Royal & Ancient to test for drugs at October event
HOYLAKE, England -- Short and plump, Fred Funk chuckled at the prospect of testing golfers for drugs.
"I wish they would accuse me of using steroids," Funk said Wednesday, strolling quickly from the putting green to the locker room on the eve of the British Open. "I would be honored, flattered."
Of course, performance-enhancing drugs are no laughing matter. Golf, with a code of conduct calling for players to police themselves, lags behind the other major sports when it comes to a formal doping policy. That could change following Wednesday's announcement that testing will be done at the World Amateur Team championship at Stellenbosch, South Africa on Oct. 22-29.
"We don't think at the moment that there is much use of performance-enhancing drugs in golf," said Peter Dawson, the chief executive of Royal & Ancient, which runs the oldest of golf's four major tournaments.
"We are, if you like, cutting our teeth on making sure that we can administer that properly," said Dawson, adding the tests would be a good first step toward developing an effective doping system. "It's a rehearsal. I don't know when you're going to see drug testing in professional golf around the world, but we would support it."
On the PGA Tour, there's a definite divide between those who want the top pros tested and those who say it would be a waste of time, money and effort.
"We're self-policing out here," Funk said. "You're either good enough or you're not good enough. I don't think drugs will help you get better."
But mindful of the scandals that have bedeviled baseball, cycling and track, Tom Pernice Jr. said he believes golf needs to send a clear signal that performance enhancers won't be tolerated. He said a detailed testing program, complete with a list of banned substances, is the only way to deliver that message.
"I think so, for the future of the sport more so than what's going on today," Pernice said. "We need to do it for the college and high-school kids."
He worries that many up-and-coming players will turn to drugs as a way to compete in a sport increasingly ruled by bigger, longer-hitting players, who often spend as much time in the weight room as on the driving range.
"The young people out there can see how important power has become," Pernice said. "The top five or 10 players are all long hitters who don't necessarily hit it very straight. Of course, they do other things very well, but the kids see the power."
Pernice conceded there are whispers in the locker room every time a player bulks up during the offseason.
"When people get bigger in a short period of time, it makes you wonder," Pernice said.
Several golfers questioned whether there would be any real benefit from using steroids once they stepped on the course. A golf swing relies on timing, speed and flexibility more than pure power. Also, there have been dramatic improvements in technology, leading to longer shots.
"Are guys doing it? I don't think so," J.J. Henry said. "It would hurt you more than it would help you. You want to stay loose and limber, not get all bulked up. When I'm working out in the fitness trailer, I'm trying to stay as loose and limber as possible."
Dick Pound, leader of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said he has heard it all before.
"It sounds like baseball, doesn't it?" he said when reached on his cell phone Wednesday. "If you look around golf, the shapes are changing from what they used to be. I'm not sure all this stuff is due to technology. Guys are working in gyms, and someone comes along and says, 'You should try this. It will build you up and make you get better faster.'"
Dawson said the R&A -- which governs golf everywhere in the world except the United States -- supports drug testing to put the sport in line with WADA's code and to keep performance-enhancing substances from creeping into the game.
Pound said he has discussed the issue with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who was reticent about a drug-testing program.
Since steroids are illegal without a prescription, Finchem doubts few players would take the risks inherent in using them.
But, he added, "I have authority from my board to require a test of any player who I have reason to believe, or our team has reason to believe, is using illegal steroids."
Finchem apparently bases that power on a broadly worded introduction to the players' handbook that governs conduct. It mentions situations from passing bad checks to maintaining a neat appearance -- but nothing about drugs.
"In golf, a player is charged with following the rules," Finchem insisted. "He can't kick his ball in the rough, and he can't take steroids. We rely on the players to call rules on themselves, and if you look at our tour over the years, many players have, to their significant financial detriment.
"That," he added, "is the culture of the sport."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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