Golfers welcome chance to prove integrity

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – While Major League Baseball kicked, screamed and dragged its feet as the net of justice closed in upon its drug-taking miscreants, the stars of professional golf did everything but roll out the red carpet for the performance-enhancing substance testers who will become part of their lives next season.

Senator George Mitchell would have given his right arm for the level of cooperation golf's testers likely will find when they begin work in June 2008, when the PGA will implement such measures.

Golf feels it has nothing to fear from the testers. Therefore, there will be no half-cocked excuses, no general air of suspicion and no turning a blind eye to wrongdoers who cheat to get an edge.

When Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich were quizzed Thursday about the system that will be brought in, it was not with nervous glances and murky mumblings.

Their responses came with the confidence of honest and intelligent men, who not only are steadfast in their own integrity but also have no cause to doubt the men standing next to them on the tee.

"I know that our sport is clean, but the perception is that certain athletes in every sport are trying to push the envelope illegally," said Woods, following his 3-under-par 69 on Day 1 of his own tournament, the Target World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club. "In our sport we don't do that, but it is nice to have the chance to prove that to the whole world."

Nice? Did he really say it will be nice to be drug-tested?

He did, and here is the reason why: As an ambassador for his sport and a fan of others, he does not want to see a day, be it next year, next decade or fifty years from now, when there is a golfing equivalent of the Mitchell Report.

That is why the weighty drug education manual handed out to every Tour player is being read and digested, not fretted about.

That is why the intrusion of being visited at home, on vacation or after a round, and told to pee in a bottle will be tolerated.

"I see no negative," said world No. 3 Furyk, who led at 4-under following the opening round. "The players just have to make sure they take a close look at prescriptions and stuff to make sure there is no embarrassment at the end."

There is some question as to how much assistance performance-enhancing agents could provide to a golfer. Certain substances might add length to a player's average drive, but as Wetterich said, "It won't help you hole a putt to win on the 18th."

Whereas baseball was forced to peer into its dark past in an attempt to make a brighter future, golf's chiefs have adopted the opposite tack. They have refused to stick their heads in the sand and instead have been proactive, putting measures in place to ensure that the worst-case scenario is never realized.

"We were the only sports entity that didn't have this sort of testing," said reigning Masters champion Zach Johnson, who shot 69 on Thursday. "We are just touching all bases. There is a lot of integrity involved; it is a gentleman's game, and this could help maintain that even more."

The importance lies in the money. Participants in this week's tournament bristle at suggestions that the event is part of the silly season, yet there still is a first prize of $1.35 million for a competition which carries no weight on the PGA Tour or the world rankings.

The penalty for cheating, and the likelihood of being caught, must be more than enough to outweigh the upside of a possible improvement in form. That is how baseball failed itself and its fans. That is how golf is safeguarding its future.

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