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PGA Tour trails LPGA, European tours in considering anti-doping policy

William K. WolfrumBy William K. Wolfrum,
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Top experts in the field agree: Steroids and performance-enhancing drugs would help golfers. (Courtesy photo)

A large part of golf's allure is its reputation as a gentleman's game. Whereas in many other sports the combatants make extended efforts to bend the rules, golf is a game where rules and etiquette are as, or even more important than, the ability to split a fairway with a 300-yard drive.

Golf, however, is played by humans. And humans will try to bend rules for personal gain. And humans can improve their physical abilities with steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. Even humans that golf.

With steroid abuse a wrecking ball threatening to destroy all that sports fans hold dear, the PGA Tour and golf fans have taken to using trite arguments in order to try and distance themselves from an issue that's not going away. Golfers can't benefit from steroids, and golfers are too honest to use them, they like to say.

"I have no evidence of players taking steroids in this sport," PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem said in 2006. "What I do have is a firm belief that when our players understand the rules, they follow the rules."

The "we're too pure to cheat" argument doesn't fly for Dr. Charles Yesalis, a steroids expert and professor emeritus at Penn State.

"You hear this in swimming, all other sports have cheaters but ours doesn't," said Dr, Yesalis. "It's the argument of an 8 year old. It insults my intelligence."

Dr. Yesalis also laughs off the idea brought up by many that performance-enhancing drugs wouldn't actually enhance the performance of pro golfers.

"It's not going to turn a mediocre golfer into a great golfer," said Dr. Yesalis. "But if you take Bambi and Godzilla, who's going to hit the ball further? If you take someone who has his card and add muscle to him, he'll do better.

"There are very few sports where a good man can't beat a smaller man," Dr. Yesalis added. "The best thing you can put on your body to keep away injury is put on more muscle."

Dr. Gary Wadler, a clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU and a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency, agreed with this assessment in a 2005 interview with GolfWorld.

"I haven't heard any talk about steroids in golf, but no sport is immune to it," Dr. Gary Wadler told Golf World. "Any component of strength is going to be enhanced by taking them. If a golfer can benefit from added strength, steroids are going to be a benefit in that regard."

Aside from added muscle, performance-enhancing drugs can also boost an athlete's ability to recover, as well as shield them against certain injuries, as well, according to Dr. Yesalis.

"Anabolic steroids - a lot of people don't know this, but athletes have known this forever - help you recuperate," said Dr. Yesalis. "And like with cyclists or marathon runners, just a small dose can greatly help with recuperation for a golfer."

For its part, the LPGA has shown forward thinking on the issue of steroids, choosing to institute a drug-testing policy before a steroids scandal erupts. With a first-time violation of a drug test being punished with nearly a year's suspension, LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens has proven she understands the issue.

"This is a work in progress," Bivens said of the drug-testing program scheduled to being in 2008. "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 European PGA Tour has also jumped on board recently, and also will be starting a new drug-testing policy next year, leaving the PGA Tour alone in being unwilling to take a stand against performance-enhancing drugs. And that's even when its biggest star has made it clear that he'd gladly welcome drug tests.

"Tomorrow would be fine by me," said Tiger Woods last year. "I think we should be proactive instead of reactive. I just think we should be ahead of it and keep our sport as pure as can be."

The jury is still out on when, or if, Finchem will create a policy for the PGA Tour. Where there is no debate is that steroids and performance-enhancing drugs can help athletes, even the PGA Tour's finest.

"To me, it's a no-brainer," said Dr. Yesalis. "(The PGA) would better serve their members if they were proactive rather than retroactive."

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William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.

 
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