Does golf have a drugs problem? The issue has always been ‘how do we know?’
The PGA Tour have rarely seen fit to tell us.
That’s why their announcement they are to revise their anti-doping programme has to be welcomed – even if they are decades late to the party.
Commissioner Jay Monahan, arguing the move would “better substantiate the integrity of golf as a clean sport”, saw the tour match their list of prohibited substances with those of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
They will introduce blood testing next season, which will allow them to analyse samples for substances such as human growth hormone.
Urine testing will still be the prominent source of gathering samples.
But the big new development is that suspensions, which are handed out because of recreational drug use, will now be reported.
Previously these were kept confidential, and the only cases made public were those involving performance enhancing drugs.
Whether intended or not, this projected an image to the wider sports world – working hard to clamp down on the use of any illegal substances – that golf was soft on drugs.
It allowed the easy accusation that decisions were made not on ethics but on how they might damage the image of the product, or the stars.
Players who ‘disappeared’ from action were subject to massive speculation and media frenzy. How could chiefs think that was a welcome outcome?
Key to all of this, of course, will be the PGA Tour administering more tests.
According to WADA, golf carried out the fewest number of drugs tests of major sports – just 417 – in 2015. Compare that with football, where 32,362 samples were analysed, or athletics with 30,308.
It seems pointless revising a policy without significantly increasing the number of tests you will do.
What difference will this make to the players? Those who transgress with recreational drugs know they now face being exposed to the same public sanctions any sportsperson must deal with when results are published.
Will that make them think again? Who knows?
But this move at least starts to bring golf in line with other Olympic sports – though it will be a surprise if it suddenly leads to a spirit of openness in another aspects of the PGA Tour’s disciplinary process.