Golf: O'Grady says players use beta-blockers: Drugs 'helped win majors'

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The Independent Online
AT LEAST seven of the world's top golfers take beta- blockers. Mac O'Grady does not have positive proof of this but he is sure none the less. 'Golf should have random urine tests,' he said.

Without naming names O'Grady, a former US Tour professional who is attempting here to help Seve Ballesteros rediscover his winning ways, said that the players taking drugs have won a 'bunch of majors'. He added: 'You see these guys meandering around for years doing nothing and all of a sudden they're making all the putts and winning tournaments. Beta-blockers are not illegal. They just make a remarkable difference. They affect the part of the brain which controls fear and anxiety. Players don't relive past negative traumas.'

The drug is commonly prescribed to treat high blood pressure and angina and is on the proscribed list of the International Olympic Committee. In the past it has been used, notoriously, by riflemen and snooker players. O'Grady said he used beta-blockers for six months in 1985 and that they helped his putting. 'The use of the drug is unethical,' he said. 'They give players an unfair advantage.'

He said that a number of Europeans took the drug. How did he know? 'Doctors have told me,' he said. In professional sport, golf has a lillywhite image. The game's ruling authorities, the Royal and Ancient and the United States Golf Association, cast a paternal eye over a game that has become massively lucrative. Making or missing a putt can be measured, not just in terms of feet and inches, but in thousands of pounds. The pressure can lead, on the greens, to the dreaded 'yips', a manifestation of nerves, most spectacularly suffered by Bernhard Langer, the defending champion of the Masters which begins here tomorrow. Langer's antidote is to putt with his right hand gripping his left forearm. The theory on drugs, or even a stiff brandy come to that, is that nervous tension would be relieved.

Golf, unlike most sports, does not have regular drug testing. Amateur players have been randomly tested in the past, without positive results, but in the professional game the acid test is not in a laboratory. The password is etiquette and the moral responsibility rests on the individual. Cheating is almost unheard of and players who inadvertently infringe the rules are the first to admit their mistakes.

Nick Faldo, according to a magazine, is a beta-blocker taker. It came as news to Faldo. 'The strongest thing I ever take is a whisky,' Faldo said, 'especially after a hard day with the kids. There's no way I'd use drugs. You'e got to be joking. O'Grady knows more than me. I don't even know what a beta-blocker is. Deep breathing will do for me.'

Sam Torrance and Nick Price both admitted to using the drug in the past. Torrance said that once he stopped taking beta-blockers he won three tournaments. Price said he was prescribed the drug for eight years up until 1988 to combat high blood pressure. 'I was always unhappy taking them,' Price said. 'They damaged my career. On a scale of one to 10 they'd put you on six and that is where you'd stay. I couldn't sleep. If players use them for non-medical reasons it's the dumbest thing I know.' Price said he now uses an alternative drug called Vasotec which performs a similar function but has less damaging side effects.

O'Grady said he took beta- blockers to improve his putting. A long-time friend of Ballesteros, he has been working, in a coaching capacity, with the Spaniard for the past month. O'Grady was waxing lyrical on the subject of drug abuse while standing in front of the clubhouse at Augusta National. He was interrupted by the arrival of Ballesteros. 'I've been waiting for you for an hour and a half,' Ballesteros said, somewhat angrily. 'There. Did you see that look?', O'Grady asked. 'That's the look of a committed player.'

It was the look of a man who was tired of waiting for his coach. 'Drugs?' Ballesteros said. 'It's none of my business.' O'Grady was at pains to point out that he was not your normal run-of-the-mill coach. 'They're parasites living off the carcass of the sport,' he said. 'I'm not one of those sleazy, slimy people.' O'Grady did not have the proper accreditation to get into the course. He had borrowed somebody else's badge. He hurried to join Ballesteros on the practice putting green.

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