Only Matter if Tiger is Clean

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PGA Tour (75x100)The PGA TOUR announced Tuesday that its drug-testing program would begin in July.
 
No need to rush. Somebody's built a better mousetrap already.
 
His name is George O'Grady, he's chief executive of the European Tour and during a lighthearted moment at the Presidents Cup last month, he pointed out there was only one golfer who really needed to be tested: Tiger Woods.
 
'If he's clean,' O'Grady said with flawless logic, 'what does it matter what the rest of them are on?'
 
Bingo.
 
Golf doesn't have a drug problem yet, real or perceived, but only because nobody has figured out yet which drugs enhance which performances -- and more important, whether by enough to make the time and trouble worthwhile.
 
Common sense suggests some golfers are experimenting even now. Every business packed with people that competitive always includes a few willing to rummage in dark corners for any kind of edge. But from all the available evidence, committed users are few and far between.
 
The bulk steroids build comes in handy in football and maybe at the plate. But at some point in the golf swing, big muscles just get in the way. Beta blockers might quiet the nerves on the greens, but the side effects -- fatigue and dizziness -- can make navigating the rest of the course a hazard. Uppers present the opposite problem. There may be a way to handle the trade-offs, but the benefits so far hardly seem worth the bother.
 
About the only areas performance-enhancing drugs would clearly help golfers is in rehabbing injuries and overall fitness, just as it does in every other sport. So human growth hormone might be in play in golf, too, but the scientific jury is still out on the reliability of HGH testing.
 
PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem could recite another half-dozen reasons why his game lagged behind just about every other big-time sport in drug testing. He always returns to the same one.
 
'It's inconsistent and counterintuitive to what the game of golf is all about,' he said again Tuesday. 'Because it assumes someone is guilty. And in golf, you expect players to know the rules and play by the rules, and that's the culture of the game that sets us apart from all other sports.'
 
Finchem is right, up to a point.
 
Golfers routinely call fouls on themselves at the highest levels and sportsmanship remains more valued than gamesmanship, owing largely to the game's country-club past. Even rich people feel a need to do something honest occasionally. So for the longest time, every time Finchem asked himself, 'Is there enough suspicion about our sport to justify a testing program?' he answered the same way. No.
 
Yet some European nations where the tours do business began demanding the same regulations applied to other sports be implemented in golf. A steady drumbeat of busts in some of those other games began nudging public perception across the spectrum. Even the World Chess Federation caved a while back, voting to test competitors at select events.
 
Then former champion Gary Player created a buzz on the eve of this summer's British Open by claiming he knew at least one golfer using steroids and guessed as many as 10 worldwide might be. A dozen or more golfers immediately reacted the way you wish their counterparts in baseball and football would, slamming those comments as irresponsible and daring Player to provide some proof.
 
By then, though, plans by the European and LPGA to go ahead with their programs forced Finchem's hand.
 
'In order for you to be perceived as a 'clean sport,'' PGA TOUR spokesman Ty Votaw lamented at the time, 'you have to test.'
 
Woods said more than a year ago that while he didn't suspect any of his fellow golfers, testing couldn't begin soon enough. 'Tomorrow,' Woods said, 'would be fine with me.' In light of Player's remarks, he was asked after the first round of the British whether performance-enhancing drugs were a problem.
 
'I don't know,' he said then. 'I think we'll find out.'
 
Maybe so.
 
Either way, Woods could save his sport considerable time and expense by being the first to volunteer for a test. Assuming Woods' comes back clean, as O'Grady said, nobody will much care about the rest of the results.
 
But any golfer who does get caught, in addition to a suspension, should be entitled to a refund.
 
Related Links:
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