Gary Player insisted today that he would not expose two professional golfers who he claims told him they had used performance-enhancing drugs. The South African legend stirred controversy at the British Open in July when he claimed that two pros told him they had used human growth hormone. Several top golfers — including his countrymen, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen — quickly dismissed Player’s claims of drug abuse in golf, but the PGA Tour quickly announced that drug testing would begin in 2008.
In an exclusive interview with Golf.com from Austin, Texas, on Tuesday morning, Player says the two golfers in question had come to him for advice. “They said, ‘We’d like to discuss this with you but would give us your solemn word that you will never discuss this with anybody?” the 72-year-old, nine-time major championship winner said. “And I said, ‘Yes, I give you my word.’ And they said, “Well, we tried these growth hormones. What do you think?’ And I said, ‘I think you shouldn’t [use them] in my opinion.’ I said, ‘It can only do you harm. Athletes are dying all around the world like flies. Don’t dare try any of this.'”
Since making his explosive claims at this summer’s British Open in Carnoustie, Scotland, Player has refused to name the players or even say where his conversations with them took place. “Imagine me turning around and giving up those names,” Player said today. “Those guys would be crucified for the rest of their lives.”
His comments were widely dismissed by golf’s biggest stars, several of whom claimed Player ought to name names or shut up. “If he wants to damage the sport by starting to say things like that, then he must come out and say it,” snapped Goosen, a two-time U.S. Open winner. “He mustn’t make these half comments.”
Today Player said Goosen “didn’t fully understand the situation” and that he had spoken up for the good of the game. “I’m trying to make sure that golf stays a clean sport,” Player said. “I feel that I’m able to contribute by bringing this out.”
Player also said today that nine separate doctors have advised him to take human growth hormones (HGH) to gain strength. He said one physician in Jacksonville, Fla., advised both him and New Zealand golfer Bob Charles to begin taking HGH. Player said he and Charles were together when the doctor made the recommendation, and both men dismissed it.
Asked whether he would feel guilty if one of the unnamed pros wins a tournament, Player said: “No, because after speaking to them, I hope that they will go out and stop it. In fact, they were quite understanding to the fact. I think they respected what I said about it affecting their health. I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think it will continue.”
However, Player also said, “I couldn’t imagine playing a tournament and having lost by one shot, knowing that that guy was on beta-blockers or human growth hormones to make him stronger.”
When asked if he had spoken to either player since the British Open controversy, Player said he hadn’t because he had been spending time on his ranch in South Africa, and had only played seven tournaments this year, perhaps suggesting that the players in question are members of the Champions Tour, which Player competes on.