Drugs in golf
PEDs – will they help your golf game?
The journeyman pro had been plying his trade on US and
Asian golf courses for 12 years. This year he was back on the PGA Tour after
a three-year break spent on the Web.Com Tour. On this particular Thursday he
had just completed the round of his life – an 8-under par 64. Being the last
group on the course, he knew he had the overnight lead. He walked off the
18th with a feeling he had been chasing all his adult life. He signed his
card. Then he was asked to follow some guy with a clipboard and pee in a
Unfortunately the pro in question had relieved himself immediately after
hitting his tee-shot on the last. Try as he might, the golfer simply
couldn’t produce the required sample. Under the rules, this meant the tester
is required to follow the golfer around, wherever he goes, for the next 90
minutes. That being the time-frame within which the tester must obtain the
The journeyman’s cause for celebration, the round of his life, deserved some
form of recognition. A rare and special moment was being denied the golfer
because of a drug-testing programme that was not only inflexible, but, some
argue, a waste of time and money.
The PGA Tour began its anti-doping drug-testing policy on 1 July 2008. Two
weeks later, following the epic 18-hole US Open playoff between Rocco
Mediate and Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines, Mediate labelled the new
drug-testing policy, “the biggest joke in the history of the world.”
In a recent issue of Golf Magazine, six-time PGA Tour winner, Brandt
Snedeker, agreed. “I would do away with drug-testing in a heartbeat. It’s a
complete waste of time and money. Steroids are not going to help you hit a
Maybe not, but perhaps they can help calm your nerves and reduce your
pulse-rate when coming down the stretch with a share of the lead. Beta
blockers can weaken the effects of stress hormones the body produces in
The Tour’s drug policy came under scrutiny when Hall-of-Famer Vijay Singh
admitted to using deer-antler spray, which contains IGF-1, an insulin-like
growth factor that at the time was on the Tour’s list of banned substances.
After investigating Singh’s actions, the Tour dropped the case when the
World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed deer-antler spray from its banned
This publicity led to others, such as Greg Norman, calling for more
stringent anti-doping measures, including blood-testing (certain substances,
such as IGF-1 and other human growth hormone cannot be detected in urine
samples). “You only have to look at what happened to Vijay Singh to know the
drugs issue is there,” Norman said.
Not according to Snedeker. “We’ve had drug testing for six years on the PGA
Tour and we’ve had two cases of people getting caught doing it,” Snedeker
said in the interview. “One of them was Doug Barron, who had low
testosterone, who didn’t go through the proper channels and ended up testing
positive (for anabolic steroid testosterone and propranolol, a beta-blocker
that calms nerves). The other was Vijay Singh, who took deer-antler spray,
which may or may not be a performance-enhancing drug.”
Snedeker said he also finds little merit in the argument that Tour pros
might be tempted to take substances to help settle their nerves or
accelerate recovery time between injuries.
“I don’t think it’s ever been a problem in golf,” he said of PED use. “I
don’t think it ever will be a problem in golf. The PGA Tour is different
from football and every other sport in that we call penalties on ourselves.
The worst thing you can be called in golf is a cheater. Trust me, if there’s
a guy that gets caught doing anything a couple of times, whether it be
bending a rule, we know about it, and we let him know about it. You don’t
want to be labelled ‘that guy.’
Earlier this year, Chris DiMarco said drug testing is “the dumbest thing we
do on Tour.”
Among the pros who have voiced support of the program are Padraig
Harrington, Jerry Kelly, and Joe Ogilvie.
“I’d like to say we’re a little different in golf, but testing is something
that’s a necessary evil,” Ogilvie was quoted as saying earlier this season.
“If everybody was Jack Nicklaus, we wouldn’t have to drug test everyone, but
The sport has often been depicted as being “lenient” in its anti-doping
policy, particularly in Europe, as Justin Rose confirmed. “I have never been
tested on the European Tour,” Rose said. “I have been on the PGA Tour, many
times. I would say four times a year would be average.”
David Garland, the European Tour’s director of operations, says that when
the Tour does test, it targets 10 to 15 per cent of the field and also
liaises with the PGA Tour concerning who they have tested.
As neither Tour uses blood tests, there is an argument that says they are
not really serious about drugs. Other cynics simply point to golf’s
re-admittance to the Olympics as the sole reason a drugs policy exists.
They’ve never had an effect on my scores.