PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has told me that there is no drug problem in golf and that one reason he resists implementing a drug-testing program for the Tour is that he does not want golfers lumped with professionals in baseball, football, basketball and hockey, sports that all too clearly have a significant problem with the use of performance-enhancing substances.
But by not testing for drugs, Finchem runs the risk that precisely the opposite will result. Investigations by enforcement agencies are turning up more and more cases of drugs being supplied to athletes. If golf is dragged, kicking and screaming, into adopting a drug-testing policy after public disclosure of drug use, golf will be perceived exactly like the other sports. There’ll be the now standard mantra of denial that a problem exists and then, only under public or congressional pressure, reluctant adoption of a minimal testing program. It doesn’t have to be that way.
There are enough warning signals to suggest that action should be taken sooner rather than later. Body shapes on Tour are changing. Perhaps not all of the extra distance off the tee can be attributed to technology or improved fitness. If there is a problem, better to eliminate it before it becomes ingrained, as it has in far too many other sports, professional and amateur. To do otherwise courts the athlete’s Lowest Common Denominator rationalization: “I had to do it because others were, and no system existed to catch the cheaters.” It is an all-too-familiar refrain, however unconvincing, proffered in quasi-defense of ethical failure.
Greg Norman and Nick Price have already called for testing programs, as has the sport’s icon, Tiger Woods. The LPGA and the European tours have preempted the PGA Tour by announcing their own testing initiatives. They are trying to get out in front of the problem, so they won’t have to solve it after the fact. Meanwhile, the PGA Tour has dithered, allowing the other tours to take the lead on this issue. It’s not too late, however, for the Tour to catch up. It could still develop the gold standard for testing programs, pulling the other organizations along with it.
Professional golf has a wonderful chance to lead rather than follow. The game, with its emphasis on integrity and rigorous honesty regarding the rules of play, is unique-and refreshing-among professional sports. By all rights the Tour should espouse the same high standards regarding the nonuse of performance-enhancing drugs. This is especially true given the large number of young players taking up the game.
One would think the Tour and its members would be the first not only to say that there is no drug problem in golf but also to back up that assertion with a vigorous testing program. And it should be independently administered, not one of the cozy in-house programs used by other pro sports, in which there can be no public confidence about quality or transparency. Such forthrightness is what you would hope for and expect from a sport that prides itself on its integrity.
The PGA Tour should do more than simply talk the talk. It should walk the walk. Not next week. Not next month. Not next year. Now.
Dick Pound is the chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency.