Will golf put integrity to test?

KEN FIDLIN

, Last Updated: 1:05 PM ET

The lobby for drug-testing in golf has gained enough traction in the past few months to ensure that it will happen.

Maybe not tomorrow or next week or next month or even next year. But it will happen. It's both a good thing and a sad thing. Maybe even a bad thing.

With some reservations, the LPGA has already announced it will test for performance-enhancing drugs starting in 2008.

Led by Commissioner Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour has always resisted the movement toward drug testing. Its reluctance is based on the notion that such an imposition could have a profound effect on the game's backbone which is, of course, the reliance on the integrity of the players themselves to police the game and its rules.

"The culture of the sport, the history of the sport, it's just as important to a player that he is playing by the rules as it is how good he hits the shot," said Finchem when asked at a recent World Golf Championship event. "We all learn that when we learn how to play the game as kids and that is carried through to be one of the dominating characteristics of play at this level of golf.

"In other sports, part of the game is to hope that you can do something and the referee doesn't see it. It is the reverse in golf. In this sport, there is reliance on the individual to call the rules on himself and that's what happens.

"I don't know of other sports where players have come in and made a mistake on their scorecard or called a penalty on themselves that has cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. That happens every year on the PGA Tour. So the culture and the history is somewhat different. I'm not prepared to throw all that out just because somebody is waving their hand and saying: 'Gee whiz, the other sports are testing. Why aren't you?' "

But the very next day, somebody asked Tiger Woods what he thought of drug testing and he responded: "I don't know when we could get that implemented. Tomorrow would be fine with me. I think we should be proactive instead of reactive."

The potential for abuse rests in the huge amount of money that's at stake in big-league golf now, coupled with the belief that the game has evolved into a raw test of power. It doesn't take some scientific study to recognize that today's young players are, in general, much more into strength and fitness than a generation ago. It is a short step from building that muscle naturally and getting a little pharmacological help. This past season, 20 players averaged more than 300 yards per measured drive. Astonishingly, 30 drives were measured at more than 400 yards on Tour, topped out by Jason Gore's 427-yard bomb on the 12th hole at Kapalua in the Mercedes Championship.

"We market the long ball," said Joe Ogilvie, a member of the Tour's policy board. "We market the guys who hit it 300 yards. If that's your message and people see that beginning in high school, I think as a tour it is very naive to think that somebody down the line won't cheat."

Or, more to the point, that somebody or maybe even a Somebody, is already in it up to his eye-balls.

After all, despite Finchem's protestations, occasionally players do still cheat. It may be more rare in golf than in other sports but it happens. Therein lies the logic of drug testing.

"It's sad that we have to have testing," said LPGA legend Annika Sorenstam. "I believe in this sport and I believe in the people. I don't think you're going to see anything out here, but if it's peace of mind for people and if we need to prove that the LPGA is clean, then let's do it."

It's not just a matter of proving that the game is clean. It's also ensuring that the next generation, faced with the temptations that have long faced football and baseball players or track athletes, will have an immediate deterrent.

That's a best-case scenario. Worst case: Drug testing in golf could serve to undermine the long tradition of integrity that is the fundamental foundation of the game.

"Let's say we said 'We don't think we have a problem but you all think we have a problem, so let's go test,' " argues Finchem. "If we don't find something, I doubt seriously that the stories would say we don't have a problem. My guess is that the stories would be 'You're not testing right.' Or 'Why did you test to begin with, you must have thought you had a problem.' We would then be in the same kettle with other sports that, frankly, we think we're different from."

No matter, though. It's going to happen and the chips will fall where they may.


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