Friday, September 28, 2007

Drugs 'rampant' on Tour ...

The leading golf organizations around the world have come together to pat each other on the back and congratulate each other on how they’re going to deal with the “rampant” drug problems that have infested the game.

The obvious question is what drug problem? Well, in uncharacteristic foresight, the global golf organizations are trying to keep the problem at bay and are being proactive. To alert the world, these organizations sent out a global press release expounding the policy’s virtue. However, reading this release a second time a few questions popped off the page.

The R&A will be a signatory for The Open Championship. The USGA signed off for the U.S. Open, the U.S. Women’s Open and the U.S. Senior Open. What this says is, if you want to juice and play for the U.S. or British Amateur Championship just shoot away. If you want to bulk up for the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship—go right ahead. Don’t worry about the British Mid; they just did away with the event. Doesn’t this sound a bit strange?

In the list of signatories which included just about every major tour around the world from Asia, to South Africa, to Central America and even up to the Augusta National Golf Club (you know they signed on so they could be listed first alphabetically), there was one Tour missing.

You probably wouldn’t have noticed this if the Solheim Cup hadn’t just concluded, but the Ladies European Tour didn’t scribble their “Jean Hancock” on this grand plan. Why? Has Laura Davies done some HGH? Hmmm. Why didn’t they sign on? It’s one of those things where if you sign on it means significantly less than if you don’t.

Trust me on this, the last thing any Tour commissioner wants to know is that one of his/her players is taking performance-enhancing drugs. The cover-up would be of legendary proportions. What this policy does is make people think about the possibilities. Tiger’s buffed…or is he really? David Duval bulked up and then lost his game…what’s up with that? How did that happen? Public relations-wise, the signatories may have opened a Pandora’s Box that they won’t be able to close if something breaks.

With this policy in place, golf fans won’t be able to look at a well-conditioned golfer and not wonder if? Recently, Woods called for serious consequences for anyone testing positive. He should be careful what he hopes for; that could turn the policy into a witch-hunt.

A look at the list of banned substances is interesting. There’s the usual anabolic agents, hormones, agents with anti-estrogenic activity, diuretics and other masking agents, stimulants, narcotics, cannabinoids, beta-blockers enhancement of oxygen transfer, chemical and physical manipulation and possibly glucocorticosteroids and beta-2 antagonists.

While all of this might be more than you can comprehend and I suggest that that means most of us, I will say this. Many of these drugs are found in over-the-counter products. The global golf world has an opportunity to bring some sanity to the “Drug Hunt.” If it’s over the counter and it helps relieve a symptom let them take it. Professional golfers have coughs, colds, allergies and probably more aches and pains than the civilian does. Give them the same opportunity to access over the counter products.

One item on the list jogged the memory a bit. A couple of decades ago, Mac O’Grady (nee Phillip Gleno) charged that a lot of his PGA Tour colleagues were taking Beta-Blockers to calm their nerves so they could putt better. To a man, golfers denied their existence. If they never existed, why are they now popping up on the banned list?

I’ve got to believe that there was a collective sigh of relief from some members of the Champions Tour and European Senior Tour. Nowhere on the list of banned substances was sildenafil citrate or tadalafil—and they’re prescription drugs. Er, you might know them better as Viagra and Cialis.

In fact, it was one of those personal drugs that got an assistant NFL coach suspended for five games and fined half his annual salary. All he wanted to do was overcome a side effect of medicine he was taking for diabetes—thus the reputation of the NFL being the “No Fun League” was perpetuated and reason was left by the wayside.

A global doping policy? I don’t know. You’re dealing with a lot of different cultures. An herbal tea with some scraping from a native root might be just a cup of tea, but its chemical reaction may set off the alarm.

I think its fine to have a policy in place, but it’s wiser to have common sense. Let the system exist without a trigger for a witch-hunt. The integrity of the game will still be preserved.
Hey bartender, a wassail of honey meade if you will. I didn’t see fermented bee byproducts on the list of banned substances.

See you on the first tee!



Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I'm going on the Tour!

I can rest easy now. My application for PGA Tour School has just arrived via e-mail. Watch out Phil and move over Tiger. I’m going to apply under a different name this year (it has something to do with the “noncompetitive performance” clause in the application). I’ve found the secret to the game I’m ready. I’ve always been a UPS guy, but for a $10 million annuity. I’m there. I’ll be wearing the Fed Ex Cup by the end of next year. If you see the name Lance Schmidlap climbing the leader board on a weekly (or is that weakly) basis—that would be me.

Let’s look back at what the inaugural Fed Ex Cup did or didn’t deliver.
OK, Tiger won it. If he didn’t PGA Tour Czar Tim Finchem might have had a stroke. Steve Stricker made it interesting for awhile, but wasn’t so close as to be considered a serious threat to Woods’ ascension to the throne.

Golf fans everywhere got to see what they’ve clamored for—a head-to-head clash between Woods and Mickelson in the last round of the Deutsche Bank Championship. It was the best non-major drama on the tube for years and it came at the right time. The week before at the Barclays Championship without Tiger in the field, the TV ratings were surpassed by the broadcast of the Little League World Series on ESPN.

Phil and Tiger were paired on Sunday with Hefty leading Tiger by one stroke. Everyone and I mean EVERYONE looked for a meltdown from Mickelson and they got it on the 12th hole when he made an unforced error that led to a double bogey. Let’s face it, in the past this could have led to golf’s version of projectile vomiting. This time, it didn’t. The southpaw rallied for pars on the next three holes. Then, the moment of truth arrived.

On the short par 3 - 16th, Tiger hit a shot that stopped in the 12-foot range. The camera shifted to Phil and for the briefest of moments, the old Mickelson appeared. There was the old “I think I’m going to be sick and I’d rather be anywhere else right now” look on his face. He then rifles a shot to eight-feet below the hole and his face was awash in a visage of confidence. Tiger made his birdie and Phil didn’t hesitate in canning his. He had taken everything Woods could fire at him, repelled it and answered with brilliance of his own. It was the highlight of this entire silly dalliance into the NASCAR system of scoring.

Of course, Hefty had to screw it up a bit. He used the quick post-round TV interview to tell the world that rather than chase this newly-nominated Holy Grail, he was going home to be with the family instead of continuing his quest. It didn’t quite ring true, particularly after he chided Woods about skipping the Barclays and theories abounded about him and Timmie having a spat. Naturally, this opened the gates for Woods and he cruised to victories in the last two events, proving yet again, when he comes to play, just stand aside.

This spotlighted a major flaw in this grand plan. Arguably the top three players in the world, Woods, Mickelson and Ernie Els skipped an event in the final four. Two (Els and Mickelson) wanted to be with their families while Woods was just plain tired. Trust me on this, the next people who will claim exhaustion will be the tournament sponsors of these events who are spurned by one, two, or all three of these stars. They’ll be tired of putting up a $7 million purse and not having it make enough of an impression to lure the three they really want in the field.

There are other problems as well. Do you really understand the playoff system? Do the players? You don’t and not many of the players do. Professional golf has had a tried and true system to identify the best players. It’s called the Money List, or on every other professional Tour in the world; the Order of Merit. It was quite simple actually. You won $5 this week and Joe Pro wins $10, he’s $5 ahead of you on the money list—end of story. Now, we’ve got Fed Ex points that are accrued throughout the season until the four-tournament “Chase for the Cup.”

Then, the top 144 are seeded by their “point totals” and reassigned a point total that could mean a sizeable reduction of the lead you had going into “The Chase.” Fair? I think not. It’s not fair because a player’s entire body of work for a season is discounted and reduced in some cases to one or two points, hardly reflecting the tens of thousands of dollars lead he had on his closest pursuer entering the final four. In some cases, it’s even worse.

Under the Money List system, David Toms would have made the field in the Tour Championship. However, he finished 32nd on the Fed Ex Cup point list due mostly to a balky back that influenced his missing the cut at the Barclays and withdrawing from the Deutsche Bank. (OK, I chose Toms because I had him in a preseason drawn Fantasy League and finished in the last payoff spot because he wasn’t in the Tour Championship). If anyone has a gripe, it’s Toms—or me.

Oh well, the first Fed Ex Cup has been put to bed. While it was flawed, it also had some excitement. On TV, it was buried by the NFL and college football on the weekends. That was to be expected, but the Little League World Series?

You’ve got to think that the scoring system has to be tweaked, yet I don’t see anyway to do it that will compel the Big Three to make a four-week commitment. Next year, the scheduling has to be changed because of the Ryder Cup which should be very interesting. The jury is definitely out, but you can count on the PGA Tour to unmercifully ram the Fed Ex Cup down our throats again next year.

Bartender, pour me another and please make it a double Balvenie 12-year old single malt Scotch. I need something to soothe the scrapes in my throat caused by the forced insertion of that damned Cup a little swing oil for Q School.

See you on the first tee.