January 6, 2008

The Truth About Testing

As pro golf joins other major sports in testing competitors, recreational drugs, not steroids, raise red flags for insiders

Officially, the heads of professional golf don't believe they have a problem with performance-enhancing drugs, but they feel they must act to eliminate any suspicious spillover from the headlines in other sports. Unofficially, players and agents fret that the first failures will involve recreational substances such as marijuana. And collectively, all involved have taken a deep breath and await the public reaction to the inevitable -- the first positive test result

Random drug testing comes to the PGA Tour, not before July, and the LPGA, when its season starts in February, on the heels of the Mitchell Report, which listed nearly 90 Major League Baseball players alleged to have used performance-enhancing substances while the sport turned a blind eye to the problem. But one major advantage golf has over team sports is the lack of player associations. Both the men's and women's tours have been able to act relatively quickly without having testing weakened by becoming a bargaining chip with unions.

"We are the players' association," says PGA Tour executive vice president Ty Votaw. "We are both [MLB commissioner] Bud Selig and [Players' Association executive director] Donald Fehr." At risk is the reputation golf has long traded on as a sport steeped in honesty and populated by squeaky-clean players. "That depends on [the media]," LPGA counsel Jill Pilgrim says, when discussing the public-relations risks. "If we have a 1 percent failure rate, [is the media] going to report that 1 percent or on the 99 percent who are clean?"

A fair question but one that ignores the fact that anything that happens for the first time is news. The initial positive drug test will be significant no matter how isolated it is or how unknown the player may be -- although in the minds of many, only one test matters. "If Tiger's test comes back negative, what does it matter what the rest of them are on?" wondered George O'Grady, CEO of the European Tour at the Presidents Cup. While clearly joking, O'Grady also makes sense.

Woods has the record-setting potential of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the aura of Alex Rodriguez and the pristine image of Derek Jeter all rolled into one. He is also solidly in favor of drug testing. "I think we should be proactive instead of reactive," Woods said. "I just think we should be ahead of it and keep our sport as pure as can be. This is a great sport, and it's always been clean." After receiving the 40-page PGA Tour Anti-Doping Manual last month Woods said: "I think it will help. I certainly don't think it can hurt the game." Woods said the tour can test anywhere at anytime without notice. "And that's fine with me," he added.

The International Olympic Committee first introduced drug testing to sports in 1968 after suspicion East German athletes and others from the Soviet Bloc were using drugs. Testing took center stage in 1988 when Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold medal in the 100-meter dash at the Summer Olympics in Seoul. The IOC created the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 1999, in part because of concerns raised after a 1998 drug raid during the Tour de France bicycle race.

If golf is ever going to reclaim a spot in the Olympic games, its athletes will have to submit to WADA drug testing. The drug programs for the PGA Tour will be administered by The National Center for Drug Free Sport in Kansas City, Mo., which tests for the NCAA, while the LPGA will use a company called CDT.

Drug testing is not foolproof, however, as scientists stay ahead of the regulators by inventing designer drugs. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) says it tested Olympic track star Marion Jones 24 times over seven years -- all of which came back negative -- before she admitted drug use during an Internal Revenue Service investigation related to the BALCO probe.

Professional golf long resisted drug testing because it believed in its squeaky-clean image and didn't want to be lumped in with other sports. But as drug scandals rocked cycling, track, swimming and baseball, golf felt pressured to act before it had to react. The LPGA moved first, unveiling a plan to its players last March. The PGA Tour announced its plan in November. Testing will be phased into the Nationwide Tour in late 2008 and the Champions Tour in mid-2009.

As the new season begins, players are approaching drug testing with caution and concern. Mark Calcavecchia has switched his prescription blood-pressure medicine because it contained a beta-blocker on the banned list. "I looked at what's legal and what isn't legal," Calcavecchia said at the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship. "[It's] just common sense. Certainly, nobody is going to accuse me of doping up. I'm the fattest, weakest player out here. I can bench press about 40 pounds."

Paul Goydos, a 15-year veteran who once used steroids prescribed by a doctor to help torn rib cartilage heal faster, was among the few willing to speak publicly against the testing plan. "I think it's the stupidest thing I've heard in my entire life," Goydos said at the Mercedes. "What's a performance-enhancing drug? Please tell me that. There's nothing out there that makes you make more putts."

The whispered concern on both the men's and women's tour involves street drugs. As might be expected among any group of young people involved in any career, there are those who partake of illegal substances for recreational reasons. "If 22 players fail because they smoke pot, what has been accomplished?" asked one veteran player who is a past PGA Tour Policy Board member. "Why should the tour care what players do in their hotel rooms at night?" asked a long-time agent.

According to a nationwide survey of more than 70 Division I universities conducted last year by the Salt Lake City Tribune, only 11.6 percent of failed tests were for performance-enhancing drugs, with steroids and their masking agents accounting for but 1 percent. The overwhelming majority of the violations -- 64.1 percent -- were for street drugs, with marijuana accounting for the bulk (57.1 percent).

PGA Drug Program

"Some recreational drugs are performance-enhancing drugs -- cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines," says Pilgrim, explaining why the LPGA tests for street drugs. "We already have a code of conduct on these issues, and we have always been concerned about the health and safety of our players." Votaw agrees: "Drugs of abuse are illegal and have always been banned," he said. "Because addiction is an issue, we reserve the right to have rehabilitation as a punishment." The men's tour also reserves the right not to make public the names of those who test positive for drugs of abuse.

With their drug plans, the PGA and LPGA tours appear to have learned from the mistakes made in team sports. The NFL, for example, does not test on game days and does not require chaperones if a player needs additional time to produce a urine sample. Testers in baseball routinely give notice of their arrival by requesting parking passes for the day of the test. The NHL does not test for amphetamines and neither the NHL nor the NBA test during the off-season. Golfers, however, can be tested any time and at any place, though neither tour has determined how many players will be tested and how often testing will occur.

"We are going to work very hard to make this a credible and transparent process," Votaw said, adding the cost to the tour will be in excess of $1.5 million a year. "It's not done for public relations purposes. It's done for the good of the sport even though we don't think there is a problem." Testing for steroids is not cheap, costing about $150 per player.

The conundrum professional golf finds itself in is this: A sport that has long boasted it is the only game in which competitors call penalties on themselves -- despite the fact that cheating allegations have surfaced at times -- has succumbed to the fate it had long resisted and allowed itself to be lumped in with the sports tainted by drugs. Testing, however, may be the only way for golf to prove it is as clean as it says.



COMPARING THE PLANS

A look at how drug testing plans for the PGA and LPGA tours match up:

WHEN DO THEY GO INTO EFFECT?

The PGA Tour program begins no sooner than July 2008, after a period of player education. The LPGA program started Jan. 1. Its first official tournament starts Feb. 14.

WHO IS TESTED?

Both programs involve random testing with no advance notice. Both tours also reserve the right to "target test" a player about whom there may be suspicions. Neither tour has yet to decide how many players will be tested and how often testing will occur.

WHAT IS BANNED?

Performance-enhancing drugs, such as steroids, masking agents that can hide the use of steroids, and drugs of abuse such as marijuana and cocaine. The PGA Tour also bans Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and EPO (synthetic blood doping). The LPGA says neither is a proven performance enhancer for golf.

ARE THERE EXCEPTIONS?

Players may apply for a medical waiver or therapeutic-use exception (TUE) which they can obtain if they demonstrate there is no alternate treatment besides the banned substance and that, for the player involved, it does not improve performance.

WILL THE PUBLIC BE INFORMED OF POSITIVE TESTS?

Only after all appeals have been exhausted. The PGA Tour reserves the right not to make public positive tests for drugs of abuse. It also reserves the right to impose rehabilitation as part of the punishment phase.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING APPEALS?

Under both plans, prize money earned during the appeals process will be held in an interest-bearing account until resolution of the matter.

WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES?

PGA Tour: First offense -- up to one-year suspension; Second offense -- up to five-year suspension; Third offense -- permanent ineligibility.

LPGA: First offense -- one year suspension; Second offense -- two-year suspension and loss of membership. Must return to Q school. Third offense -- permanent loss of LPGA membership.



TESTING: The basics

A step-by-step look at how the PGA Tour will conduct its drug testing. The first testing will occur no sooner than July.

1. The player is randomly selected, advised of his rights and acknowledges in writing he has been picked for drug testing.

2. The player reports to the drug testing station as soon as possible with a photo ID and may be monitored from the time of notification until the sample is collected. Failing to report in a timely manner is a violation of the program.

3. The player rinses and dries his hands.

4. The player selects a collection vessel and verifies its seal has not been broken.

5. Only the player and the collector are allowed in the restroom during the sample collection.

6. The player splits the sample into a bottle labeled "A" and a bottle labeled "B" and seals the vessels.

7. The samples are sent to a lab where the "A" sample is analyzed and the "B" sample is stored.

8. The lab reports the results to the tour Anti-Doping Administrator.

9. If the "A" sample tests positive, the Program Administrator determines if there is a Therapeutic Use Exemption for the banned substance.

10. If the review supports the test findings, the player is advised of his rights to have the "B" sample tested. The player has two days to notify the Program Administrator if he wants to attend the "B" sample test.

11. If the "B" sample tests positive, the player can submit a written explanation. If a violation is upheld, the player is notified of his penalty, which may include disqualification, forfeiting prize money or points, ineligibility and fines. Sanctions for recreational drugs may include rehabilitation or medical treatment.

12. The player has seven days to appeal in writing to the commissioner. A hearing is held within 45 days of the appeal's receipt. The commissioner can impose a provisional suspension after the positive "A" sample finding. If there is no provisional suspension, and the player continues competing, prize money is held in escrow pending the case's outcome.

13. The player has the right to representation at the appeal hearing and the right to present evidence. The hearing officer makes a recommendation to the commissioner. The commissioner's decision is final. The hearing proceedings shall not be made public.

14. As a condition of tour membership, players waive right to seek judicial review of final decisions under the program.

15. A first offense brings a suspension of up to one year. A second brings a suspension of up to five years and a third can bring a permanent ban.

16. Upon completion of all appeals, the tour will publish the name of the player, the violation and the sanction imposed. The tour may withhold information on cases involving recreational drugs.