LPGA Takes Lead In Drug Testing

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - November 22, 2006
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It’s been a tough year for LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens. She’s come under attack for ticking off longtime sponsors, overseeing the departure of 13 staff members (seven from the tour’s highest ranks), changing media regulations at the Fields Open (resulting in a one-day local print media boycott), and possibly fumbling the opportunity for network coverage of the McDonald’s LPGA Championship.

That said, even her most ardent critics need to recognize her efforts in confronting a possible problem that her overpaid counterpart on the PGA Tour has all but ignored.

When the program kicks off in 2008, the LPGA will become the first major golf organization to adopt a drug testing program. That is, unless, the PGA and European tours suddenly spring to action, which seems unlikely. Recent precedent was set with the testing of athletes at last month’s World Amateur Team Championships in South Africa were tested, as were other amateur golfers this year in France and Portugal.

Specifics of the LPGA’s plan have not been released. Bivens said it will take six to nine months for the details to be worked out, and that an announcement should be ready by the second half of 2007 season. The LPGA will work to develop the new policy with the National Center for Drug Free Sport, which also manages testing programs for the NCAA and other organizations.

In announcing the plan, Bivens said, “While we have no evidence to date that any of our players are using performance-enhancing drugs, we need to have a very clear policy and a program in place. We want to take a proactive role.”

This opposite of PGA commish Tim Finchem, who blew off earlier concerns this year, saying, “We need more than somebody just saying, ‘Why don’t you go test and make sure?”’

Even if Finchem believes no professional golfer has ever taken performance-enhancing drugs, it’s simply ignorant to think that golf alone is protected from the ills of other sports. The fact that golf is mostly self-policed does not prevent drug use, as Finchem has previously suggested. It actually makes it easier. With competitors, galleries and people at home ready to call in every mistake, it’s harder for a golfer to get away with an illegal drop than it is to get busted for taking illegal substances. Drug use can be done in private and the prevailing attitude that golfers are above this sort of shinanigans offers protection to the user.

Far too many of us still wrongly associate steroids, human growth hormones and the like with only body builders and offensive linemen. These supplements do not magically build muscle. What they do is allow the body to recover quickly from strenuous activity, thereby allowing weight lifters to put on muscle and bike racers to pedal up mountains for days at a time. Realizing this, is it impossible to believe that a young golfer, struggling with eight-hour practice days, near constant travel and the pressure of Q school while trying to scrap together enough cash to live on, won’t be tempted to pop a pill to feel refreshed on the first tee?

While the LPGA is making noise with its announcement, efforts - however small - are being undertaken in other places.

The European Tour’s chief executive, George O’Grady, said his tour is working on a policy that will become effective “in the near future.” The PGA has authorized the tour to develop a list of prohibited substances, and to create an educational program that will explain the dangers, health risks and possible penalties of using performance-enhancing drugs.

So while the embattled Bivens leads the way, the rest of the sport lags shamefully behind. And for no reason. Unlike the other major sports, golfers have no union - therefore Finchem and his cohorts could simply decree that testing will begin at whatever time is convienent.

These men have almost complete authority over their sport, but it’s hard to effect real change with your head in the sand.

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