- We went through the world anti-doping agency’s banned substance list to see how it compared with the PGA TOUR’s anti-doping manual, the results were surprising.
When people think about drugs and golf one image springs to mind, Dust-in-the-nose Johnson. His salacious dalliance with Cocaine was a lesson in how not to manage a PR scandal. The PGA were hopeless, as they fuelled speculation by refusing to confirm or deny the allegations.
DJ’s example highlights one fundamental flaw of the PGA’s drug policy, their non-disclosure clause. Thats right, the PGA extricate themselves from any formal process that would see them name professionals who break the rules:
“The PGA TOUR may decide not to publish information on cases involving Drugs of Abuse Violations.”
“Unless the PGA deems disclosure necessary under the circumstances as determined in its sole discretion..”
As Sharapova finds herself embroiled in one of the biggest doping scandals since Lance Armstrong broke our hearts, the golf world must ask itself if we are immune from sport’s universal problem.
It was revealed that Maria Sharapova had been taking Meldonium for ten years, a drug which isn’t on the PGA Tour’s list of banned substances. The Russian tennis star had been using this medication – originally designed for patients suffering from chronic heart failure – to improve her stamina and recovery, and is the latest in a long line of Russian athletes to fail a drugs test. The country was recently suspended from all athletic competition after the world anit-doping agency found evidence of endemic drug taking across a majority of disciplines.
Gary Player believes that 50 to 60 percent of athletes in the world are using performance enhancing drugs and claimed to have confirmation that its reach had extended to golf. When asked for a number, he estimated 10. “I might be way out,” Player said. “Definitely not going to be lower, but might be a hell of a lot more.”
The credibility of these words became questionable when he dragged the supplement “creatine” into the debate.“Whether it’s HGH, whether it’s Creatine or whether it’s steroids, I know for a fact that some golfers are doing it,” he said. Oh Gary Gary Gary.
Taken by almost every athlete to increase muscular power and stamina, creatine is certainly not considered a “performing enhancing drug” by any governing body. The Black Knight may have confused his words slightly but his insight does raise an interesting point. Is there any truth to the suggestion that drugs feature in golf?
Can Performance enhancing drugs help a golfer?
The mechanics of a golf swing would suggest otherwise. Take Justin Thomas for example, he weighs in at 145 pounds and is one of the longest hitters on tour. This clip of him burning a 9-iron 200+ yards is evidence that physical size and driving distance aren’t necessarily dependant on each other.
The same might have been said for baseball, a sport reliant on technique and timing. But as their horrendous doping scandal demonstrated, the allure of increased power and strength was too great for many players. I’m not saying that golf is the same in this regard, but the temptation for shortcutting your way to a powerful physique could be there for a golfer.
Try imagining you’re a desperate professional who watches Rory McIlroy bombing it off the tee. You’ve watched him pack on size and naively attribute this to his driving distance. You also notice that it has taken the him four painful years to pack on 20 pounds of muscle mass. Would you be tempted to cut a corner? Remember you’ll do anything to get that Tour card…anything!
The PGA TOUR don’t care
When John Daly comes out and accuses you of having a relaxed drugs testing policy, you should have a long hard look at yourself. The golfer claimed that the TOUR make no secret about when drug tests will take place, allowing dopers the chance to protect themselves:
“It’s not random; it’s big a joke. This whole drug testing is a joke.”
“And for you dopers and all that s— on the PGA Tour, you know you’re getting drug tested, you got it made! You got it made! And I’m tired of it.”
The PGA TOUR’s Drug handbook
As I trawled through the complicated collection of compounds, proteins, modulators, hormones, all of which carried a number, bracket or molecular outline that would make a Chemist grimace, there were a few items missing on the PGA TOUR’s list. I could find no evidence in the PGA TOUR handbook of several WADA banned substances under the heading “PEPTIDE HORMONES, GROWTH FACTORS AND RELATED SUBSTANCES.” ARA-290, asialo EPO and carbamylated EPO to name a few. I’m no expert but why not publish the same list as the authoritative body on the subject of doping in sport?
Another fascinating finding was how the PGA TOUR created a separate “drugs of abuse section”, as if the players need pointing in the direction of the most pertinent information. WADA’s list tediously dots “recreational” drugs amongst its alphabetised list, not the PGA TOUR, they create a completely new section that looks like Mick Jagger’s suitcase just so the players know where to look.
I thought it was very sporting of the TOUR to underline how and why a player should consume pot. Although I’m not totally convinced by the claim that it would reduce anxiety in the context of a PGA tournament, the thought of hitting that first tee shot after a few cones is making my hands sweat.
Michael Collins once claimed that Marijuana was common place on TOUR and when you consider the revelations about their testing policy, I’m not surprised.
In summary, the PGA Tour’s policy of not naming players is a curious position. I’ve heard of protectionism, but is guarding the game’s image creating an environment open to abuse? Secondly, we can all agree that there isn’t a steroid on the planet that will help you overcome the most important part of golf – those treacherous, swinging six-footers. With this in, mind what’s to say a slightly dumb, shorter hitter doesn’t look at Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy and make the unsubstantiated assumption that they need to pack on a bit of size to add some yards.
It would appear the Tour have a loose grip on the administrative side of their drugs policy. The failure to remove Meldonium – the Sharapova drug – from the list of banned substances highlights this concern. With the Olympics fast approaching golf will need to conform to WADA’s standards. If we’ve learnt anything recently, it’s that the doping scandal has extended its poisonous tentacles to a plethora of unlikely sports, we should avoid the arrogant assumption that golf is not at risk. We currently have a sport with a system open to abuse and a governing body who care more about image and less about substance.
Excuse the pun.