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A league of their own . . .

Unlike in other sports, golfers police themselves, often stringently. But that hasn't precluded a debate over whether drug testing is needed.

By BOB HARIG
Published September 7, 2006


There are no referees to call penalties, no umpires to say what is fair or foul. There are rules officials who roam the course, but they cannot be everywhere.

It is up to golfers to police themselves, and they often go to extreme lengths, confessing to seemingly benign infractions that the masses might not even have been aware of.

But does that mean a player would never consider helping himself off the course? Specifically, would a golfer take a performance-enhancing drug to improve strength, flexibility and recovery time, or one to calm the nerves in the heat of competition?

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem believes in the honor system that has been part of the sport for more than 100 years.

Others are not so sure.

While many sports have been plagued with drug accusations and problems, professional golf has no testing system, or even a list of banned substances - despite the recent trend of fitness, strength and power that have become big factors in the game.

"I think we should be proactive instead of reactive," Tiger Woods said last month during the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio. "I just think we should be ahead of it and keep our sport as pure as can be. This is a great sport, and it's always been clean."

Woods said he doesn't know how long it would take to implement such a program, but added, "Tomorrow would be fine by me." He then said he would be glad to be the first tested.

Greg Norman, 51, had stronger words. He said there have been rumors of drug use in golf for years.

"How can an institution like ours, as big as it is, not have a policy?" Norman, winner of 20 PGA titles and 68 internationally, said. "You hear about it all the time on tour, and if there are no rules or regulations in place, you don't blame the players for doing it."

Finchem has countered that golf is unique, that players call penalties that cost themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But at a news conference Wednesday at the Canadian Open in Ancaster, Ontario, he said his position has been misunderstood.

"I've said several factors that we evaluate on a regular basis . . . could lead us to take a number of steps.

"We will, later this fall, make a comprehensive statement about what we are recommending to our board be done in the area of substance abuse and performance-enhancing substances," Finchem said.

The question is whether golfers could take something behind the scenes that might help them get stronger, sharpen their senses or keep their nerves in check. Three-time major winner Nick Price said he took beta-blockers from 1985 through 1989. They were prescribed for high blood pressure. Beta-blockers essentially block adrenaline, slowing the heart rate and even curbing the sweating and trembling of people with anxiety - something beneficial to a golfer coming down the stretch.

Price said it didn't help his game. He experienced one of the side effects - the beta-blockers made him lethargic. "I don't think there's any coincidence that when I stopped taking them I played the best golf of my career," said Price, whose 17 of 18 PGA Tour wins came in 1991 and after.

But should the tour make them illegal? They also are prescribed for high cholesterol or even attention-deficit syndrome, which is why the late Payne Stewart took them.

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club, which sets the rules for everyone but the United States and Mexico, plans random testing next month at the World Amateur Team Championship. R&A chief Peter Dawson said at the British Open in July that he doesn't believe golf has a drug problem, but that he would support testing if necessary.

While some are fine with testing, others insist no drug could benefit a golfer.

"You're either good enough or you're not good enough," said Fred Funk, a seven-time winner who turned pro in 1981. "I don't think drugs will help you get better."

Still, the same things that apply to baseball, basketball and football players can also benefit golfers. Increased strength can lead to faster clubhead speed and more distance. And steroids can help a golfer recover quicker from injury or from hitting numerous golf balls at the range.

"We market the guys who hit it 300 yards," said Joe Ogilvie, 32, who turned pro in 1996. "If that's your message, and people see that beginning at the high school level, I think as a tour it is very naive to think that somebody down the line won't cheat."

Finchem said he has no evidence that any tour players are taking steroids. His critics say, "How can he know if he doesn't test?"

"I know some people say Tim is naive on this, he's got his head in the sand," Finchem said. "I don't think we're naive. I think we're very aggressive in having the capability to do whatever is necessary. But we need more than somebody just saying why don't you go test and make sure."