Friday, July 20, 2007

If Golfers Are Taking Drugs, Start Giving Names

Sports of the Times
July 21, 2007

Carnoustie, Scotland

In Gary Player’s arm-waving promo for the World Golf Hall of Fame, he expounds on how he has flown more than 12 million miles in his golf travels in half a century. With that promo about to be updated to 14 million miles, he should take it as a hint to update his cloudy allegations at this 136th British Open regarding performance-enhancing drugs in golf.

It’s not enough for Player to tell reporters, as he did Wednesday at a news conference welcoming him as the 1968 Open champion here, that you “just know for a fact that some golfers are doing it” and that around the world, “I would say there’s 10 guys taking something.”

If he’s trying to alert golf’s ruling bodies — the PGA Tour, the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club — to the use of drugs on the various world tours, Player needs to name names. Do it in confidence, behind closed doors in a meeting with golf’s ostrich-like officials who have been so slow in getting their heads out of the sand traps about drugs.

When somebody’s cheating in golf, that’s what a rival golfer is supposed to do. Name the cheater to the tournament officials.

If a pro notices another golfer nudging his ball into a better lie in the rough during a tournament, that pro doesn’t walk away and keep quiet. Or shouldn’t. That pro is not protecting every other golfer in the field unless he reports it immediately after the round before the cheater signs his or her scorecard. Not after the tournament. Not after the season ends. Do it then and there.

In time, Player may deserve to be praised for being the first to dare to mention publicly even the possible presence in golf of, as he said, human growth hormone, creatine and steroids. But unless he names names, he’s only playing nine holes.

Even before Player popped off, golf’s ruling bodies were expected to have a testing policy in place by the end of the year. Admittedly, it surely has taken time to dot all the ayes and to cross all the tees in all those discussions. But according to Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of nearby St. Andrews, those decisions are at an advanced stage.

“I think it’s important that golf demonstrates that it is clean,” Dawson said Wednesday, “or if it’s not, identifies it and does something about it. I personally think there should be a period of player education, which might last for a whole season before you would introduce a fully fledged antidoping and drug-testing program.”

For too long, golf’s officials professed that golfers were too responsible to cheat. They kept preaching how they’ve just never heard of any golfers taking performance-enhancing drugs. Then again, they would have been the last to hear, especially when they weren’t listening. But thanks to Player, now they have heard it, loud but unclear.

Until now, those officials have preferred to cite how one of golf’s patron saints, Bobby Jones, in deflecting praise for accepting a penalty stroke in a United States Open, said that he might as well be saluted for “not robbing a bank.” They talk about how golf is a self-policing sport in which both pros and duffers will call a penalty on themselves for an infraction that only they see.

When asked about Player’s allegations, Tiger Woods, like the other pros questioned here, denied any knowledge of steroid use.

“Probably out here, it would be test positive for maybe being hung over a little bit, but that’s about it,” Woods said, smiling. “I know some guys have taken Medrol packs for inflammation in their wrists, but other than that, I don’t see anybody doing anything or have heard about anybody doing anything.”

But if anybody is doing anything, that golfer is not likely to do it where others would see it, and especially where Woods would see it.

In a world where testing for performance-enhancing drugs takes place in Olympic sports, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, cycling, tennis and boxing, it is naïve to think that some golfers have not experimented with such drugs, especially golfers on the lower tiers of their particular tour.

Pros and duffers are always searching for something new that will improve their shot making and lower their scores. Some may well have tried drugs, perhaps with mixed results. Steroids-induced strength would likely add more length for drives and iron shots, but would a putting touch be heavier?

And if Gary Player were to name names for the ruling bodies, the performance of those golfers would be subject to silent inspection for sudden improvement or maybe sudden decline. Without the names, it’s still a guessing game as to who might be doing drugs and who isn’t.

Tell whatever you know, Gary. Play the back nine.


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