- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2008

The era of drug-testing is about to descend upon professional golf.

In conjunction with the European Tour, the PGA Tour has informed its players it will begin random testing at tournaments beginning July 1. The first tests could take place during the week of the AT&T; National at Congressional, which will be held July 3-6.

“The commissioner [Tim Finchem] basically said the policy will be implemented on July 1,” said Tiger Woods, the host of the AT&T; National. “Whether we test that week or not, he can’t tell us. That’s the whole idea of being random. But it will be open to testing July 1 and thereafter.”

The 32-year-old Woods never has opposed testing, but the subject irritates him because his muscular physique and achievements have made him the target of the occasional slanderous insinuation. Although Woods looks nothing like the skinny kid who dominated the amateur game at Stanford, he has devoted plenty of time and energy to exercise and nutrition over the last decade.

Perhaps that’s why Woods began to object to the line of questioning when a reporter referenced a comment made by Butch Harmon, his former swing instructor, before gathering himself to answer diplomatically. Harmon said in this week’s issue of Golf World he suspects some players have “taken a growth hormone or a steroid just to allow themselves to recover from injuries or to hit more balls.”

“First of all, I’m very tired of …,” Woods said. “As far as what Butch has said, I think he’s right. I think we would be very naive to say that someone has never tried it in our sport. [Athletes] have tried it in most sports. There is no reason to think someone hasn’t in ours.”

Woods’ station as the game’s top player makes him a reluctant sounding board on the tedious subject, but his neutral stance on the issue of drug-testing places him in the minority on tour. When the tour first announced the particulars of its policy at the Buick Invitational in January, Jim Furyk said he was somewhat surprised a majority of the players he spoke with were against it.

Both tours will use a banned-substances list developed by the World Golf Federation last year. The list is exhaustive, banning chemicals found in some common cold and sinus remedies. Players have been told to expect two tests each this season and three next season, and testing facilities will be provided at each venue.

Players can apply for a TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) for prescription medications. But aside from those TUEs, players will be held accountable for all substances on the list, even if that substance was taken inadvertently. And the tour is expected to impose a three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy that could result in a lifetime playing ban for multiple offenders.

The entire subject of performance enhancement seems to have little relevance to golf, and the idea of testing runs counter to the game’s self-policing roots. Perhaps veteran Jeff Maggert put it best when he lambasted the policy in an ESPN story earlier this year: “There’s a bigger chance of someone getting tested positive who has absolutely no intent of trying to break the rules. The downside outweighs the upside by 1,000 to 1. The downside is just terrible.”

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