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Drug suspension lifted Barron heads to Q-School

Doug Barron had a marathon day of golf by his standards, leaving him more excited than he was exhausted.

Only a few months ago, he had no energy for anything, even after a long night of sleep. Last week in Houston, Barron played 18 holes in the wind at a mini-tour event, then drove 90 miles across town to play nine holes at Redstone Golf Club, where the second stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School starts Tuesday.

“It was great having my energy back,” he said in a telephone interview.

Now he’s trying to get his job back.

Barron, the first player suspended under the tour’s anti-doping policy, returns to the PGA Tour on Tuesday at Q-School, among those facing a long road back to the big leagues. For the 41-year-old Barron, his path includes an unprecedented detour.

The one-year suspension was lifted in September, with Barron granted a therapeutic use exemption for low testosterone. He didn’t have the exemption last year at the St. Jude Classic, when he was randomly picked for drug testing at his only PGA Tour start. His lawsuit against the tour has been settled. All he wants to think about now is his golf.

“I’ve been preparing for this day for more than a year,” Barron said.

He did not resume taking testosterone until after he was approved for the exemption, and Barron says it has been “the best seven weeks of my life.” His strength and spirits restored, he set out to get back in golf shape before Q-School.

Instead of trying to Monday qualify for tour events, he went looking for competition on mini-tours, playing six times. He finished 13th in his last two-day tournament, earning $750. The previous event he was seventh and made $1,100.

“Vacation money for when I retire,” he said with a laugh.

There has been little to laugh about until recently.

The stunning news that a player had violated the tour’s doping policy was tempered by the fact it was Barron. He had played only eight full years on tour, never making more than $461,981 in any season. He is best remembered for taking his shirt off to play a shot out of the water at Innisbrook in 2006, exposing a physique that did little to persuade skeptics that golf is an athletic endeavor.

And that injection of testosterone he says he took three weeks before the St. Jude Classic?

“The idea that one shot could help someone out here is a joke,” he said.

Barron has coped with health issues most of his life, including mitral valve prolapse as a teenager that landed him on beta blockers. Four years ago, doctors found his testosterone level to be that of an 80-year-old man. He began taking a steroid to get his level back to normal, and two years later, the tour’s doping policy began.

Barron was denied an exemption, and for the next eight months was miserable.

“I couldn’t get out of bed. I was tired. I had no sex drive,” he said. “I decided to get back on testosterone, and my doctors had no problem with me doing it.”

Barron said the testosterone level of his 69-year-old father was higher than his, so he had one shot of the steroid about three weeks before the St. Jude Classic, where he received a sponsor’s exemption as a hometown player. The results came back a little more than month later, and when the suspension was handed down, he chose not to appeal.

“The reason we decided not to appeal was we had to fly all my doctors and all my attorneys to Jacksonville (Fla.) to listen to a committee in the court system of (PGA Tour Commissioner) Tim Finchem. And I thought, ‘Heck with that, we can’t win,”’ Barron said. “We filed a deal in federal court.”

PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw said in an e-mail that the lawsuit has been dismissed. Barron said it had been “resolved” and that he was precluded from saying anything else because of a confidentiality agreement. His good friend and one of his attorneys, Arthur Horne, would only say, “We’re pleased with outcome.”

Barron is simply glad it’s behind him.

He is happy he was able to spend more time with his two children last year. The worst of it was the lack of energy, the strain on his marriage for not feeling as if he could support his family. His wife, Leslie, is a contemporary folk artist who was doing her best to help pay the bills. There also was a lawsuit that seemed to drag on.

“I hold no grudges against the tour,” he said. “They did what they thought was right, and I did what I thought was right. I’m back taking testosterone. I have a chance again, and I’m confident I can do it.”

He’ll find out starting Tuesday, when he tries to get through the second stage of Q-School with hopes of getting to the six-round final stage in December, a grind like no other in golf.

“I’m glad I can move on with my life,” Barron said. “I’m going to keep playing until I don’t think I’m good enough anymore.”