In Steroid Era, Will Golf’s Integrity Stand Test?
08-14-2006 12:57 AM
In Steroid Era, Will Golf’s Integrity Stand Test?
August 14, 2006
New York Times
In Steroid Era, Will Golf’s Integrity Stand Test?
By DAMON HACK
In the seven years since Tiger Woods won the P.G.A. Championship at Medinah Country Club, the golf course has been yanked at the roots and stretched to 7,561 yards, making it the longest major championship venue ever devised.
Medinah, which will again play host to the P.G.A. Championship, beginning Thursday, is just one more reminder of a sport becoming identified with power — so much so that some players are questioning if golf could one day fall prey to the performance-enhancing drugs that have plagued other sports, if they have not infiltrated golf already.
“Up until this point in time, I would have said it is a fairly laughable question,” Joey Sindelar, a seven-time PGA Tour winner, said in a recent interview. “The guys in my era weren’t workout guys. It didn’t used to be such a brute strength thing. But we’re getting some serious 6-1 baseball-player-type guys. There’s probably going to be a time when you’re going to look at guys and say, ‘Well, sooner or later somebody is going to cross that line.’ ”
Professional golf finds itself in an unusual position on the sports landscape. Players call penalties on themselves, sometimes costing themselves strokes, victories and money. Cheating is seen as the worst possible sin. But as golf courses grow longer in an effort to combat gains achieved through equipment and fitness, some players openly wonder if golf might follow the perilous path of baseball, where home run chases in the late 1990’s may have obscured a darker truth.
In interviews with several professional golfers and officials, none said they believed that professional golf had a steroid problem. But many recognized that their sport does not exist in a vacuum despite its being perceived as a game of honor.
In decades past, observers used to debate whether golfers were even athletes. Ben Hogan was nicknamed Bantam Ben. Jack Nicklaus began his career with a paunch.
In today’s game, though, the best players in the world, like Woods, Vijay Singh and Annika Sorenstam, are celebrated for their workout routines and prodigious tee shots. The majority of golf television ads show players wielding a driver and hitting tape-measure shots, a skill that not every professional golfer possesses in equal measure.
“We market the long ball,” said Joe Ogilvie, a PGA Tour professional and member of its policy board. “We market the guys who hit it 300 yards. If that’s your message, and people see that beginning at the high school level, I think as a tour it is very naïve to think that somebody down the line won’t cheat.
“As it gets more popular and the zeroes continue to grow to the left of the decimal point, I don’t think there is any doubt that there will be cheaters,” Ogilvie added. “Golf is all about length, and the U.S.G.A., the P.G.A. of America and, to a certain extent, the PGA Tour are perpetuating it by blindly lengthening every golf course. It doesn’t seem like they have a whole lot of rhyme or reason.”
Some players on the PGA Tour, however, say the DNA in golf is different from the win-at-all-costs undercurrent of other sports.
“Maybe I’m naïve, because I have a hard time believing that anyone would cheat, I really do,” said Tom Lehman, the 1996 British Open champion and the 2006 United States Ryder Cup captain. “The culture of golf is such that you play by the rules.
“If you read in the paper that Tom Lehman just won the U.S. Open and he just took a drug test and he’s been using the clear for the last two years, the guys out here would vilify me,” he added, referring to the steroid tetrahydragestrinone. “It’d be over. For that reason alone, almost, it would keep guys clean.”
The Tour player Bo Van Pelt added: “As far as steroids ever helping out golf or a golf swing, I just don’t see it. Just because you’re hitting it a little bit farther, your scores aren’t going to be that much different. In golf there is too much short game, too much feel, too much carving shots.
“In football, it’s a power game,” Van Pelt added. “In baseball, it’s the off-center hits that instead of being flyouts are home runs. In golf, it’s still about controlling the distance. When you watch guys on Sunday, the guys who win the tournament are hitting it pin high and making the 6- to 8-footer. It’s not just always the guy that’s long.”
Unlike the National Football League and Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour does not test its athletes for performance-enhancing drugs. Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour commissioner, said in a telephone interview that the Tour was not planning to begin a testing program despite the scandals that have plagued other sports, like baseball, cycling and track and field.
“We are monitoring the situation very carefully and we are making sure that players understand that steroids and other illegal substances are in violation of the rules of golf,” Finchem said. “It’s no different taking a steroid to prepare for a golf tournament than it is kicking your ball in the rough.”
Finchem said he would not rule out testing for performance-enhancing drugs “if we get to a point in time where we think we have a problem,” but he said that point had not been reached.
“We don’t think it’s prudent to test just because somebody someplace thinks all sports should test,” Finchem said. “Having said that, if some pattern emerged or, candidly, let’s say that didn’t happen, but it just got to the point that no sport was considered clean, then we would have to take aggressive action.
“If we did test, we would not fool around. We would test aggressively and effectively. We would convince people that we are what people think we are in 2006. If we did it, there would be no hesitation on the part of the players. I would predict 100 percent participation.”
A move toward testing has already begun in some golf circles. During the British Open last month, Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, announced that the countries competing in the World Amateur Team Championships in South Africa in October would be given a drug test.
The L.P.G.A. Tour recently released a statement stating that, in light of the concerns regarding drug use and sports, “we are researching the possible implantation of a policy that would test for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.”
Some players argue that the PGA Tour ought to take similarly swift action.
Tom Pernice Jr., a two-time PGA Tour winner, noted that Major League Baseball ran into trouble by delaying testing until steroid use was already a problem.
“We’d be better off being ahead of the game,” Pernice said. “If we’re going to test, do it now for future generations. I think we need to be a leader on this. From what I’ve heard, it’s easy to get this stuff in high school and college, so do something now and it will trickle on down the line.”
While there is no evidence suggesting steroid use on the PGA Tour, two players — Jay Delsing and Joe Durant — said they have heard of competitors taking beta blockers, which are often prescribed for heart ailments but can also be used to combat anxiety.
The extent of beta blocker use — and its effectiveness — has been debated for years on the PGA Tour. In 2000, Craig Parry of Australia said that three players, whom he did not identify, had won major championships during the 1990’s while using beta blockers.
His comment prompted Nick Price, a three-time major champion who took beta blockers during the 1980’s because of a family history of high blood pressure, to say that the drugs hurt his golf game by making him sluggish. (Price has said he won his three major titles after he stopped taking beta blockers.)
Durant, also a member of the PGA Tour policy board, said the anecdotes he had heard about beta blockers are similar. “I have heard of guys taking them and saying that they didn’t help them at all,” he said.
Delsing added: “As an athlete, you want your senses. It would be like, ‘I’m calm, but I don’t know where I am.’ ”
Dr. Linn Goldberg, a professor of medicine at the Oregon Health and Science University and a spokesman for the Endocrine Society, said beta blockers could affect people differently, but that they are often used to combat a person’s adrenaline flow.
“You can see that happen with someone putting, or shooting archery, or a doctor using it if before giving a talk,” Goldberg said in a telephone interview. “It does steady your nerves because it combats adrenaline when you get nervous or your palms get sweaty and you have a crowd of people around. It mellows you out.”
When Finchem was asked if he was concerned about players using beta blockers on the PGA Tour, he said the Tour’s research found that beta blockers did not help golfers. He said the Tour had anecdotal evidence from three or four players.
“At least two of those players were on prescription, Nick Price being one,” Finchem said. “They had such a negative impact that they saw a dilapidation that made it very difficult to play the game.
“We have never had much of an indication by players that there is use, and in the isolated incidents we’ve seen, it has been as much as a negative as anything.”
Finchem concluded, as he did with steroids, that he would not rule out testing for beta blockers if further research found that it was warranted.
The issues for golf seem complex. Even in a game with rules written in black and white, the players see shades of gray in the area of drug testing.
When Woods was asked for his opinion on testing, he answered the question with his own set of questions. “I think we should study it a little bit more before we get into something like that,” he said. “Where does it start? Who does it? Who is in control of it? What are the substances that you are looking for?”
Sindelar, too, said he recognized the complexity, but he also acknowledged the time for testing may be near.
“It’s at the Olympics, it’s everywhere,” Sindelar said of steroid use. “That’s what goes through my mind. If you said you needed a name, I couldn’t say, yes, it’s that guy. But if it’s everywhere, what that says to me is, why do we think golf is insulated?”
08-14-2006 07:59 AM
It will be interesting to see. I can't see to many golfers taking anabolic steroids but you never know. Golf is different from every other sport. The demographic of the athlete is much, much different then football, baseball, or any other sport. These are guys that govern themselves to a point on the course.
08-14-2006 08:27 AM
They're all using HGH, I just know it!
08-17-2006 07:20 PM
I really doubt many if any are on anything. I mean cmon look at Phil Mickelson, he has bigger boobs than most women and hes one of the best right now. I mean Tiger actually looks like he could play another sport, but most of these guys aren't like that. Although who knows, there is plenty of crap out there that would benefit them, and you can make millions.
08-18-2006 10:13 PM
I play golf, and I take PH/PS's. They do NOTHING to help my game, sure I can drive the ball 300 yards (which I hav ebeen able to do before them), but I can't chip, putt, or anything else. AAS wouldn't help like the do in other sports, since golf is more finnese then anything.
However I think Long Drive competitions currently have a problem.... This I'm certain about.
08-18-2006 10:17 PM
lol Steroids and Golf are two things that I NEVER thought I would see in the same story. Wow, that's something else.
08-26-2006 02:49 AM
Good point, I mean I am ph/ps free, but I can now hit it around 300. And I also suck around the green, but think of it as a pro. If your a pro chances are your good around the green, and with courses getting longer, hitting it off the tee is going to help you tons. So if they have a short game and then use roids/hgh/whatever then their tee shots will open up a whole new game for them. I still dont see these guys using them wildly though, I mean most of these guys look soft and look like they wouldnt know how to pick up a dumbbell.
Originally Posted by bigblank69
08-27-2006 01:12 PM
If anything, golfers would benefit from nootropics. I am a golfer, and I can hit the ball pretty far (315 on a good day, around 290 average), but no way would steroids help me. Especially if I started getting back pumps or something like that. If someone invents a drug that allows a person to perfectly control every muscle in the body, then golfers will be all over that crap. Imagine being able to hold a perfect wrist angle going into every shot. That would lower scores infinitely more than hitting long balls.
08-27-2006 04:27 PM
I dunno, I think that on cycle I could be a pretty intimidating force on the green. I may not be the best golfer, but if they wanna argue with me when I tell them that I'm 2 strokes under par... well, you know the rest. lol
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