After watching Angel Cabrera literally smoke his way through Oakmont last week during his improbable win at the U.S. Open, it’s funny to hear PGA Tour comish Tim Finchem talking about testing for performance-enhancing drugs by the end of the year. When was the last time Finchem stood on a tour range and watched all the bulging bellies hiding low-hanging belts?
Bubba Watson, the long-hitting 28-year-old from the Florida panhandle, survives on cheeseburgers and has never been inside a gym in his life. Tiger Woods and a few other players like Adam Scott, Trevor Immelman, and Charles Howell are buff, but most Tour players look like they’ve never been anywhere near a growth hormone, unless they’ve taken a celebrity jaunt to batting practice at a major league ballpark.
The LPGA Tour will begin drug testing in 2008. So what? The women could start popping pills like East German swimmers, and the LPGA would still be a tour with a few great players and a lot of middling hackers. Of course increased strength would benefit the women — it would increase swing speed and distance – but there is no direct correlation between strength and winning on the LPGA Tour. If strength mattered, Michelle McGann, Becky Iverson and Laurie Davies would be leaving every tournament in Brinks trucks. Instead, the diminutive Lorena Ochoa and Mi Yun Kim are winning.
Finchem says he doesn’t want to institute a policy just because everyone else is doing it, but why else would he be talking about it? There is not much evidence to warrant a policy at this point. Tiger Woods, the most buff player on tour, wants testing, but that doesn’t make it the right thing for the game.
I would like to see Finchem deal seriously with equipment, which is really responsible for the dramatic changes that we’ve seen in the sport. He could make players use the same ball and clubs, and nurture specifications that do not guarantee 300-yard drives and wedges that spin out of deep rough. But why waste time considering something that is never going to happen? It’s easier for him to deal with a non-issue like steroids that will impact, at most, only a handful of players who aren’t going to win anyway if they can’t consistently square the clubface at impact.
And if he won’t go after the clubs, maybe Mr. Finchem will address the courses, which are growing longer by the hour. He should ban super fertilizers and 7,500-yard layouts. He should sneak around in the middle of night looking for agronomists cooking up cocktails designed to create high slope rates and USGA-ready tracks.
At Oakmont, Cabrera showed us that you don’t need barbells and sports drinks and psychologists to whip the best players in the world. Since the days of Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer (in his prime), the best golfers have proven that cigarettes are as likely to produce golf champions as a clear gel applied to the inner thigh.
Finchem shouldn’t plunge the PGA Tour into the world of Dick Pound and the World Anti-Doping agency and the Olympics. He should look at his players and the fans and see that cigarettes and cigars are as integral to the game as 30-inch waists and 10-inch biceps. He should let golf be for golfers. Angel Cabrera almost certainly sees it that way.