Golf may not have a reputation for doping, but this doesn’t mean the PGA Tour doesn’t carefully ensure that all its players are on equal footing. The PGA began its drug testing of golfers in 2008, reports USA Today, and made changes in 2017. Here’s a look at how the testing works and one controversial banned drug.
The PGA’s drug policy for golfers
The PGA updated its drug policy in 2017. It added blood testing for the 2017–2018 season and began declaring players suspended for recreational drugs. Previously only performance-enhancing drug violations were publicly recognized. Depending on the circumstances, the PGA is not required to announce recreational drug violations if the player is not suspended.
Additional policy changes included the addition of new banned substances to better align the PGA with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Three banned categories included asthma medications, allergy and anti-inflammatory medications, and pseudoephedrine (higher than a certain level).
One group of banned substances are considered “drugs of abuse” by the PGA, meaning they’re recreational rather than performance-enhancing. This group includes hashish, marijuana, cocaine, Ecstasy, PCP, DMA, BZP, and meth. Other banned substances include steroids, HGH, certain beta-blockers, and other drugs. However, the PGA Tour may grant an exemption for therapeutic uses.
Urine tests continue to serve as the main testing method. Players are randomly assigned to either a urine or blood test — occasionally both. After a player finishes the round of golf, an official completed a blood test by drawing a small amount of blood from the golfer.
The blood test can detect human growth hormone and erythropoietin (EPO), which can’t be found using a urine test. Players do not get advance notice of a drug test. And tests can happen during or outside of competitions.
Does marijuana count?
The PGA Tour does ban marijuana, saying federal law in the U.S. treats it as an illegal, controlled substance. It’s also illegal in a number of other countries. The policy states, “Involvement with illegal substances goes against the spirit of our sport.” The policy bans cannabinoids, which includes both hashish and marijuana, as part of its “drugs of abuse” list.
While marijuana probably wouldn’t improve a golfer’s game, they may use it to decrease anxiety. The testing threshold is set high enough so that second-hand marijuana smoke won’t trigger a positive test. However, for marijuana users, the time it takes to clear from the body varies.
Players suspended for marijuana violations
So far, the PGA has suspended two golfers players for marijuana use, while others received suspensions for different drug violations.
In March 2019, reports Golf Digest, Robert Garrigus was suspended for three months for using marijuana. He was the first PGA Tour pro to be publicly suspended for testing positive for a “drug of abuse.” In October 2019, Matt Every was suspended for 12 weeks due to a positive test for cannabis.
Both players said they had a prescription for their medical marijuana. According to the Golf Channel, Every used it to treat a “mental health condition,” and Garrigus treated knee and back pain.
After these two incidents, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan confirmed that the PGA doesn’t make the determination about whether marijuana is permissible. Instead, they follow the guidelines of the WADA:
“Ultimately, we don’t determine what is a banned substance and what’s not; we rely on WADA for doing that. We’ll continue to stay very close not only to that substance but any potential substance that would come on or come off the list.”
While the PGA isn’t making any changes regarding marijuana, other pro sports are exploring the options. The NBA is taking a second look, and the NFL plans to include cannabis in a study on alternative pain treatments.
The PGA Tour continues to drug test in alignment with WADA guidelines. With the legalization of marijuana for medical or recreational use changing at state levels, some sports are in the early stages of reviewing marijuana policies. So far, though, it seems like the PGA won’t make a change.
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