Tour and News

Barron faces uncertain future after being denied chance to play Q school

Photo: Greg Nelson/SI

Doug Barron in Houston on Monday. "This just gives the PGA Tour even more power," Barron said. "I just can't believe that an organization questions the ethics of my doctors, and won't let them treat me in a way so I can live a healthy life."

HOUSTON, Texas - Monday was a dog of a day for Doug Barron, a 40-year-old golf pro from Memphis who has a Scooby-Doo headcover on his driver and, since Nov. 2, a disputed one-year drug suspension hanging over his head.

After testing positive for testosterone and a beta-blocker at the St. Jude Classic in June, being publicly disciplined two weeks ago, and suing the PGA Tour last Thursday, Barron was told on Monday morning that he could no longer play at Deerwood Golf Club in Houston. He had been practicing at the course on and off for the last two weeks in preparation for the second stage of Q school, which will be held there this week.

A Tour lawyer told Barron's agent, Art Horne, that his client was not to practice at Deerwood and would be asked to leave if he returned to the club. So instead, Barron played 18 holes with his agent and his caddie at the nearby Gary Player Course at Woodlands Country Club. It seemed an ironic place to take refuge, since it was Player who declared at the 2007 British Open that he knew for sure some golfers were on performance-enhancing drugs.

But being forced off Deerwood was only the first kick in the stomach. On Monday night, as Barron and company were on their way to dinner, U.S. Magistrate Judge Tu Pham delivered a 33-page decision that denied Barron's petition for a restraining order against the Tour. Q school was out. He got the news by phone from his lawyer and Horne's partner, Jeff Rosenblum.

"This just gives the PGA Tour even more power," Barron said. "I just can't believe that an organization questions the ethics of my doctors, and won't let them treat me in a way so I can live a healthy life."

He and his small crew found a spot off the Interstate called Molly's Pub, where a local barbecue savant cooked ribeye steaks on the front porch and Monday Night Football blared over several TV sets inside.

Still numb from the news, Barron chatted about where they all might play golf Tuesday.

"I'm wondering if someone can get us on at Champions," he said. "Hey, man, Art didn't bring his clubs all the way here for nothing!"

Horne, Barron's high school golf teammate before becoming his agent, friend and exercise buddy, wasn't as chipper. He'd caught an early flight from Memphis to Houston and, worn out from the whirlwind events of the last week, he'd fallen asleep on the way to dinner.

"He's always navigated through this thing with honesty and integrity," Horne said.

Barron replied: "I don't have anything to hide."

Indeed, he is a rare case in pro sports, a man who at the time of his drug bust had already told the league what he was taking. Of all the questions presented by his case, among them whether drugs can really help a golfer play better, one lingered: Why was he not given a therapeutic-use exemption?

Barron was diagnosed in 1987 with mitral-valve prolapse, a heart murmur that led to tightness in his chest and made him feel like he was having a heart attack. Only 18, he was put on the beta-blocker Propranolol to treat the murmur and alleviate anxiety attacks brought on by the condition. He was diagnosed with low testosterone in 2005 and began taking testosterone injections.

While players can take banned substances if they are medically necessary, the Tour never granted Barron a therapeutic-use exemption (TUE) for either drug.

As part of his application for the TUE, Barron said he stopped taking testosterone before the Tour sent him to see an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic in Ponte Vedra, Fla., in October 2008. The doctor's evaluation came as a surprise: Barron's testosterone level was within the normal range.

He didn't believe it, and still doesn't. But the report was the basis for what Tour lawyer Rich Young said in court last Friday, that Barron's levels were normal. Despite warnings from the Tour, Young said, Barron took "the granddaddy of anabolic steroids."

But that was only half of the TUE ordeal. Barron says he was told to send a copy of his echocardiogram to another of the Tour's doctors, who detected symptoms of mitral-valve prolapse but not enough for medication.

"I feel like I went into the visitor's stadium and got run out of there," Barron said. "I really would love to go to a different endocrinologist and be evaluated by a different cardiologist to feel like I got a fair shake."

On Friday, Young, a doping expert who worked on the prosecution of disgraced cyclist Floyd Landis, said in court, according to the Associated Press, that beta-blockers can be used to calm an athlete's jittery nerves and thus also constitute an unfair advantage.

Barron's mistake, he now believes, was his failure to hire legal counsel and take action when the TUEs were denied. And now he seems to be playing catch-up in his legal battle with the Tour. In the meantime, he has recently joined some friends as an account executive on a new business venture called AdzZoo, which helps businesses get first-page placement on Google searches.

"I've prayed about it, thought about it, talked to my wife about it, talked to friends," he said. "I'm not afraid to go to work."

Where the suit goes from here is uncertain, although Barron said on Monday that he's "not going away." According to Horne, Judge Pham seemed to agree with their complaint against the Tour's handling of Barron's beta-blocker issue.

"It's not all bad news," Horne said.

It was the testosterone, he added, that the judge found most damning. Barron's attorney had argued that denying him the drug violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, since low testosterone "impairs a major life activity and that is intimacy with your wife."

Barron is the first player to be punished under the Tour's anti-doping program, which began in July 2008 after six months of player education. The Tour would randomly hand out pink slips after competitive rounds, and players, closely monitored by an agent, would march behind closed doors to fill a cup.

Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem took the first test and passed, presumably. There was no small amount of levity about the new policy. The first player tested asked if he could have a certificate, since he had launched a new era, and program administrator Allison Keller, a lawyer with the Tour for years before taking on the anti-doping cause, said she would comply.

"I hope Gatorade Tiger passes the test," Charles Howell III said after he was handed a pink slip at the AT&T National that summer. "Because I put two bottles in me."

For 16 months the Tour announced no suspensions, which meant it had found nothing in the way of performance-enhancing drugs. But then came Nov. 2, and Monday, and doping in golf didn't seem as funny.

"In no way was I trying to enhance my performance," Barron said. "I was trying to live like a healthy adult male — my sex drive was low, my energy was low. I know it's hard to get out of bed for some people, but with my [abnormally low] testosterone I just didn't ever want to get out of bed."

Barron tested positive for both substances on June 11, when he was in the process of complying with the Tour's October 2008 order to wean himself off Propranolol, his suit contends. He was still taking the beta blocker, but at a much lower dosage than he had previously. He also claims he was getting off testosterone, as the Tour told him to do in January after denying his final TUE application. He had stopped taking monthly injections in October 2008 but had a one-time shot last June. That was his second mistake.

"I knew I was going to fail it," he said of the drug test. "But I hadn't had a testosterone shot in seven months and was feeling like I felt when I couldn't get out of bed."

Young said on Friday: "He was told very clearly, 'You are not to use testosterone.' To get ready for the St. Jude Classic, he got a shot."

Shaun Micheel, a Tour pro and one of Barron's friends in Memphis, rubs testosterone cream on his shoulder for the same condition Barron claims to have. But Micheel was given a TUE for the drug after a contentious, four-month ordeal with the Tour. More than once Monday evening, Barron mentioned Micheel's willingness to stick up for himself at that early stage. Perhaps he was helped by the fact that his wife is a lawyer, Barron added.

"The testosterone shot — do I regret taking it? Yes, but I felt like I needed it. I personally thought that if Tim Finchem knew me as a person, knew my medical history, which has been documented in articles in the [Memphis] Commercial-Appeal ..." he said, his voice trailing off.

On Monday night, Barron called his wife, Leslie, back in Memphis and told her the news. She and their 8- and 3-year-old sons awaited his return, but he had already been in Houston for two weeks, trying to knock the rust off his game by playing a few mini-tour events.

It would be a nine-hour drive home, and Barron would have plenty of time to ponder his uncertain future. Playing 18 holes Tuesday sounded more appealing. After all, Horne had brought his clubs all this way.

 

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