Golfers question new drugs testing regime

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The Independent Online

Rocco Mediate was perhaps going slightly over the top when describing the new drug-testing laws which came into effect on the European and American Tours yesterday as "the biggest joke in the history of the world". Yet it was easy to sense a measure of sympathy for his comments here on the range of the European Open.

It surely could not have helped their mood any that they were in the dark over where and when the testers would strike. European Tour officials threw an inevitable cloak of secrecy over the timings of the filling of the first sample bottle saying it could be today, tomorrow, this week, or even next month.

All that is certain is that some time very soon a professional will feel a tap on his shoulder and be accompanied to a nearby urinal. And the one question many of them are asking is “why?”

David Howell led the chorus of the resigned but confused. "It's a sad reflection on the world that we live in that we have to go down this line as everyone else," said the Englishman in between his preparations for the £2m event which tees off in deepest Kent tomorrow. "If there’s one person in golf taking drugs to specifically improve their performance, I’d be amazed. I just don’t think it’s in the culture of our game.

"It comes from the image of people injecting themselves to get bigger muscles to be good at their sport but that’s just a million miles away from the way golfers live their life. Golf would be seen by the general public as more of a power game these days but the guys that hit it a long way are not the big strong guys. It’s about technique, not raw strength."

Like Mediate, Howell is also concerned about some of the "drugs" that are on the banned list. "Some of the things on the list seem daft, but I suppose they can be used as masking agents or whatever," he said. Over at the AT&T National in Washington, meanwhile, where players will also be subject to random tests this week as part of the PGA tour's new anti-doping programme, Mediate weighed in with all the gusto he showed at last month's US Open when running Tiger Woods so close.

"You could sit in the parking lot and drink a fifth of vodka, and you might get a fine," said the popular veteran. "But if you take Vick's Vapor Rub, you've got to go through the whole system. There are all kinds of things. If you drink a protein shake, and it metabolizes wrong, you're done. It's stupid. There is nothing we can take to help you in golf."

The good news for any player who does innocently fall foul of the new system is that they have been told that once a test does come back positive they will first be taken in, talked to and have all their supplements and medications analysed to find the reason for an "illegal" substance. And then, only if no logical explanation is discovered, will they will be subject to punishments that could mean a year's suspension for first-time offences and a lifetime ban for multiple violations.

Furthermore, if they do test positive for recreational drugs - drugs on the banned list that are not deemed to be performance-enhancing - they will be more likely to find an arm around their shoulders than a boot up their backsides. Apparently for any mood-enhancing misdemanours the young millionaires would receive help rather a ban.