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Price fears that drug use will enter golf

Three-time major champion Nick Price fears future generations of tournament professionals could turn to performance-enhancing drugs in a bid to keep up with the biggest hitters in the game.

The 46-year-old Price has been a persistent critic of the rapid advances in club and ball technology, and the lengthening of major championship layouts as a response.

"What they're doing to golf courses now, they're leaving this game open to steroids," Price told Reuters in a recent interview.

"I guarantee you that, in another three to four years, we're going to start seeing guys taking steroids, because that's the message we are sending to young people now -- and it's the wrong message.

"It (steroid use) will probably start at the college level," added the Zimbabwean, who won the PGA Championship in 1992 and 1994 and also the British Open in 1994.

"Kids will realize early on they're going to have to get stronger to survive. It's very sad, but that's what's bound to happen because of our focus on length.

"Short game and creativity still count for something, but not nearly as much as it used to. Everyone looks for an edge and some guys don't care about consequences. Where are they going to go for the next edge?"

Price was speaking to Reuters two weeks ago at Augusta National, site of The Masters.

Augusta National measured 7,290 yards when Canada's Mike Weir won the 2003 title there in a playoff, making it the sixth longest course in major championship history.

Although the left-handed Weir is only a medium-length hitter, Price is concerned that, as golf is dominated more and more by power, the game's integrity could be compromised by the taint of drugs.

"We've been squeaky clean for 100 years, and it's sad to think we're opening ourselves up to this possibility," said the former world No. 1.

Price's comments carry even more weight following an article in the New York Times newspaper on Tuesday, suggesting baseball players are still using muscle-building drugs and amphetamines despite the sport's new steroid-testing plan.

The report said players have switched from using steroids to drugs like human growth hormone, citing interviews with 40 current or former players, baseball executives and medical officials.

In golf, short to medium hitters like Price have been penalized by the recent trend for ultra-long courses to host major championships.

Last year's PGA Championship was held at 7,360-yard Hazeltine, the fourth longest course to have staged a major, while last year's U.S. Open was played at Bethpage Black, a daunting par-70 public course measuring 7,214 yards.

Big-hitting Tiger Woods won last year's Masters and U.S. Open, and finished second to another power puncher, Rich Beem, at the 2002 PGA Championship.

"Just fast forward a little bit," Price said. "What are some guys going to do once they max out on clubs and balls and the fitness aspect of the game?

"I'm not a soothsayer, just use common sense. Look at the history of any sport that has required strength to excel.

"I don't care if it's herbal steroids or whatever they develop next -- who knows what they can come up with? It's where they're going to end up."

Although several of Price's PGA Tour colleagues agreed golf's future was a little murky, most of them doubted that players of the future would ever resort to steroid use to stay competitive.

"I agree the game has changed so much in recent years," said 23-year-old Charles Howell III, already one of the longest hitters on the tour. "As a kid I worked with (coach) David Leadbetter on hitting the ball a long way. That is the game.

"But I'm not sure you would ever go to steroid use because of the impact on your short game, your feel and your emotions -- and those are hard enough to handle as it is.

"I guess you never say never, though. You never know what some guy might think is acceptable to him."

Jerry Kelly, twice a winner on the PGA Tour last year, was of a similar mind: "This game is so frustrating as it is, I can't imagine what it can do to someone on steroids.

"I play close to a rage now. On steroids, I'd be out of control," he added.

Davis Love III, who clinched his third title of the year at The Heritage on Sunday, said: "Potentially, anything could be a problem, but steroids is an illogical place to go.

"It's obvious, though, that Nick (Price) is passionate about protecting the game, and you have to respect him because he is looking out for all of us."


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