LPGA to launch tough drugs policy
When a large majority of LPGA Tour members voted last year to adopt a drug testing policy that would start in 2008, they knew they were ahead of the curve in professional golf.
Now they know something else: The penalties under the new policy are likely to be very stiff.
According to two tour members who attended a players meeting in Corning, N.Y., site of this week's LPGA Corning Classic, a golfer who tests positive for a banned substance will on first offense face a 25-tournament suspension, the equivalent of nearly a full season on the tour's 31-event official schedule. A second offense would result in a 50-tournament suspension and force the player – depending on her tour status – to return to the LPGA Qualifying School to earn back her full-time playing privileges. A player who tests positive for a third time would be banned from the tour for life.
LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens confirmed the details of the penalties and acknowledged they are severe. "This is a work in progress," she said Friday. "But everybody agrees golf is a sport built on integrity. It's a sport where you call a foul on yourself for breaking the rules. So there aren't going to be soft penalties when it comes to this."
The players were stunned by the scope and severity of the penalties, according to the parent of a tour member.
"They're putting the fear of God in the players," the parent said.
Players were told Tuesday that they will be randomly tested on-site during tournament weeks, either after practice or competitive rounds, and will not be allowed to leave the course until they give a sample. Prize money will be withheld until results are determined. For example, if testing were in place this week and the winner was randomly selected, she might have to wait two to four weeks for her $195,000 check.
Bivens refused to discuss how many players would be tested or the process of picking players to give samples. "It wouldn't be very random if we shared all that, would it?" she said.
Bivens said the LPGA hopes to determine which substances might be "scientifically grounded enough" that they could lead to a golf-specific advantage. The LPGA considers marijuana to be such a drug because its perceived calming effect might help steady a player's swing or putting stroke.
The list of 82 banned substances was released in March and includes 33 anabolic steroids, 29 stimulants and 20 beta-blockers.
"It's harsh. Is it too harsh?" asked Kelli Keuhne, who has been on the tour since 1998. "That's relative to who has to serve the time for it. But players need to know and understand what you're putting in your body, which is what you should do as a professional athlete."
Although the penalties aren't expected to be lessened, some details might be changed as the LPGA works to finalize the policy for next season.
"Apparently not everything is set in stone," said Meg Mallon, a two-time U.S. Women's Open winner who joined the tour in 1987. "There are some specific substances that might be taken off the list. They wanted to throw everything out there and get feedback. And they got the feedback."
Kuehne and Mallon believe the tour did the right thing, but neither believes there is significant use of performance-enhancing drugs on tour. Female players, they said, consider steroid use to be a hindrance in golf.
"Problem is, we don't have a choice anymore," Mallon added. "All sports, everybody is going to be tested. We're just being proactive, especially in the golf world with international play and all the different federations."
Kuehne speculated that 10 to 15 players in a field of 144 each week take some kind of over-the-counter supplements and other substances that could be included on the banned list. "I'm not going to suggest they are on anabolic steroids," Kuehne said. "But there are some players who need their protein shakes and use supplements and ephedrine and other leaning out drugs."
May 28, 2007