Player blows the whistle

The South African claims that the use of drugs is rampant in golf and insists that the need for random tests is urgent. By Paul Kelso.

Gary Player recently reawakened the uneasy debate over the use of drugs in golf, saying that performance-enhancing substances are a fact of life in the professional game and asserting that at least 10 current players are using human growth hormone, Creatine or steroids.

The South African’s outspoken comments on the eve of the 136th British Open Championship dragged attention away from the competition and directed it on to the 152 occupants of the locker room.

Player, the winner of nine major titles, urged the Royal and Ancient to introduce random testing at the earliest opportunity. “I know — I know for a fact — that there are golfers, whether it’s HGH, Creatine or steroids, that are doing it,” he said. “The greatest thing that the R&A, the USGA and the PGA can do is have tests at random. It’s absolutely essential that we do that. We’re dreaming if we think it’s not going to come into golf.

“I would say, of golfers around the world playing on tour, I would say there’s 10 guys taking something. I might be way out — definitely not going to be lower, but might be a hell of a lot more.”

Golf is yet to adopt a coherent anti-doping policy, with many in the sport questioning what advantage would be conferred by substances that increase strength. The governing bodies are in talks, however. The R&A tried random testing at the World Youth Championships in South Africa last October and the European Tour will launch random testing next season. The US Tour is yet to agree on a testing policy but Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A, said that discussions were at an advanced stage.

“Whether or not players take drugs is a question to which I do not know the answer ... But either way we do support random testing in golf and we are working to achieve a uniform testing policy,” Dawson said. “It really is a 52-week-a-year occupation and the Open will fall into line with whatever drug-testing regimen becomes the norm.”

Player’s comments were welcomed by the World Anti-Doping Agency but queried by leading players including Justin Rose and Ernie Els. David Howman, the director general of WADA, said: “We have been in dialogue with the R&A and the relevant authorities for some time now and positive steps have been taken. We have been disappointed, however, with the length of time it has taken to have the testing in place. We welcome Gary Player’s comments. It is naive to think golf doesn’t have a problem.”

Rose said that he was unaware of drugs in the locker room. “I have never, ever, ever come across it and I have been a professional for 10 years. I hope I’m not being ignorant about the situation but I’ve never come across it and never even heard a whisper.”

Els was surprised at his compatriot’s assertion. “Holy shit! I know I’m not. But if he knows it, he knows something I don’t. There is a list of substances they ban. I take Advil for pains and discomfort and anti-inflammatories and something for my knee when it gets damp, and I take Guinness.”

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007