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Drug testing to being in July 2008

Starting in July on the PGA Tour, players who register for a tournament could be given a locker, a tee time for their pro-am and a cup to submit a sample for their drug test.

The PGA Tour plans to start its drug-testing program next year after six months of an intensive education program, with penalties for a positive test ranging from a one-year suspension for the first offense to a lifetime ban if a player is caught three times.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem will have some discretion on some offenses, especially if any positive tests are from recreational instead of performance-enhancing drugs. But he said ignorance will not be accepted as an excuse.

"This is not the FedEx Cup," Finchem said Tuesday, a joking reference to players not understanding the points race. "You've got to know the details on this one."

Leaders from golf's most influential organizations signed off last month on an anti-doping policy. The tour's plan was approved by its policy board on Monday.

The tour will be sending players a comprehensive manual on the anti-doping policy Dec. 1, part of an education program that will extend through June. Players must attend a drug policy meeting in January, they will have access to a 24-hour hotline for questions about various substances, and medical experts will be at tournaments throughout next year.

The manual contains a list of prohibited substances that fall under 10 categories, ranging from anabolic steroids to human growth hormones to narcotics to beta blockers.

Finchem said the tour can test without notice anytime and anywhere, either at a tournament or a player's house. He said testing would be random, comparing it with pingpong balls used in a lottery; selective random testing, to help ensure every player gets tested at least once; and regular testing if a player has a history of substance abuse.

Penalties could include ineligibility for up to one year for the first violation; up to five years for the second violation; up to a lifetime ban for multiple violations; and fines up to $500,000.

Finchem said violations for recreational drugs, such as marijuana or cocaine, could be treated differently from steroids. The program allows the commissioner discretion to require treatment instead of sanctions, or a combination of the two.

The PGA Tour was a reluctant entry into the new world of sports and drug testing, and Finchem resisted a policy for years because he had no evidence any of his players were using performance-enhancing drugs, or what drugs would help a golfer win tournaments.

George O'Grady, chief executive of the European Tour, put a humorous spin on drug testing last month at the Presidents Cup when he suggested testing Tiger Woods.

"If he's clean, what does it matter what the rest of them are on?" O'Grady said.

Players would have the option to appeal any positive test. Finchem said the tour would disclose violations and report the penalty, although tour spokesman Ty Votaw said officials would only report the type of drug (such as performance-enhancing) instead of naming the specific drug found in the player's system.

The anti-doping program will be handled through the tour's attorney. It also will have a therapeutic use exemption committee led by its medical advisor, Tom Hospel, who has served as the team doctor at Ohio State.

The National Center for Drug Free Sport, which handles drug testing for the NCAA, will conduct the testing for the tour.

Finchem embarks on this program believing golf will be proven clean, and even as the education program was about to begin, he was not happy that golf was joining other sports with drug programs.

"This is why I don't like all this," Finchem told reporters in his office. "It's inconsistent and counterintuitive to what the game of golf is all about. Because it assumes someone is guilty. And in golf, you expect players to know the rules and play by the rules, and that's the culture of the game that sets us apart from all other sports."

An education program for the Nationwide Tour will begin in the middle of next year, with testing to start toward the end of the 2008 season. On the Champions Tour for players 50 and older, the education program will start in January 2009, with testing expected to start in the middle of that year.

 

 




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