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PGA Tour begins drug testing this week

• European Tour’s drug testing policy goes into effect.

By DOUG FERGUSON
Associated Press

BETHESDA, Md. – Golf enters the modern age of sports with a short walk through history.

The hallway in the clubhouse at Congressional winds past photos of presidents who belonged to the club, newspaper clippings of Ken Venturi’s courageous victory in the 1964 U.S. Open and magazine articles of Fred Couples winning his first PGA Tour event.

It leads to an elevator, which takes players to the third floor to be tested for drugs.

“It’s taken 150 years to test us for drugs,” Robert Allenby said. “Because of baseball and a lot of other sports, they really pushed it toward us because of all their mistakes. Hopefully, we can show how clean our sport is.”

The PGA Tour reluctantly joined the modern era of sports at the AT&T National when its anti-doping program took effect, featuring random testing for some 500 players on its three circuits and sanctions that include a lifetime ban for the third offense.

The Tour will not say who gets tested and when, although it had its first customer Wednesday morning – PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who had his executive staff also go through the process.

“I don’t view it as anything meaningful from a symbolism standpoint,” said Finchem, adding that the process took just under 10 minutes. “I just think it’s important that we understand the detail of it. We have every reason to be optimistic that we’re not going to have logistical problems, that it’s not going to be a big disruption.”

Whether golf has drug-related problems remains to be seen.

The banned substances closely follow the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited list minus two classes of substances that golf executives say will not enhance a golfer’s performance – Glucocorticosteroids and Beta-2-Agonists.

Tiger Woods remains eligible for testing even though he had season-ending surgery on his left knee last week. Woods said he has tested himself twice, the second time because he changed the brand of the amino acid in his nutritional program. He said both tests came back clean.

“All we have to test is one guy,” Steve Stricker said, alluding to Woods. “Because we can’t beat him, anyway.”

Finchem has said for most of this decade that he does not know of a performance-enhancing drug for golf, but the sport came under increasing pressure in the wake of scandals in baseball, cycling and Olympic sports.

Plus, it must have an anti-doping program in place if it wants to be part of the Olympic program in 2016.

“I don’t think our sport needs it,” Kenny Perry said. “But if they feel like we need to be like baseball and all the other sports, that’s fine with me. I don’t think you’ll see any problems on our tour. I haven’t seen any in my 22 years out here. Maybe somebody did take steroids or whatever, but I don’t think you’ll see it as an issue.”

Drug testing also began this week on the European Tour, while the LPGA began its program at the start of the season. The British Open will not test for drugs until next year.

The National Center for Drug Free Sport, which handles drug testing for the NCAA, will conduct testing for the tour.

Anyone tested at the AT&T National will have an escort on the elevator to the third floor, where the testing takes place in a two-room suite behind a locked door. One side of the room has a large cooler with non-carbonated drinks. The other side is where a player registers, washes his hands and goes into the bathroom with an inspector to provide a urine sample.

Allison Keller, a Tour attorney in charge of administering the program, said the process should take no more than 10 minutes.

What took longer was getting golfers up to speed.

The Tour spent seven months educating players on banned substances, why they are on the list, how they can get in the body and how to seek a therapeutic use exemption for certain substances. Drug experts were available at every PGA Tour event this year, and there were two mandatory meetings.

That doesn’t mean golfers have embraced the concept.

“I hate it. I hate it. I hate everything about it,” Olin Browne said. “It’s contradictory to the ethics of our game.”

Browne speaks for several players who lean on the notion that golf is steeped in honesty, with players calling penalties on themselves. Using a banned substance would be no different from kicking a ball out from under a tree.

“It’s kind of a necessary evil,” Justin Leonard said. “In this age of sports, with all of the scandals that you’d have and the drug testing in other sports, I think it’s necessary. It’s unfortunate, because golf is a game of honor and integrity, but I hope that we don’t find somebody violating that honor.”

Finchem said the Tour might disclose how many players were tested at the end of the year. But under its new policy, the Tour only would reveal a positive test after all appeals. Then, it would release the player’s name, the violation and the penalty – but not a specific drug that was found in his system.

Sanctions range from one year for the first offense, five years for a second offense and a permanent ban after that.

“We are all in a position to put this rule to effect, enforce it, keep the kind of problems out of the sport that we have seen in other sports,” Finchem said. “And in three, four, five years, we’ll look back and say, ‘Did we keep these problems out of our sport?’ I’ve got a high degree of confidence that the answer will be yes.”

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