Even with a glamorous lineup of marquee stars like pinup Natalie Gulbis, Paula "Pink Panther" Creamer, Player of the Year Lorena Ochoa and, of course, Annika Sorenstam, LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens generated precious little buzz and more infamy than fame in her first year.
Her disgruntled staff abandoned ship, and her biggest star, Michelle Wie, 17, was shackled by an unfortunate age-minimum rule, but Bivens got at least one thing right. She announced Wednesday that the LPGA will begin a drug-testing program in 2008, the details of which are expected to be revealed during the 2007 season.
Of course, this begs the question: What about the PGA Tour? With driving distances growing ever more cartoonish (Bubba Watson led the circuit with an average blast of 319.6 yards in 2006), it would seem a natural for Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem to be worried, but his tone has lacked urgency, and the Tour remains almost unique among professional sports leagues in having no program whatsoever.
"We have the opportunity to [test], and I don't see any reason why we wouldn't do it," Greg Norman said from the MFS Australian Open at Royal Sydney on Tuesday. "Maybe I'm naÃ¯ve. I'm not worried about this generation. I'm worried about my son's generation and if his kids want to play. Everyone is looking for the edge. If somebody can improve [his] score from 280 to 278, it means a lot of money these days. You're talking about a quarter- or half-a-million dollars. So why not? If the rules aren't there, you can't blame the players. If it is happening, and I'm not saying it is, even if one player is doing it, it's one too many."
Power is exerting its influence on the game like never before. In the old days, players like Camilo Villegas, with his bulging biceps and tapered waist, stuck to mountain climbing, but he's one of the new breed of super-fit Tour players who have followed Tiger Woods's lead to take advantage of golf's new technology. John Daly led the Tour in driving distance at 288.8 yards in 1996, but 20 players eclipsed the 300-yard mark this year, with Daly falling to fifth on the list at 307.1 yards per poke.
Finchem has maintained that because golf is a sport of integrity, in which players police themselves, drug testing is unnecessary, but he's had to amend his position. First came the comment by Woods two months ago that testing was a good idea; he volunteered to be first in line. That presumably prompted Finchem's change of tune at his State of the Tour press conference two weeks ago, when he said he'd soon clarify the Tour's position. Then came the LPGA's announcement on Wednesday.
The PGA Tour's nine-man policy board, which includes players Joe Durant, Davis Love III, Scott McCarron and Joe Ogilvie, met in Ponte Vedra, Florida, on Monday, and although the new FedEx Cup took up a good portion of the agenda, drug-testing was among the issues discussed. On Wednesday, the Tour issued a statement saying, in part:
"The PGA TOUR Policy Board discussed the TOUR's existing policy on illegal substances, which prohibits PGA TOUR members from using illegal performance-enhancing drugs and which grants the Commissioner the authority to utilize drug testing in his total discretion and impose penalties if he believes there is a need to do so. This was a continuation of the process the PGA TOUR has been undertaking over the past year and has included discussions with the R&A, the USGA and other professional golf tours around the world."
The Tour recommended that the board develop a list of prohibited substances and an educational outreach program that would teach players how they can get into the body, what are the health risks, the nature of any potential testing and the penalties for a substance being detected. The board agreed with the recommendations and the matter is on the agenda for the next policy board meeting in March 2007.
Translation: Bear with us.
Although the Tour has been slow to react to the reality of performance-enhancing drugs, making even notorious laggard Major League Baseball look progressive, the European tour has no testing policy either. What's more, golf may be uniquely insulated from drug cheats, since the game rewards no subspecialty like speed or power in and of itself. It demands a mixed bag of skills, from fast-twitch muscles to the ability to will a little white ball into a small white cup in super-slow-motion.
Still, with drugs turning up everywhere, from the French Alps to American dugouts and locker rooms to the Olympics, it doesn't take much of a skeptic to wonder if there isn't a way to chemically lower one's golf score, and if someone somewhere hasn't done so already. There's only one way to answer that question, and on that count the LPGA has for once trumped its big brother.
Finchem has some catching up to do.