If you've followed the steroid story in golf, you know that most players and certain administrators believed there was no problem and no benefit in using performance enhancing drugs. Others have said that may be true and everyone may be clean, but how can you know without testing? Still another school has said there is evidence that certain drugs or steroids could be beneficial, and if nothing else, a policy should be in place.
And then there are blowhards like me who have found the "we play golf, therefore we are honest" response downright offensive. Especially considering that we've seen a big jump in distance in recent years that most of golf's administrators attributed to increased athleticism. Yet somehow with those dubious claims, we are to expect today's youth to sit idly by and just work hard in the gym?
So if nothing else, you test, for the children!
Yet no matter where you stand, I think it would be hard to come away from reading Matthew Rudy's piece in the October Golf Digest, still insisting that beta blockers can't possibly work or that designer steroids will not help a golfer. Yes, it's clear Rudy has a bias: he talked to many people and heard an overwhelming consensus, then reported it.
I highly recommend reading the story, but because this is my clipping archive and you never know when Golf Digest's archives will vanish overnight, here are some of the highlights along with clips from Dr. Grant Liu's excellent guest sidebar on antidepressants.
But a wide cross section of scientific experts, trainers and instructors say [Gary] Player is neither crazy nor wrong. Many of them not only believe performance-enhancing drugs would significantly help golfers, but that far more than the approximately 10 pros Player estimated to be taking drugs are using them to recover from injuries quickly and hit the ball longer.
How many more? As many as half of the top 100 players in the world, according to one prominent trainer.
Even if the true number is closer to zero than 50, it's clear that the idea of professional golf not needing to worry about steroids is as outdated as the notion that golfers aren't athletes. "The reality is that the public is slowly coming to the view that performance-enhancing substances are prolific in sports," says PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, who is expected to announce a set of anti-doping rules for the tour later this year. "Whether we have an issue or not doesn't matter if people think we have one."
And this on the specifics, which will help those players who immediately shrug off the steroid concept thinking that today's designer drugs are only designed to make you bigger.
It's easy to lump steroids into one general "they make you more muscular" category, but different performance-enhancing drugs produce dramatically different effects. Drugs that athletes would use for help fall into four main categories: anabolic steroids, synthetic hormones, beta-blockers and stimulants.
Anabolic steroids like synthetic testosterone are the workhorses of the performance-enhancing drug world. "When you put your body under constant physical stress, it releases substances called corticosteroids," says Dr. Charles Yesalis, author of Anabolic Steroids in Sport and Exercise. "They're the most powerful anti-inflammatories in history. But corticosteroids break down muscle tissues as they work."
Anabolic steroids block the muscles from being broken down, allowing an athlete to train longer, recover faster from that training and build more muscle mass. For a golfer, that means being able to hit more practice balls -- and do it more often.
Powerful injected anabolics like stanzolol and deca-durabolin can produce body builder-type gains when taken in conjuction with an aggressive workout regimen. Testosterone creams that are spread on the body before a workout help generate smaller amounts of lean muscle.
Hormone drugs like HGH and EPO have had a central role in the ongoing controversy in baseball. HGH is synthetic human-growth hormone -- the substance responsible for bone growth and tissue health -- and it is commonly prescribed for its anti-aging effects. EPO is the synthetic form of a natural substance in the body, erythropoietin, that promotes red blood-cell production and increases the cells' ability to carry more oxygen -- both of which give an athlete more endurance.
Fast forward to this, along the same lines...
Some drug experts, trainers and other teachers call the idea that a golfer wouldn't benefit from getting stronger naïve. "Tell me a sport where a good big man doesn't beat a good little man," says Yesalis, who has researched steroid use in sports for almost 30 years. "Why are so many players lifting weights if strength doesn't help? Tiger Woods started training seriously when he came out on tour, and he's put on 15 to 20 pounds of muscle. I don't hear anybody saying getting stronger hasn't helped him."
Dr. Jim Suttie, former PGA Teacher of the Year, gives a qualified endorsement of that view: "There's no doubt steroids build muscle and increase strength," says Suttie, who holds a Ph.D. in biomechanics. "Bigger muscles mean more explosive core strength, more explosive hip strength, more arm strength." Suttie believes players taking steroids would be able to hit the ball longer -- provided they didn't get too bulky and lose flexibility.
The first piece of any golf doping regimen involves ambitious weight training and cardio work. Anabolic steroids have no effect on a player who isn't adding muscle by working out.
Hey maybe all the guys were working out to keep up with their...oh just kidding.
The chemical component most commonly mentioned by trainers and experts interviewed for this story was a 5 percent testosterone cream, applied just before each workout. A week's supply of that cream would cost approximately $40. "That level of steroid would have minimal side effects," says Yesalis. "Certainly nothing that would prevent a golfer from being able to concentrate on the course. At least five different studies have shown that doses far, far larger than this cause no psychological response."
Experts estimate a player could generate 10 percent more clubhead speed using testosterone cream in addition to working out. That translates into roughly 30 more yards of carry for a tour player swinging at 110 miles per hour with a driver. Managed with expert supervision, a player could get the benefits from that relatively small amount of testosterone without even triggering a positive result on a drug test.
"The best players aren't going to be testing positive for steroids," says Randy Myers, who trains more than a dozen tour players. "Small doses of impact drugs -- HGH, things like that -- that's what the modern athlete is doing. It's barely testable, and it doesn't bulk you up. It builds explosive muscle, which is what all golfers want."
Doubters, doesn't that pretty much say it all?
Doctors routinely prescribe HGH to middle-age men to help fight muscle loss and increase suppleness -- two things that would obviously help a player prolong a competitive career. HGH is widely available on the Internet illegally without a prescription, or an athlete could visit an anti-aging clinic, where a physician-supervised HGH and nutrition regimen can run more than $15,000 a year. "You've got a small window of opportunity in sports, and players are threatened with the loss of millions of dollars if they don't perform," says Yesalis. "You don't think that would tempt somebody to go to the 'dark side,' so to speak? As competitive as golf is, people are going to be doing this just to keep their job."
Myers says he believes no more than a handful of tour players are using performance-enhancing drugs, but that group includes players who could be doing so unknowingly. "There are trainers out there that nobody knows anything about," says Myers, who has trained tour players since 1989. "There's a lot of money at stake, and players pay bonuses to trainers, teachers and psychologists for things like major championships and money-list finish. There's a lot of pressure on trainers, for sure, to not just show results, but show them fast."
Accompanying the piece was this sidebar from the University of Pennsylvania's Dr. Grant Liu who breaks down what today's "mind enhancers" can do.
A class of drugs called "mind enhancers" poses a greater potential for abuse in golf than do steroids. Mind enhancers, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety agents, are legitimate drugs with medical uses, but their effects make up a veritable wish list for the ambitious golfer. They can increase focus, dampen emotional extremes and reduce anxiety. Plus, they're more available than steroids, and there's less of a stigma associated with taking them.
BETA-BLOCKERS / example: Inderal / These blood-pressure medications are sometimes used by performers to deal with stage fright. The golf application would be to battle nerves or the yips. These drugs have been studied in Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and could help golfers get over a crushing loss.
Oh but Nick Price, like, 15 years ago used them and he said they didn't help, so forget it!
AMPHETAMINES / example: Adderall / This group of stimulants promotes alertness and focus and is commonly prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Disorder. They're often used illegally by students taking the SATs or final exams. The golf goal could be better concentration during a round.
ANTIDEPRESSANTS AND MOOD DRUGS / example: Prozac /These mood elevators and stabilizers combat stress and depression and help people control emotions. Think of the golfer who dramatizes mistakes, like the missed three-footer.
No, not us golfers.
BENZODIAZEPINES / example: Valium / This class of anti-anxiety drugs is prescribed to treat phobias, such as fear of crowds or closed spaces. In golf, fear of on-course situations or consequences can be crippling. Imagine a Ryder Cup rookie needing to take the edge off on the first tee.
And this definitely says it all...
Would golfers really take these drugs? Consider that many people today use medications to enhance their appearance, performance or lifestyle. For example, Viagra, indicated for erectile dysfunction, is used by 20-somethings to increase sexual prowess. Botox, a drug for neurological disorders, is commonly injected to smooth wrinkles.