GARY PLAYER SENT the press conference before the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie into uproar. He said, ‘Whether it’s Human Growth Hormones (HGH), whether its Creatine or whether it’s steroids I know for a fact some golfers are doing it.’ He was talking about players cheating through the use of performance enhancing drugs (PED).
Players in all kinds of sports, be it rugby, baseball, US football, athletics and, most sensationally of late, cycling, have failed drugs tests for PEDs yet so far only one in golf; a journeyman American golfer, Doug Barron, failed an anti-doping test by the USPGA in 2009 and was banned for a year.
Under PGA rules it is not required to state what banned substance a player is found to have taken, although in Barron’s case it was later revealed that it was testosterone. To date the doping tests rely purely on a urine rather than blood sample, a system that, had it been used in professional cycling, would mean Lance Armstrong might still be regarded as a cycling great rather than a cheat, as it took blood tests to prove conclusive.
Given the huge sums of money involved in professional golf is it not just conceivable that another player might be looking to gain an advantage, even if it is an unfair one?
Vijay Singh admitted to Sports Illustrated magazine that he had used a banned growth hormone substance in 2013. He is now suing the USPGA claiming that he has been a victim of a smear campaign since the World Anti-Doping Agency removed deer antler spray, Singh’s drug of choice, from its list of banned substances. The case has still to reach court although the Fijian never received a ban.
What has caused many, both inside and outside the sport, to question the use of PEDs is how much bigger and stronger modern day golfers are. No one has been involved in more press speculation than Tiger Woods, who has the name of a Denver-based supplement company, MusclePharm, stitched telegenically onto his golf bag.
Woods has most certainly bulked up since he burst onto the world of professional golf. He claims that unorthodox training regimes such as working out with the US Navy Seals, running in heavy boots and spear-fishing have made the difference albeit much to the consternation of his former coach, Hank Haney.
Woods inflamed further media comment with his controversial recruitment of Canadian doctor, Anthony Galea, who included disgraced baseball star Alex Rodriguez alongside a list of other star US baseball and NFL players as clients.
Rodriguez was banned for the entire 2014, baseball season for using ‘numerous forms of prohibited performance enhancing substances,’ the most severe punishment in baseball history. In 2011 Dr Galea pleaded guilty to smuggling growth hormones into the US from Canada.
Woods employed Galea between 2008 and 2009 although the doctor said that Woods only received legal plasma therapy that involved withdrawing blood, spinning it and then injecting the plasma back in.
The USPGA introduced its dope testing after Woods had famously defeated Rocco Mediate at the 91st hole at Torrey Pines in the 2009 US Open just two months after he had major knee surgery. Two weeks after the tournament the USPGA started testing for PED, a decision Rocco Mediate described as ‘The biggest joke in the history of the world.’
Woods is not the only high profile player to attract speculation; Adam Scott has also been mentioned along with Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia who have all put on increased muscle during their playing careers.
There is no doubt that modern golfers train extremely hard on their fitness, putting in long hours in the gym so it is to be fervently hoped that any cheats who are competing at the highest level are found out soon but it will probably take a more rigorous testing regime than the one that currently exists.
On CBS Sports’ 10 predictions for the 2015 golf season it had at number five: ‘Somebody gets popped for PEDs: Golf has become too competitive and there’s too much money involved for this to not happen soon. It’s only a matter of time.’
Sadly, it almost certainly is.