Tim Finchem is not on drugs. Neither are Charles Howell III, Davis Love III, Tim Clarke, Robert Allenby, Kenny Perry or Bob May, some of the first players the PGA Tour tapped on the shoulder and asked to fill a cup for its new drug testing program in 2008.
We know this because in the event of a positive drug test, the Tour says it will make public the player, violation and sanction. But since testing began July 1 — under the direction of the National Center for Drug Free Sport, which oversees the NFL and the LPGA, among other leagues — the Tour has been silent. At least for now, apparently, everyone's clean. Was Gary Player wrong? Or has the Tour not tested the right players?
"I think it's a ridiculous waste of money," says Steve Pate, who plays on the Nationwide Tour, which began testing at an event in Utah in early September. "Two million dollars could have gone a lot further on this tour. That's what they're spending on each tour. That's what I heard. It's a waste of money and time."
Pate has some like-minded compatriots on the big tour as well. Rocco Mediate called drug testing in golf, "The biggest joke in the history of the world."
Still, players are randomly given a pink slip after their round, which means it's time to drink up and hit the target — with an audience. Allenby admitted to being spooked and failing to produce. Howell was dehydrated after a long round at the AT&T National in sweaty Washington, D.C., the first tournament at which players were tested. "I hope Gatorade Tiger passes the test," he quipped. "Because I just put two bottles in me."
Finchem volunteered to be tested before any of the players. It took less than 10 minutes. Woods said during a conference call for the AT&T that he had had himself tested twice because he was curious about substances in his nutritional program. He said he passed both times. Near-senior Perry already has been tested twice.
Players can also be tested outside of competition, and a first offense can bring up to a year of ineligibility and up to $500,000 in fines. Recreational drug use also is subject to suspension and fines, and the offending player may be required to complete a counseling program. Such cases are kept confidential.
Allison Keller, the Tour's anti-doping program administrator, and Drug Free Sport provided six months of player education leading up to testing, and they also gave out a 40-page educational manual. If they are unsure about anything, players can make use of a 24-hour telephone hotline. (Champions Tour player education is expected to start in the second half of 2009.)
Keller will not comment on Pate's $2 million per year figure, but she has heard the criticism. And while she stresses that the Tour has no reason to believe anyone is doping, she defends the testing.
"We think it's important to prove that golf is clean in light of what's been going on in other sports," says Keller, who has been an attorney with the Tour for the last 10 years. "We're out to protect [not only] the integrity of the competition but also the health and well-being of our players. We don't have any reason to believe that there's a particular drug that helps golf, but in general, anabolic agents help with strength and tissue recovery after injury with any elite athletes training at high levels."
At least Keller has a sense of humor about it all. She says that the first player who was tested — the Tour won't reveal his name — asked for official recognition of his role in kicking off golf's new era. Says Keller, "I will be sending him a certificate."