Adam Davidson is a 20-year-old college kid who's been playing golf for six years. He hits most of his shots on munis where there's often more dirt than green. Like many of us, he learned the game from his dad.
Davidson, ordinary golfer, knows what PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, law school whiz and former White House deputy adviser, refuses to see. The college kid understands that a steroids scandal in golf would do much more damage to the sport than another three dozen Barry Bondses could do to baseball.
"It would bother me if I found out there were pro golfers using steroids," Davidson said. "You're talking about the one sport that's supposed to be all about honor and personal integrity. There has to be a level of trust in golf. When you learn the game, you hear all about the rules and how important they are.
"Golf is different than other sports. It would be a lot different than steroids in baseball. A lot more disappointing as a fan. Players have been cheating in baseball for as long as the game's been around."
Golf is supposed to be better than that.
Only Finchem's inaction makes one wonder. Details of the LPGA Tour's new drug-testing plan filtered out over the holiday weekend, and it makes the PGA Tour's tap-dancing echo even louder. The ladies are not fooling around, with 25-tournament suspensions (almost an entire season) for a first positive, 50-tournament bans for a second offense and lifetime ban for urine strike three.
It isn't just about steroids either. Marijuana is on the list of banned substances that could get you kicked out of the game. (The thinking is that pot could calm your tournament nerves.) Somewhere, Ricky Williams is laughing.
And Cheech & Chong are wondering why they never tried to challenge that Nicklaus dude back in their heyday.
Only it's not funny to the many golf fans who regard their worn copy of the USGA rulebook as the Bible and stop talking to friends over arguments on obscure ball-drop interpretations. Finchem is forgetting golf's diehard class of fuddy-duddies when he allows the PGA Tour to be as late to the drug testing party as Jerry and Elaine are if they're buying chocolate babka on Seinfeld.
Last week the European PGA Tour also committed to drug testing starting in 2008. Meanwhile, Finchem "studies" the topic like a grade schooler studies a blank sheet of paper, putting off his homework. He talks of policy meetings. He doesn't actually do anything.
Sure the PGA Tour is bound to come around and announce something, but its resistance has already done damage to its integrity. Finchem's plan is destined to look toothless next to LPGA boss Carolyn Bivens' bold stroke now too.
Regular golfers have already noticed.
"Golf lets people who are watching from home on TV call up and report a rules violation," said Julie McReynolds, a weekend 12-handicapper, as she triple-checked the numbers on her meaningless fun-round scorecard. "But they don't want to make their guys pee in a cup every once in a while?
"I don't get it."
Finchem's case against drug testing is more convoluted than a soap opera plot. "I believe the reason we don't generally in this sport have certainly the level of (steroid) issues that we have in other sports is because of the sport," Finchem argued in a August 2006 tour press conference. "The culture of the sport, the history of the sport, it's just as important to a player that he is playing by the rules as it is how good he hits the shot."
If that's the case why have rules officials at all? Or why not just have them follow only Vijay Singh around the course?
Finchem has since slightly amended his "You Don't Have To Worry About Gentlemen Doing Steroids" stance. But he's been dragged here kicking and screaming. This may be the only issue in history where Tiger Woods would rather have Bivens as his commissioner.
Sure, part of this is another Bivens power flex, one that's even freaking out Meg Mallon, a lovely woman who looks like she last worked out in 1977. Sure, there are regular hackers like David Blount who couldn't care less if Phil Mickelson considers rubbing The Clear and The Cream on his belly between Butch Harmon back massages.
Blount dresses like Tiger Woods on Sundays when he plays: red shirt and black pants. He is certain Tiger is clean, and he only expects to be entertained when he watches the tour anyways.
"It wouldn't make a difference to me if a bunch of golfers were on steroids," Blount said, shrugging. "Performance-enhancing drugs are a personal preference in my opinion. They're illegal and the guys taking them know that going in.
"But if they're desperate for an edge ... hey, they're trying to make a living."
In golf, Blount stands as the exception rather than the rule. It turns out there's a big difference between golf followers and baseball fans, who show they really don't give a damn about who's juicing in ticket sales, TV ratings and poll after poll. In baseball, the formerly complicit media is now waging a 'roids crusade that's completely cosmetic.
Golf brings different expectations though. If anyone should know that it's the commissioner of the PGA Tour.
"Golf is the honest game," Davidson said. "At least, that's what I thought."
Finchem has already let that game down. No matter what happens now, he waited far too long, letting steroids fester in the fans' mind if not the clubhouses.
May 29, 2007
Simply select where you want to play, find a tee time deal, and golf now!