New Doping Era Begins


So it is that at 4:30 p.m. (ET) on Nov. 2 golf’s version of the steroid era began, not with a bang or a BALCO or a broken record, but with a Barron and a brief and somehow baffling statement.

Of course, it could be the Beta-Blocker or the hormone or the diuretic era, but we’ll likely never know for sure because the PGA Tour isn’t talking and Doug Barron, the first player to be suspended under the circuit’s performance-enhancing drug policy, will follow a similar “Don’t ask because I’m not telling” protocol. 

Doug Barron
Prior to Monday, Doug Barron was most known for playing a shot without a shirt in 2006. (Getty Images)

Baseball and track and field get sexy substances with chilling street names like cream and clear. Golf gets a nondescript “performance-enhancing drug” in a plain brown wrapper. Baseball and track and field get giants of the game, both figuratively and literally, like Barry Bonds and Marion Jones violating anti-doping policies. Golf gets Doug Barron who hasn’t made enough cash on Tour since 2006 to cover a potential $500,000 fine for the violation.

When the Tour introduced its anti-doping policy European Tour chief George O’Grady nailed it when he said golf needed to only test one guy – Tiger Woods – and if he’s clean what does it matter where the Doug Barrons of the world are trying to find long and straight?

But then golf is a game of rules and if we must adhere to stroke and distance than Barron’s plight is clear. For his actions he will be suspended from the Tour, and all Federation of PGA Tour circuits, for one year.

“I would like to apologize for any negative perception of the Tour or its players resulting from my suspension. I want my fellow Tour members and the fans to know that I did not intend to gain an unfair competitive advantage or enhance my performance while on Tour,” Barron said in a statement.

Simple enough, not even Perry Mason could do much good here. But then the mea culpa leaves some, particularly those with a working knowledge of Barron, with more questions than answers.

Ponte Vedra Beach lawyers will have no part of this, but for the circuit’s policy to work it must meet four key elements – a violation (check), sentencing guidelines with teeth (check), transparency and intent.

Two out of four isn’t bad when it comes to fairways hit and sand saves, but when a man’s career hangs in the balance a higher standard looms.

Late Monday commissioner Tim Finchem told Golf Channel that, “The PGA Tour will not release the drug for which Doug Barron tested positive.” Yet the circuit’s anti-doping policy states: “In each case where a period of ineligibility has been imposed ... the PGA Tour will, at a minimum, publish the name of the player, the anti-doping rule violation, and the sanction imposed.”

This is important because those who know Barron know he was diagnosed with low testosterone by the same Memphis doctor who diagnosed Shaun Micheel. The condition can require doses of testosterone to right the system and, as part of its policy, the Tour has an exhaustive system in place for “therapeutic use exemptions.”

Whether this was at the core of the issue will probably never be known, yet without full disclosure it is not a stretch to imagine a clerical error, not some cynical and self-absorbed drive to hit the ball further, sending Barron to the shelf for a year, if not a career.

Within the Tour’s 37-page anti-doping handbook there are more loopholes than a Boy Scout pack meeting. Drugs of recreation are handled much differently than performance-enhancing infractions and throughout the proceedings Finchem reserves the right to “depart from the sanction guidance in the International Anti-Doping Standards as he deems appropriate.”

Barron – a player who has toiled for most of his career well below the Mendoza Line with 238 career starts and fewer top-10 finishes (12) than Woods has major championships (14) – may be destined to become the face of doping in golf. Truth is his well-groomed statement leaves little room for a defense.

But a half dozen friends and followers found the notion of Barron doping impossible to digest late Monday. At the least there appears to be a severe lack of intent, which may mean nothing to those who write regulations for anti-doping manuals but must count for something on judgment day.

The episode also casts a concerning light on the Tour’s dogged lack of transparency. Baseball tried to keep doping a “clubhouse” secret, and now they have A-Roid and Roger Clemens and Congressional hearings.

At 4:30 p.m. (ET) on Nov. 2 the Tour officially entered the anti-doping era. And at 4:30 p.m. the world learned the circuit still has some work to do.