With a lawsuit still pending, Doug Barron's battle with the PGA Tour continues

Doug Barron was unable to compete in the second stage of PGA Tour qualifying after a judge denied his request for a temporary restraining order against the Tour.
Greg Nelson/SI

Doug Barron and his legal team are mulling their options and talking to more doctors and lawyers in the wake of Monday's legal setback.

Barron, who failed a drug test in June, was hit with a one-year suspension Nov. 2 for taking the performance-enhancing drugs Propranolol (a beta-blocker) and testosterone. He filed suit against the PGA Tour on Nov. 12 in hopes of getting a temporary restraining order that would have allowed him to play the second stage of the PGA Tour's qualifying tournament in Houston this week.

After a hearing in federal court in Memphis last Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Tu Pham denied Barron's request for the restraining order on Monday, not 48 hours before the 40-year-old golfer was to begin trying to regain playing status on the PGA or Nationwide tours at Houston's Deerwood Golf Club.

Although the restraining order was denied, Barron's lawsuit is still pending and has been assigned to Federal Judge Samuel H. Mays Jr. in Memphis. The Tour has 30 days to respond to Barron's suit, after which there would be a discovery process. The golfer's agent, Art Horne, expects the Tour to file a motion to dismiss the case, but it seems unlikely that such a motion would succeed, Horne added.

Pham seemed to find merit to the suit. His 33-page order called Barron's request for a restraining order "a close case." What's more, Pham seemed to sympathize with Barron's claim that the Tour acted unfairly with regard to the beta-blocker Propranolol, which he had been taking since he was 18.

Barron had been on the drug since he was diagnosed in 1987 with mitral-valve prolapse, a heart murmur that led to tightness in his chest and caused anxiety attacks. Still, he was twice denied an application for a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for the drug. At the time of his positive test he was following an order from the Tour to wean himself off Propranolol, Barron's suit contends. He claims he had significantly cut his dosage but, on his doctors' orders, had not cut it out altogether.

According to Pham's order, Barron's beef with the Tour over the drug raises questions "so serious, substantial, difficult and doubtful as to make them fair grounds for litigation and thus for more deliberative investigation."

Pham sided squarely with the Tour on the issue of testosterone, but Horne maintained that there is disagreement even among the experts over what exactly is a "normal" range.

"We've spoken to two different experts [since Monday's ruling]," Horne said. "One said 400 was the low end of normal, the other said 300 was the low end for an adult Doug's age. When he did his second test with the Tour in December [2008], he was under 300."

Although Barron's lawsuit contends his testosterone level was only 78 when he was first diagnosed in 2005, the PGA Tour's doctors measured Barron's testosterone levels at 325 in November and 296 in December of 2008.

Those numbers are not low enough, the Tour contends, for Barron to receive a shot of supplemental testosterone. He was told to get off the drug in January of this year, after the Tour had denied his final application for a TUE.

Barron did stop taking monthly injections, but he felt so listless before the St. Jude Classic last June that he got a shot just prior to the tournament. It was a risky move that backfired when he was selected for testing. That shot would become the Tour's smoking gun.

On Wednesday, as Q school's second stage got underway at six sites around the country, Barron and his agent began their nine-hour drive from Houston back home to Memphis. They broke up the trip with a match at the private Alotian Club in Little Rock, Ark.

"We just played the back nine, and Doug gave me 4-up before we'd hit a shot," Horne said. "I played well. I closed him out on 17."

Golf has provided a welcome diversion from the thorny realities that now confront Barron, who is barred from playing the PGA and Nationwide tours until shortly before the second stage of Q school next year. (Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem made Barron's suspension retroactive to Sept. 20, 2009, so Barron could tee it up in the second stage of the 2010 Q school.)

Barron's golf game is admittedly rusty, although he remained confident that he would have advanced through the second stage this week if he'd been allowed to play.

"I haven't made a dollar playing golf this year, and I still think my game is good enough to make it through second stage because I'm a good player," he said. "I've played second stage at Deerwood eight times, unfortunately, but I've made it through all eight except for last year."

Three weeks after he began weaning off Propranolol last fall, Barron said, he bogeyed three of his last four holes in the second stage to miss advancing by a shot. That early Q school exit left him without exempt status on either the PGA or Nationwide tours. He declined to blame the drug, or the lack of it in his system, for his poor finish.

"It was just one of those things," he said.

He planned to compete in Monday qualifiers as a way to get back on the PGA Tour in 2009, but he felt lousy most of the time. His scores suffered and he eventually stopped trying to play his way into weekly tour stops. In addition to his other medical issues, Barron has had four shoulder operations (two on each side). He also takes anti-depressants, he said.

His legal battle could be an uphill fight in part because he must prove he was treated unfairly with regard to both prescribed drugs.

Pham's order makes note of a letter from Finchem dated Oct. 20 of this year, which tells Barron, "your sanction would have been the same had your sample contained either one of these Prohibited Substances alone."

Still, Barron's attorneys — Horne and his law partner Jeff Rosenblum — see some daylight. "A couple of lawyers called us," Horne said, "and expressed interest in getting involved."

One of those lawyers was involved in the case of disgraced track star Marion Jones, Horne said. Both of them had sparred with Tour attorney and anti-doping expert Rich Young, he added.

Whether Barron's legal team will draft a few new players is not yet clear, and neither are Doug Barron's plans for the immediate future.

 

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