<
>

Several PGA Tour players leery of accidental positives with new doping policy

It was the great amateur golfer Bobby Jones who once famously scoffed at the notion that he should be applauded for calling a rules violation on himself. "You might as well praise me for not robbing banks," Jones said about an incident at the 1925 U.S. Open, in which a penalty he incurred when his ball barely moved -- despite nobody else knowing it happened -- cost him the tournament.

That example is often cited when the game's honor is discussed. Players routinely call penalties on themselves, even at the highest levels of competition, in which every hole or every swing can't be observed by a rules official.

So it is with varying degrees of trepidation, consternation and, ultimately, resignation that the game enters a new era this week on the PGA Tour: drug testing.

For the first time, players in the field at the PGA Tour event this week -- the AT&T National -- will be subject to random tests as part of the tour's Anti-Doping Program. Urine samples will be taken to determine if players are taking steroids or other performance-enhancing substances, as well as illegal recreational drugs. A positive test can result in suspension for a year for a first offense and a lifetime ban for multiple violations.

The entire concept remains controversial.

"It's the biggest joke in the history of the world," said PGA Tour veteran Rocco Mediate. "You could sit in the parking lot and drink a fifth of vodka, and you might get a fine. But if you take Vick's Vapor Rub, you've got to go through the whole system. There are all kinds of things. If you drink a protein shake, and it metabolizes wrong, you're done. It's stupid. There is nothing we can take to help you in golf.

"We're not Olympians here. If I take steroids, I'm not going to shoot better scores. I can assure you of that. … I don't have a problem with drug testing, just the way it's being done. Why don't we do our own deal? And they follow you in [to a restroom] to take a piss? C'mon, it's bull----. Everybody can cheat all day out here if they want. We can move our ball, and nobody does it. We police ourselves."

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem might very well agree with Mediate, though perhaps not as vehemently. As recently as two years ago, Finchem was on record as saying that the PGA Tour did not need drug testing, that he was unaware of any issues with performance-enhancing drugs, and that he wasn't even sure that such substances could help golfers play better.

But Finchem came around to the idea and eventually pushed -- albeit reluctantly -- for a comprehensive plan.

"You just can't avoid it anymore," Finchem said during a recent interview. "It's just too prevalent. Too many other sports are having issues. There is too much of a perception growing that every athlete is taking advantage. We didn't have any of that because we didn't have any rules. Now we have rules going into effect.

"My position hasn't changed. We have to work hard through that. The idea of testing doesn't change the culture of responsibility of players knowing the rules, playing by the rules, calling violations on yourself. I rationalized this by thinking of drug testing like testing a driver. You're testing it because somebody put it in a player's hands. Drug testing, you are testing a player because maybe they put something in their body. In both cases, I don't expect or anticipate situations where players intentionally violated.

"If that were to happen, it's a bad situation. But we're worried about it happening by mistake. We're not presuming guilt here. If we look at it that way, I think we can maintain the culture of the sport."

Still, it is the player's responsibility to make sure nothing illegal is found in his system, regardless of intent. That is why all PGA Tour players were given a 40-page manual late last year summarizing the rules and making clear what is allowed and what is not.

A 24-hour hotline was set up, meetings have been held, and counseling on the program has been available every week on tour.

"I think the first time somebody tests positive for something, it'll be something like Vick's cough syrup," said Brandt Snedeker, who as a college golfer at Vanderbilt was subject to random drug testing by the NCAA. "We've all turned into label readers in the last few months. Guys take supplements, and there are certain things you can't have."

"The only thing that irks me a little bit," said tour player J.J. Henry, "is I had a cold three weeks ago and I had to go look through this little book and was wondering if I could take this cough suppressant or if I can't. There are things like that you can't take. I guess we'll get adjusted. It's sort of like taking your shoes off now when you go through security at the airport. Unfortunately, you just have to do things.

"I'd like to think our sport is clean, and I'd like to think as golfers we appreciate the integrity of our sport. I'm not worried about it, but there is a little gray area that we are going to have to deal with."

Said Billy Mayfair: "They spent a lot of money on this stuff, made it very easy for players to ask questions. They've got some great doctors here. They've been out here every single week. If a player tests positive, there has to be something funny. These guys aren't going to cheat. If you test positive, it's taking something you didn't know you were taking."

The program is being administered by the National Center for Drug Free Sport. Players can appeal any positive test, and Finchem can use his discretion on penalties. There are Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE), which may authorize a player to take needed medicine that is otherwise banned while continuing to play. Violations will be disclosed and penalties announced, although only the type of drug (such as performance-enhancing) would be reported.

It is possible that dozens, a handful or zero players will be tested this week. Because the tests are random and without notice, the tour will not discuss specifics. And players are subject to testing both during and outside of competition, so a player who is injured -- such as Tiger Woods or Shaun Micheel -- could, in theory, be tested.

"I think it's kind of a necessary evil," Justin Leonard said. "I think this age of sports, with all of the scandals that you've had and the drug testing in other sports, I think it's necessary. I think it's unfortunate because golf is a game of honor and integrity, but I hope that we don't find somebody violating that honor or integrity. But I feel like it's necessary."

Many players, such as Mediate, wonder why the program has to be so strict, why he has to produce a sample with a program administrator present.

"If you are going to have a drug policy at all, you have to go all the way," said Stewart Cink, one of four players on the PGA Tour policy board. "You can't just say, 'Well, OK, we are going to have urine samples, but you can submit one however you want to.' Then there is not a policy. What's the point of having one at all unless you are going to go all the way?

"I think what's making a lot of players angry about it is the way they're going to administer the tests. Unfortunately, there is really no way to do it without keeping 100 percent credibility that's going to be comfortable for the testee."

"If you're going to drug test," former policy board member Tom Pernice said, "you should do it as sophisticated, as tough and with as much credibility as football, baseball or anybody. Then nobody can say you didn't do this. Guys are upset about the fact that they have to go pee in a cup and somebody has to watch them do it. It's just the way it is. Some of the guys take it personal. It's not about that. We have to do it the right way and the most credible way."

Pernice offers another reason for testing.

"We need to set a precedent; we need to send a message to the young people playing golf in high school and college," Pernice said. "The game has become such a power game. Young kids look at the No. 1 player in the world [Woods] and how big he is and how hard he's worked out. They might take short cuts or try anything. I'm sure Tiger is as clean as he could possibly be. And that's a big plus for him to go through testing."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.