If you’ve been anywhere within range of televisions, radios, newspapers, or the Internet over the last couple of weeks, you have undoubtedly heard something about the steroid controversy gripping baseball as it heads into spring training. For the first time in its history, baseball will have mandatory testing for performance-enhancing drugs following a precedent set by the NFL and the NBA years ago. And while the controversy has swirled on the diamond, there are those that might wonder, should testing for performance enhancing drugs be done on in professional golf as well?
While instituting some sort of drug-testing policy might make for good publicity for the PGA Tour, the reality is that there is no known drug that has been shown to consistently enhance the performance of a golfer. Becoming stronger through the use of steroids might make one hit the ball greater distances, but it certainly will not improve accuracy, feel for the short game, or the ability to read a tricky sidehill five-footer for par under pressure.
Speaking of pressure, there are reports that some professionals (including Nick Price) have tried beta-blockers (prescription medications that slow heart-rates and calm nerves) in order to relax under such conditions. However, those that have tried them discount their advantage and claim that, if anything, the side effects damaged their performance. Tommy Bolt, famous for his volcanic temper, tried valium, a sedative with similar effects in the 1950s to calm his temper, but found the drug to be of little use, sarcastically saying, “They work great. I’m still three-putting but I don’t give a damn anymore.”
Probably the best reason to reject the idea of drug-testing on the PGA Tour is the tradition of honor that has pervaded the game since its inception. Golfers are expected to follow the rules and call penalties on themselves when they inadvertantly break the rules. Golf is a game where players routinely penalize themselves for carrying an extra club or taking an incorrect drop and so, to think that a player would consistently cheat through the use of a performance enhacing drug – even if he could identify one to use – is very unrealistic. The Baseball Hall of Fame is filled with pitchers who used corked bats or pitchers that scuffed baseballs. The Golf Hall of Fame is devoid of players guilty of such behavior. There is a saying in other sports, “if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.” It’s laughable to think of a PGA Tour player joking, much less practicing, such a concept.
Besides being a game that sets itself apart because of its basis in coordination rather than power and individuality rather than teamwork, it is also a sport that is truly unique because of its unwritten honor code. So no, golf would not gain anything by drug-testing, and as a matter of fact, it might actually lose a little something in the process.