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PGA Tour being pushed on drugs testing

Sooner, rather than later, the PGA Tour will have to take a proactive stance on the controversial issue of drug testing.

Golf's biggest and most lucrative circuit has so far resisted widespread calls for it to adopt an official doping policy and it is the only major sports body in the United States without one.

Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has repeatedly said he has seen no evidence of performance-enhancing drugs in the game and is therefore reluctant to change tack.

He firmly believes golf's cherished traditions of etiquette and self-policing set it apart from other sports, although he has promised "very aggressive action" if a pattern of substance abuse ever develops.

Three months ago, world number one Tiger Woods joined the growing chorus clamoring for a change in policy by the PGA Tour on the question of drug testing.

"I think it certainly can be (a problem) in the future and I think we should be proactive instead of reactive," the 12-times major champion told reporters at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

"We should be ahead of it and keep our sport as pure as can be, have a program in place before guys are actually doing it, rather than knowing who's doing it and then create a program. This is a great sport and has always been clean."

To date, though, the PGA Tour has elected to remain reactive.

The Tour's policy board was scheduled to end a two-day meeting in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida on Tuesday where the issue of drug-testing is believed to have been conspicuously absent from its agenda.

An encouraging sign, however, is that at least two members of that policy board have spoken of the need for a more forward-looking approach.

"I personally do think we should be proactive," board member Joe Durant said at the season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta earlier this month.

"I think the sport has been clean for this long and I want to keep it that way. We all do."

Asked why the subject was not on the agenda for the Ponte Vedra Beach meeting, Durant replied: "More just the complication of the thing.

"We just want to make sure that we go about it the right way. I would be surprised if it didn't at some point in the future."

Fellow board member Joe Ogilvie added: "We market the long ball. 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 naive to think that somebody down the line won't cheat."

Therein lies the rub.

While Finchem and others in golfing officialdom argue there is no evidence of drug-taking in the sport, players such as former world number one Nick Price have long said it is simply a question of time.

For Price, a worrying concern is the modern obsession with power: power hitting to cope with the ever-lengthening power layouts, many of which are now in excess of 7,300 yards.

"The way some of the guys hit the ball now, some of the younger guys may be tempted to go on steroids," he said earlier this year.

"I'm not saying that guys are using drugs, but the way the game is leaning we leave ourselves open to that danger.

"It (steroid use) will probably start at the college level," added the three-times major winner.

"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 has experienced the negative impact of drug-taking in golf, having been prescribed beta-blockers for eight years to combat chronic high blood pressure.

"I think it did more harm to me than anything else, it left me feeling very sluggish" said the Zimbabwean, who switched to a different drug in 1989 to keep his blood pressure down.

Beta-blockers, also commonly prescribed to treat migraine and angina, have a calming effect on nerves and are also used to ward off anxiety.

November 15, 2006


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