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The Loop

Tour Drug Policy: Keeping Up with the Jones's

October 05, 2007

With Olympic track star Marion Jones' admissions this week, drugs are back in the news. Matt Rudy's well-researched piece in the October issue, which explains why the Tour's decision to start drug testing was the right one, brings this letter from Don Murray:

After reading your article in the October 2007 issue, some interesting scenarios came to mind regarding drug testing. We often make the mistake of assuming a certain drug that may be considered performance enhancing is also illegal (HGH for example). If Commissioner Finchem is hoping to fall back on the PGA Tour's player code of conduct agreement, which I assume covers all illegal activity, he is may look hypocritical should someone test positive for marijuana for instance. Would it be handled differently if they got arrested with Marijuana in their possession, but not detectable in their blood? Considering the fact that marijuana is available as a legal prescription drug in many states to control pain only confuses the issue. Are recreational drugs like marijuana to be considered performance enhancing or just illegal? The sad reality is what is taken from Mr. Finchem's comments isn't concern about player health or even unfair advantages being sought, but only about the precious Tour image. Tour players break the law regularly as do many citizens of this country whether it be in a tiny, illegal tax deduction or driving with 1/100th of a decimal point over the legal alcohol level in their system, it doesn't seem to be Mr. Finchem's concern until they actually get caught.

I'm curious, as you are, about the gray areas. Another one: A player is taking a drug for helps him that an issue? Right now, Finchem has answered with a very specific list of banned substances. (Anabolic agents, hormones, anti-estrogens, diuretics, stimulants, narcotics, cannabinoids and beta blockers.) You can bet there will be adjustiments. But I'm not sure it's just image that the Tour's worried about. It's also trust. I'm reminded of something Tommy John, the great Dodgers and Yankees lefthander, said about Deane Beman's stance on drug testing. "Beman used to tell me, 'We have drug testing on tour. It's called the four-footer." That wasn't good enough for Tommy. "Fans need to know that what they're seeing is legitimate."

From Rudy's piece:

Even if the true number is closer to zero than 50, it's clear that the idea of professional golf not needing to worry about steroids is as outdated as the notion that golfers aren't athletes. "The reality is that the public is slowly coming to the view that performance-enhancing substances are prolific in sports," says PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, who is expected to announce a set of anti-doping rules for the tour later this year. "Whether we have an issue or not doesn't matter if people think we have one."

Today Ernie Els joined Tiger and others in strongly supporting Finchem's decision (and recounted a conversation he had with Gary Player about Player's remarks at Carnoustie. Jeff Brooke at weighs in, too. An idea whose time has come.

--Bob Carney