June 30, 2008

Experiencing The Test

Just what might drug testing be like for PGA Tour pros? Our writer tried to find out for himself

In view of the inevitability of drug testing in our sport—the PGA Tour's program is scheduled to begin this month—and because I wanted to give something back to the game, I decided to have myself tested so I could let the boys know what to expect. Having once worked with a bachelor who threw himself a surprise birthday party, I saw no reason not to schedule my own random, surprise drug screening. As it turned out, a technician near my North Carolina home had an opening on Friday at 11 a.m.

Since I'd heard it was possible for over-the-counter supplements to show up in the steroid panel, I thought I should make a good faith effort to fail my first-ever drug test. I went to one of those stores where someone who seems altogether too healthy waits on you. Since I couldn't find the Pony Keg Abs section, I settled instead for a can of Ripped Thermal Power Pump Fuel—or some such thing—which promised me extraordinarily sculpted musculature, weight loss and virility, not necessarily in that order. If you actually want to know what's in Ripped Thermal Power Pump Fuel, you need a pair of 3x reading glasses, a magnifying glass and a searchlight to make out the fine print on the back of the package. Turns out, I was ingesting dill-weed extract, yerba mate, guarana seed, yohimbe bark, oat straw stems, muira root, kola nut, horny goat weed and something called proprietary herbal extract, which I figured was where they hid all the nasty bits.

Since I was given to understand the actual collection procedure was where the technician may be in imminent danger of being shot in unmentionable places by Frank Lickliter II, I was particularly wary of this part of the process. I'll admit, the notion that someone has to watch you so they can be sure you're not packing a Whizzinator—the PGA Tour's testing guidelines call for a collector to observe the procedings—is a bit disconcerting. It's one thing if your lab tech is Anne Hathaway, but if you get Frau Blucher or Danny DeVito that's a whole other kettle of dill weed. As it turned out, we have nothing to fear but fear itself, Frankie.

Since I was, in fact, attempting to reproduce the correct methodology, I don't mind telling you I was a little disappointed when my comely lab tech informed me she wouldn't be traveling with me into the loo. It wasn't exactly the same thing as being left at the altar, but I viewed it as something of a setback. And because I felt it unseemly for a man of my advancing years to come right out and ask a young woman to watch him top off specimen bottles—there were two—my protest was confined to "Oh?" Turns out, all she did was eyeball me to make sure I wasn't carrying a Thermos bottle and then take the temperature of each sample to verify its "born-on" date. Granted, it's probably not as rigorous as what they'll face on tour, but it satisfied my own criteria of preserving some small shred of dignity.

The bottle that would be tested for steroids was sealed in my presence and bagged for shipping, as will be the case with the tour's testing. (This has taken some of the romance out of overnight delivery for me.) Disappointingly, the Ripped Thermal Power Pump Fuel didn't cause any false positives because I was cleared for a staggering range of steroids (not including human growth hormone, which no one will be testing for). My body was free of all your basic andros, azols, testos and methyl-ethyl-nasty-trash, thus making the world safe once again for the unfettered consumption of horny goat weed.

The other bottle was an instant test for all the really, really bad drugs. I was ruled negative for cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamines, opiates, PCP, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, methadone and ecstasy. While I was also negative for cannabinoids, the line was faint and could have required further testing or, as my lab tech put it, "Oh, wow, man."

Everyone who knows me knows my recreational drug of choice comes in a pint glass with a head the size of a bishop's collar. If they had been testing for Hook Ladder Backdraft Brown, I was sunk. If, however, there was even the slightest chance I could test positive for marijuana, the only conceivable explanation would have been secondhand smoke from a Procol Harum concert in Cleveland in November 1972.

That's why I'm convinced now more than ever the tour will need to show a little discretion and some things should forever remain a whiter shade of pale.