Poster Boy

In the wake of his suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, Doug Barron tells Tim Rosaforte he intends to fight for his reputation, and his career

Golf: Doug Barron

"I'm not going to be a pessimist about the deal or roll over and feel sorry for myself," Doug Barron said.

November 18, 2009

Second stage of PGA Tour Qualifying began at Deerwood CC in suburban Houston Wednesday morning, just as Doug Barron was on the highway, leaving town. The consummate journeyman pro was heading home to Memphis by way of a golf game in Arkansas, trying to regroup after losing his request for a temporary restraining order that would have allowed him to compete at Deerwood in the next step towards regaining his tour card.

Barron, as everyone knows by now, failed a drug test at the PGA Tour's St. Jude Memphis Classic earlier this year, and was subsequently suspended by the PGA Tour for one year -- the first player publicly identified to have failed such a test, and to have been penalized as a result. But as he sat down to dinner Tuesday night near The Woodlands, the unsuspecting 40-year-old who has bounced back and forth between the PGA and Nationwide tours since 1995, was his old self, alternately funny and introspective, whether it related to his body, or the tour -- which has, in his mind, made him a sacrifice to the International Olympic Committee that just sanctioned golf as an Olympic event.

Barron has been camped at a friend's house at The Woodlands, playing Adams Golf Pro Tour events, since his suspension was announced Nov. 2. "I'm very disappointed as far as not being able to play golf," he told after a round with his agent and attorney, Art Horne, in which he gave Horne three a side. "But I don't feel like my career is over now. This just makes it more difficult."

Difficult has been the story of Barron's life. He is saddled with several physical and chemical issues that require him to take medications that do not fall within the parameters of the tour's drug laws. He describes his 165-pound body as "a miniature John Daly," and the joke on Memphis sports talk radio is that if Barron took performance-enhancing drugs, he didn't do a very good job of it.

The jibe stems from a popular YouTube clip which shows Barron removing his shirt to hit a shot from a creek bed during the 2006 Transitions Championship, and revealing a healthy pot belly spilling over the front of his pants. "I carry no muscle," Barron confessed. "I'm an embarrassment to look at."

Barron's positive drug test occurred in Memphis, his hometown, not far from Germantown High, where he went to school. What was deemed to be "performance-enhancing" drugs were -- Barron inists -- actually medications that allowed him to lead a normal life. He was diagnosed with a heart condition (mitral-valve prolapse) in 1987, has been treated for panic disorder, and has prescriptions for Beta-Blockers (to calm his heartbeat) and testosterone (to boost his energy). He and his supporters insist the medications he takes are to treat legitimate and serious health issues -- not to give him a competitive advantage. They question the fairness of the ruling and won't rule out further legal action against the tour.

"Doug's medication has zero to do with golf," said his wife, Leslie, an artist and mother of his two sons, John, 8, and Wiley, 3. "It has to do with health."

Bolstered by his faith, Barron is maintaining an upbeat attitude. "I'm not going to be a pessimist about the deal or roll over and feel sorry for myself," Barron said. "My family has strong values and I firmly believe I will be back on my feet sooner rather than later."

Like Leslie, Barron's pastor, Chris Conlee, has been a source of strength. "What I told him was every dream he still has is still possible, but just delayed," said Conlee, lead pastor at Highpoint Community Church in Memphis, and a close friend of Barron's since they were 10 years old. Conlee also knows the game: He played at the University of Memphis and caddied for Barron in the 1999 U.S. Open.

Conlee remembers Barron being "definitely cocky," as does Jimmy Johnston, the former tour player-turned-agent who grew up in Knoxville and was a junior golf rival of Barron's. "He was good, very competitive," said Johnston, adding, "I don't know what you would call it, but he was a little bit of a loose cannon. I was, too. But he had issues, you could tell."

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