PGA Golf Tour Snubs U.S. Tests as Marijuana Surfaces in Europe
Golf's most powerful organization, the U.S. PGA Tour, says there is no evidence of drug use in the sport and testing is unnecessary. Results from Europe suggest that rationale may be flawed.
While muscle-enhancing steroids aren't surfacing, other banned substances are: Marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy have turned up in French and Italian tests of amateur and pro golfers, according to documents from sports-testing agencies.
Golf's rule-making bodies have little control over the PGA Tour, whose 275 active players include Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. The tour's resistance makes it unlikely that mandatory, global testing of top pros will emerge in the next few years, current and former golf officials say.
"It's really a matter for the tours to embrace, and I think that's happening slowly, in the United States particularly slowly,'' says Peter Dawson, chief executive of Scotland's Royal & Ancient Golf Club, the sport's rulemaker outside the U.S. and Mexico. "I don't think you're going to see a worldwide anti- doping policy in place in golf for some years.''
David Fay, executive director of the Far Hills, New Jersey- based United States Golf Association, says a global testing plan is probably inevitable.
"It's just a matter of time before the sport of golf needs to deal with this in a comprehensive manner,'' says Fay, 55.
The USGA, which oversees rules in the U.S. and Mexico, runs the U.S. Open. It has no control over the 47 other PGA Tour events, where $250 million in prize money is disbursed.
Public documents from the French Ministry for Youth and Sport, which administers national drug-testing rules, show that 12 of the 100 golfers tested from 2000 to 2004 had positive results for banned substances. The drugs included marijuana, cocaine, the psychoactive MDMA that is often called ecstasy, various stimulants and drugs that might have effects similar to steroids if taken in large enough doses.
Documents from FederGolf, the Italian Golfing Federation, which conducts tests on the government's behalf, show that six of the 350 golfers tested from 2000 to 2005 had positive readings for banned drugs, including three for marijuana and one for a cocaine derivative.
The European results don't reveal names. Some golfers were let off with a warning while one was suspended from competition for as long as 18 months, according to the documents.
There are signs that young American golfers are using illegal drugs as well. The latest tests of U.S. college amateurs, in 2004, showed no positive results, yet an anonymous survey indicated drug use. The 2005 National Collegiate Athletic Association survey of a sampling of golfers indicated steroid use by 1.3 percent, amphetamine use by 3.5 percent, cocaine or crack use by 2.7 percent and marijuana use by 25 percent, according to the NCAA.
No U.S. Mandates
What sets Europe apart from the U.S. system is that several national governments have mandated drug testing for sports including golf. An exception is the U.K., where the British Open is played. Britain doesn't have such testing.
In the U.S., while Congress has held hearings on steroid use in sports, no mandatory testing laws have passed. Doping enforcement is left to the professional leagues governing baseball, basketball, football and hockey; the United States Tennis Association; and the NCAA. Players have tested positive for steroid use in all of those leagues and associations.
Golf is the major exception. No professional golf tour in the world looks for drug use in players; they are only tested if the country where a tournament is held requires it. The U.S. PGA Tour only tests if the commissioner or a fellow player has reason to believe a golfer is using drugs. The tour says self-policing by honest players works.
The Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida-based PGA Tour, whose sponsors include Charles Schwab Corp. and Anheuser-Busch Cos., says in its mission statement that it is "maintaining its commitment to the integrity of the game.'' PGA rules in the U.S. and Europe ban recreational and performance-enhancing drugs.
The view of South African Ernie Els, a PGA Tour member who has earned $26.7 million over his career, is common among touring pros. "We're all-natural,'' he says. Els, 36, labels calls for drug testing in golf "ridiculous.''
Tim Finchem, commissioner of the PGA Tour, declined to comment for this article. His spokesman, Bob Combs, forwarded a prepared statement that addressed only steroids, saying: "We are not aware of any credible evidence indicating that any player on the PGA Tour has utilized steroids. In the event credible evidence was brought to the Commissioner's attention, appropriate tests would be ordered.''
Code of Honor
If Congress requires random testing, the PGA Tour will comply, Combs added. He declined to respond to questions about other banned drugs or to comment about results in Europe. He also declined to say whether any PGA Tour golfer has been asked to take a drug test under the current policy, introduced in 1992.
At a press conference in March that focused on steroids, Finchem said there was no evidence of drug use among golfers, and he stressed that players adhere to a code of honor. Without proof, there is no need for testing, he said.
"We see no reason to jump into the testing arena at this point without having any credible information that we have issues,'' Finchem said. "In golf, a player is charged with following the rules.''
Proponents of drug testing say self-policing isn't enough.
'Excuses Are Lame'
"These excuses are so lame, it's like reading something out of a Monty Python script,'' says Charles Yesalis, 59, an anabolic steroids specialist and professor of health policy at Pennsylvania State University in State College. "We don't have a problem because there is no proof, and we aren't going to test to get the proof. This whole notion that there is something about carrying a bag of clubs that places you in a high ethical and moral plane is naive.''
Dawson, head of the Royal & Ancient, says golf should take the offensive.
"I don't think we've got a sport in crisis,'' he says. "I think golf would be wise to take the position of proving that, rather than just relying on its reputation.''
David Garland, director of tour operations for the Surrey, England-based PGA European Tour, says that although there are no reports of widespread abuse, drug testing is a "natural process'' in modern sports.
"Players will accept testing,'' says Garland, 43. "It depends on the will of the golfing authorities.''
The Ladies Professional Golf Association, based in Daytona Beach, Florida, says it has no evidence of drug use among its members.
Keeping Results Private
Drug testing will be conducted at the World Amateur Championships in October in Stellenbosch, South Africa, a first for the event.
"It's educational,'' says Fay, whose USGA is involved in organizing the tests. "We won't announce the results.''
Golfing executives agree that any testing policy for pros or amateurs needs to be uniform across the globe. The European tour holds 46 events in 23 different countries.
"If you don't have one testing policy for every tour, it creates problems because players travel all over the world,'' says Andrew Georgiou, 31, former chief executive of the Australasia PGA Tour. "You don't want a drug accepted at one tournament that disqualifies him from another.''
Georgiou says that without the U.S. PGA Tour's support, no such global program will exist, because so many of the world's best players are on the U.S. tour or aspire to it. "It would be very difficult to implement an effective policy anywhere,'' he says.
Stewart Cink, a 12-year veteran of the tour, says testing is probably a good idea if only to erase any doubt about drug use. Nothing players might take will make them better golfers, says Cink, 32.
"Everything you could take would diminish your performance,'' he says.
German government anti-doping officials are operating on the opposite assumption. They are working with German golf association executives to come up with a testing program partly because the anti-doping officials say golfers can enhance their performance.
"In every type of sport, it's possible to gain an advantage with certain substances,'' says Matthias Blatt, director of Germany's National Anti-Doping Agency. "Theoretically, golfers could even dope to increase concentration.''
Beta-blockers, used to treat hypertension, create a more regular heart rate, possibly reducing anxiety and giving a player a steadier hand. They are prohibited in the Olympic sports of archery, curling and shooting and are often outlawed at chess and bridge tournaments, doctors say.
Golf's rule-making bodies began drafting anti-doping policies a few years ago after learning that golf might be added to the Olympics. Though the International Olympic Committee dropped the idea last year, the organizations continued preparing policies. The U.S. Golf Association and the PGA European Tour have documents on the drawing boards, and the Royal & Ancient just completed its proposed policy.
Still, the rule makers cannot force tours to test players.
"Our job is to form a standard policy that's fair,'' says Julie Otto, assistant director of rules at the Royal & Ancient. "Then it's up to each tour to decide whether they want to adopt it.''
In the U.S., Fay says it will probably take a crisis to get drug testing on the fast track.
"The court of public opinion doesn't seem interested in how it relates to golf because they sense it is a clean sport,'' he says. "If there is a documented case or strong suspicion, that is when the interest level will spike.''