Drug Policy Wake-Up Call

By Associated PressJanuary 29, 2008, 5:00 pm
PGA Tour (75x100)Torrey Pines turned out to be a real wake-up call.
Some players were overwhelmed, nervous, even a little scared. Others were frustrated. Most of them were deeply concerned about the future of golf, perhaps not grasping the magnitude of what lies ahead.
And that was before Tiger Woods teed off.
In morning and afternoon sessions last week at the Buick Invitational, more than 100 players filed into a white tent for a mandatory meeting on the PGA TOUR's new anti-doping policy. Drug experts have been available since the Sony Open. The TOUR doesn't release attendance figures for such voluntary visits, but it's a safe bet these guys had more interest in Pro V1s than TUEs (therapeutic use exemptions).
That might have changed last Tuesday.
PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem was at the helm, joined by two staff attorneys and three outside advisors. One of them was a top expert on the World Anti-Doping Agency list, which the TOUR used as a guide for its policy and procedures.
And while just mentioning the name of certain banned substances is enough to put someone to sleep -- bendroflumethiazide, anyone? -- it wasn't long before reality set in.
Do you really know what's in that energy bar?
Those protein shakes?
'The only thing disconcerting is that you're totally responsible for what you take,' Charles Howell III said. 'You might take a product, and there's nothing on the label that's illegal, yet you don't know if there's cross-contamination.'
Even more disturbing was the process of random testing, which could happen anytime and anywhere.
Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger was indignant over having a 'collector' accompany him into the restroom to watch him drop his pants and lift his shirt to make sure he didn't have a urine sample taped to his side. And when it was mentioned that 'anywhere' could include coming to a player's house, Frank Lickliter suggested in so many words that the drug official bring a warrant.
'He's going to have a hard time getting off my property without a bullet in his (behind),' Lickliter said.
The reaction to Lickliter was almost as loud as the cheer when Woods made that sweeping 60-foot birdie putt on the 11th hole Sunday on his way to an eight-shot victory.
If nothing else, the meeting got their attention.
The anti-doping policy was announced Nov. 12 to little fanfare among players, perhaps because everyone had gone home for the year. But the closer golf gets to testing -- July 8 is the target date -- the more resistance it meets.
'I was caught off guard,' Jim Furyk said. 'I thought everyone was pro-testing. What I drew out of the meeting was that a few guys aren't. Not a few. Let's say more guys had negative opinions.'
Lickliter doesn't understand why the TOUR adopted WADA guidelines for golf, noting that Vick's Vapor Inhaler is prohibited.
'If I use Vick's nasal spray three times, they can kick me off the TOUR forever,' Lickliter said. 'Now, do you think Vick's nasal spray is helping me compete out here? Half the stuff they're testing for doesn't help golfers. These so-called experts are not experts in golf.'
Furyk told of a player who confided having a disorder that required drug treatment. Requesting a TUE for the drug means letting his secret out.
Tim Herron wonders if Danny Edwards' failed attempt to start a players' union 10 years ago was ahead of its time.
For many, it was the thought of a positive test for something not intended to help them lower their score, even if no one has been able to identify a drug that will do that.
'I don't think anyone on TOUR is in the business of trying to find something to enhance performance,' Jeff Maggert said. 'Maybe there is, and I'm naive. There's a bigger chance of someone getting tested positive who has absolutely no intent of trying to break the rules. The downside outweighs the upside by 1,000-to-1. The downside is just terrible.'
For all the discussion, there is no getting around the fact that drug testing is coming.
Whether golf needs it no longer is an issue, although it is hard to refute the recommendation European Tour chief George O'Grady offered in half-jest last year about only testing Woods.
'If he's clean, what does it matter what the rest of them are on?' O'Grady said.
Asked recently about his diet, Woods said he knows exactly what goes into his body. He said 18 months ago that drug testing could start 'tomorrow' and believes golf is 'heading in the right direction of proving that our sport is clean.'
What bothered so many players was golf losing its heritage of an honor system that has guided the game for two centuries. This is the only major sport in which players call penalties on themselves.
'And now they're treating us like criminals,' Lickliter said.
Finchem is more sympathetic than autocratic on this topic. He has resisted drug testing for years, demanding to see evidence of a drug that helps golfers at the highest level. But there was no getting around the question of knowing golf was clean without a test to prove it.
Drug testing in golf was simply inevitable.
Twilight set on Torrey Pines after the second session, and Finchem walked slowly along the 18th fairway toward the hotel. He thought the meetings went well and that it was a good step toward educating the players. But it was clear he was not thrilled with where golf was headed, offering a quiet comment without prompting to no one in particular.
'This is so counterintuitive to everything golf is about,' he said.
With apologies to endless PGA TOUR hype, this is the new era of golf.
It's just a different cup.
Related Links:
  • Tiger Wins Buick Invitational
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    By Associated PressJuly 20, 2018, 11:29 pm

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    At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

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