Snedeker wrong about drug-testing

2013 10 Snedeker

I really like Brandt Snedeker.

Aside from the fact he is a tremendous golfer, who plays the game at a good pace, he seems like a humble, genuine bloke.

He’s also great with the media. Some guys give you thoroughly mundane answers. Snedeker shoots from the hip. He comes across as an honest guy.

However, I have to disagree with him when he says that golf might give up testing its players for performance-enhancing drugs.

In an interview with Golf Magazine, Snedeker said: “I would do away with drug testing in a heartbeat. It’s a complete waste of time and money.”

Frankly, I couldn’t disagree more. Perhaps that’s because, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve read The Secret Race, an insight into the murky workings of teams and cyclists competing in the Tour de France. The book was written by Tyler Hamilton, a former teammate of Lance Armstrong who was himself popped for doping in 2004.

Many of those who have read the book have focused on Hamilton’s stunning revelations about Lance Armstrong. But, to me, there are three bigger issues the book exposes: the extent of doping within the sport; the sophistication of the cover-ups; and the ineptitude of the testing procedures.

Hamilton explains that, because the testers’ methods were so sloppy, it was easy to take performance enhancing drugs without worrying about the consequences. His confessions were compelling. And they got me thinking about golf.
Snedeker is wrong... The problem is that golf appears to be alarmingly ill-prepared to deal with any issues that might arise.

Now look, I’m not going to say that drug-taking is rife in the sport. I’m not Gary Player. But I will say this: the governing bodies need to make their stance against doping much more robust. Get rid of them altogether? Pfft. That’s just daft.

The problem isn’t so much that golf’s drug-testing programme testing takes time, costs money, and has ‘only’ yielded one failed test since it was introduced. The problem is that golf appears to be alarmingly ill-prepared to deal with any issues that might arise.

That much was exposed by the mess caused by Vijay Singh and his deer antler spray earlier this year. The PGA Tour suspended Vijay after he admitted taking the substance, which contains small traces of a growth hormone (IGF-1) banned by the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA).

The case against the Fijian collapsed, however, when WADA advised the PGA Tour that, after further investigation, it was found that the spray didn’t contain sufficient quantities of IGF-1 to break its rules.

And, of course, there was the fact that Vijay never failed a test. He admitted to using the substance, yes. But he never failed a test. It’s next-to-impossible to punish someone for something without irrefutable proof that they’ve done it. In its urgency to be seen to be taking a hard-line approach to doping, the PGA Tour missed that point in spectacular fashion. Partly because of that, Singh is now pursuing a damages case against the tour.

But what is also worth noting is Vijay’s motive for taking the spray in the first place. Speaking to Sports Illustrated, whose report first shone a light on his taking the substance, Singh, below, is quoted as saying: “I'm looking forward to some change in my body.” What’s that if it’s not an admission of looking for performance enhancement benefits from the product?

The Masters - Round Two

That very fact alone underlines the need for the game and its tours to have (a) a unilateral, robust testing procedure and (b) an accurate, comprehensive WADA-approved list of products (and quantities thereof) that will enhance your performance.

As long as there are players looking towards medicinal products to for “some change” in their bodies – whether within or outwith the rules, and I believe Singh when he says he was doing so within the rules – some form of testing must be in place. Otherwise someone, someday will try to take advantage of products to produce “some change” in their bodies outwith the rules. Maybe they already have.

Snedeker, therefore, is wrong. PEDs might not help you get the ball in the hole or help enhance your mental performance. But if there is any suspicion that they make the playing field anything but level, then testing must exist to eliminate them. No ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’.

This sentiment, however, is futile unless the game’s tours and decision-makers wise up to doping, learn about it, and implement unambiguous testing procedures. The ones they have in place right now are, quite clearly, inadequate. The Singh issue has damaged the PGA Tour’s credibility and its ability to deliver a circuit that is irrefutably clean. Again, that must change. No ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’.

No-one is saying golf has a drugs problem. But who can honestly, hand on heart, say right now, with total certainty, that it doesn’t?

To me, it’s this simple: better understanding; better testing; better the chance of a clean sport.

- Who's right? Brandt Snedeker or Michael McEwan?

Brandt Snedeker wants drug-testing in golf banned; Michael McEwan says it is essential. Who do you agree with? Leave your thoughts in our 'Comments' section, below.

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