September 06, 2007

Golf Tech: Beyond Steroids

A class of drugs called "mind enhancers" poses a greater potential for abuse in golf than do steroids. Mind enhancers, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety agents, are legitimate drugs with medical uses, but their effects make up a veritable wish list for the ambitious golfer. They can increase focus, dampen emotional extremes and reduce anxiety. Plus, they're more available than steroids, and there's less of a stigma associated with taking them.

__BETA-BLOCKERS / example: Inderal /__These blood-pressure medications are sometimes used by performers to deal with stage fright. The golf application would be to battle nerves or the yips. These drugs have been studied in Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and could help golfers get over a crushing loss.

AMPHETAMINES / example: Adderall / This group of stimulants promotes alertness and focus and is commonly prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Disorder. They're often used illegally by students taking the SATs or final exams. The golf goal could be better concentration during a round.

__ANTIDEPRESSANTS AND MOOD DRUGS / example: Prozac /__These mood elevators and stabilizers combat stress and depression and help people control emotions. Think of the golfer who dramatizes mistakes, like the missed three-footer.

__BENZODIAZEPINES / example: Valium /__This class of anti-anxiety drugs is prescribed to treat phobias, such as fear of crowds or closed spaces. In golf, fear of on-course situations or consequences can be crippling. Imagine a Ryder Cup rookie needing to take the edge off on the first tee.

Would golfers really take these drugs? Consider that many people today use medications to enhance their appearance, performance or lifestyle. For example, Viagra, indicated for erectile dysfunction, is used by 20-somethings to increase sexual prowess. Botox, a drug for neurological disorders, is commonly injected to smooth wrinkles.

Many of the drugs described above are on the LPGA's list of illegal substances, and hopefully will be banned by the PGA Tour. But because of their availability and potential, they pose a special threat. With drugs this common, some people will take them for a medical purpose but also derive a golf-related benefit. If that medical purpose exists, I think their use should be within the rules. Side effects like sedation and mental clouding might preclude their effectiveness for all golfers. Nevertheless, if there's no enforced drug policy, it's hard to believe that players wouldn't experiment with these drugs for nonmedical purposes to try to gain an advantage.