does all that good and gives me a performance advantage and I’ve got no chance of being caught for it. That’s a concern.”
Unlike the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA the Tour’s anti-doping program does not include blood testing, which means the circuit has been flying virtually blind when it comes to possible HGH use since it began it’s program in 2008.
“We don’t conduct blood testing and even if we did the detection window for HGH is very limited in the current tests,” said Andy Levinson, who administers the Tour’s anti-doping program and is the executive director of USA Golf, the organization tasked with running golf’s Olympic teams in the United States.
“If, for example, we had evidence that someone were using HGH or in possession of HGH or had admitted to using HGH then those would be violations.”
Levinson said he regularly meets with officials from USADA and the World Anti-Doping Agency to discuss the ongoing development of blood testing, and even as other sports leagues embrace blood testing to combat HGH use technology advancements are giving anti-doping officials more options.
One such test by scientist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., uses “nano” technology to measure growth hormone in urine. According to the George Mason team, the USADA-funded project would give testers a larger window to detect HGH – from just a few days using the current blood test to possibly two weeks in urine – and would alleviate athlete concerns that come with blood testing.
“Specifically for golfers or athletes who are involved in sports that have fine motor skills involved you just want to make sure that there’s not anything whether it’s sticking a needle in the arm or if someone has an issue with a blood draw of any kind that it wont impact their performance,” Levinson said.
Tygart remains cautiously optimistic that the science is improving but warns that the technology still needs to be developed.
“We saw some of the science early on a few years ago and it just wasn’t ready for implementation into the athlete world. We try to continue to help develop it, but it’s just not there yet,” Tygart said. “If it was a realistic possibility [to test for HGH in urine] we’d love to do that. It almost nullifies the need for blood. But it’s not there and our science guys are not convinced it’s going to be there in the near future.”
Levinson said the Tour will continue to follow USADA and WADA’s lead on testing, but it seems likely the first professional golfers to be tested for HGH will be those who go into the Olympic testing pool next May where blood testing is the norm.