Ivan Morris Column - Drugs in Golf?

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In his weekly Limerick Leader column, Ivan Morris explores the issue of drug cheating and doping in golf.

In his weekly Limerick Leader column, Ivan Morris explores the issue of drug cheating and doping in golf.

I’m more confused than usual this week!

Whatever about having my doubts about physical sports in which you have to run (or cycle) faster, jump higher or lift and throw, I have always firmly believed that drug cheating and doping was an extremely unlikely scenario in ‘my’ game – golf.

I could never quite work out how popping a substance into your body would help you to sink a putt that mattered.

In the late 1970s, without realizing the significance I went to my GP and asked him about prescribing ‘something’ to help keep me remain calm when I was constantly plagued with a self-defeating, recurring tendency to become ‘over-excited’ on the golf course. Beta-blockers would have been the normal procedure but because I suffer from extremely low blood pressure that course of action would have been dangerous.

Instead, I guided towards doing transcendental meditation exercises. TM is ‘natural’ and I did not (have to) put any ‘experimental’ chemicals into my body, prescribed or otherwise.

To be a top golfer you must have a whole plethora of essential, but non-interchangeable skills some of which are contradictory.

In golf, you need a tactical brain, a delicate touch as well as power, precision and technique, flexibility and speed, monumental concentration and courage. How ridiculous I thought it would be to take a ‘stamina pill’ one week and maybe a ‘flexibility pill’ on another occasion in order to improve one’s golf?

Even when one of my all-time heroes, Gary Player, created a stir at the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie, by saying on TV that he felt that there was a doping problem in golf that needed to be dealt with promptly, I was somewhat doubtful.

The game’s establishment rounded on Gary. Phil Mickelson said: “There isn’t the remotest chance that doping in golf will (ever) happen.” Nick Faldo said: “Bottom line, nothing (chemical) helps golf.” Peter Dawson, CEO of the R&A, undertook some investigations, the extent of which only became known later. When Tiger assured him that he wasn’t taking anything, it seemed to be end of it. Dawson may have come to the reasonable conclusion (in his own mind) that because Tiger was so dominant, if he was not taking anything to enhance his performances, whatever anyone else was doing, it didn’t matter because it wasn’t very effective. And, I tended to agree with him.

Until now, the USGA, R&A, USPGA and European Tour have succeeded in giving the impression that golf was ‘completely clean’ despite the fact that there has been no testing. The inference has always been that golfers regularly call penalties on themselves, never mind cheat. How would such upstanding blokes ever indulge in Performance Enhancing Drugs?

Alarm signals that golf could be facing an unimaginable doping nightmare arose ‘out of nowhere’ in an article in the American magazine, Sports Illustrated, last month. 3-times major winner, Vijay Singh, was named in a story about a company called S.W.A.T.S – Sports with Alternatives to Steroids. Due to his famously rigorous practice regimes, the 49-years old, Singh has been struggling with injuries for years. SWATS produces, among other things, deer antler spray, which is claimed helps athletes’ injuries to heal quicker. It’s a Human Growth Hormone that is converted in the liver to an insulin-like growth factor called IGF-1. Singh was quoted as saying that he uses the spray “every couple of hours, every day.”

The problem is IGF-1 is illegal. In 2011, when Mark Calcavecchia made an admission that he had used the same spray to alleviate aches in his wrist, shoulders and back, the PGA instructed him and all of its players not to use it. Calcavecchia said at the time that the antler spray ‘might’ have helped his wrist ‘a little bit,’ but it didn’t do ‘anything’ for his back. He stopped immediately and (surprisingly) escaped having to serve a ban. Singh can hardly be as lucky. After the much-discussed Calc episode, how can he plead ignorance? If he did not know, he should have.

The hypersensitive, Olympic authorities will be watching developments with a keen interest. IGF-1 is a banned substance right across the board. Singh has admitted to taking it. It’s an open and shut case.

The golf authorities can no longer be complacent – they must show firm leadership and bring the might of the entire anti-doping, testing regime into golf, or the game will be seen to be in disrepute.

The much admired Sir Bob Charles, who won The Open in 1963 and whose longevity as a top performer continued into his 70s, has admitted using antler spray for over 20-years. I’m confused because I can’t make my mind up if golfers are, or are not, any more or less credulous than ‘tainted’ athletes in other pursuits.

Words of the Wise

According to the PGA Tour’s doping policy, which was initiated in 2008, a player’s first violation will result in a one-year suspension. I’ll be surprised if the punishment turns out to be that severe because, in practice, the Tour polices itself.