Golf and Dope

Sex drive tops golf drives in federal court case on PGA policy.


Ever since he turned pro in 1995, Memphis golfer Doug Barron hoped to make a name for himself. This month he did, as the first person suspended under the PGA Tour’s anti-doping rules.

Last week, attorneys for Barron and the PGA argued his case in federal court in Memphis for more than three hours. On Monday, U.S. magistrate Tu Pham denied Barron’s request for a temporary restraining order that would have allowed him to compete this week in a qualifying tournament in Houston.

Strict liability strikes again.

“You are strictly liable whenever a prohibited substance is in your body,” says the first page of the PGA’s anti-doping manual.

Although Barron said he took testosterone and a beta-blocker drug for several years under a doctor’s care for treatment of a medical condition, the PGA Tour refused to give him a “therapeutic use exemption” (TUE), and Pham declined to give him a mulligan. Barron is the second Memphis athlete to make ESPN this year for alleged cheating. The first, of course, was former University of Memphis basketball star Derrick Rose, whose bogus SAT test cost the Tigers their 2007-2008 victories. (The university has appealed the NCAA’s ruling.)

By ordinary standards, Barron, 40 years old, is an excellent golfer. By PGA standards, he is a journeyman battling to qualify for a tour card in the PGA’s pressure-packed “Q-School.” In June he got a break: a sponsor’s exemption into the St. Jude Classic. He played two rounds, shooting 9-over-par 149 and failing to make the cut but not before he was drug tested. Barron did not dispute the positive test results and admitted to continued use of testosterone and propranolol. After again reviewing his medical records, the PGA Tour suspended him for one year.

With that, the relatively unknown Barron joined fellow athletes such as track star Marion Jones, cyclist Floyd Landis, and baseball player Manny Ramirez, all of whom were penalized for illegal drug use. Attorney Jeff Rosenblum argued that Barron is “disabled” under the Americans With Disabilities Act, because low testosterone levels “impair a major life activity,” namely intimacy with his wife. The beta-blocker, he said, was for treatment of a racing heart, and Barron’s doctor was trying to wean him off of it.

“This is an outrageous penalty when you compare it to baseball or football,” Rosenblum said.

Not so, said Rich Young, the PGA Tour’s lawyer. The rules are the rules, and Barron signed off on them and broke them.

“This isn’t fun or easy for anybody, but it’s the right thing for a sport to do,” Young said.

The drugs are banned because they’re performance enhancers that increase strength, speed recovery, and calm nerves. Young described a situation where a golfer needs to make up one stroke on the 18th hole and can either play it safe or go for the green on his second shot to get the last qualifying spot. On such decisions, tour cards are earned, and fortunes are made. Steve Stricker came through Q-School in 2005 and earned $6 million this year. And Memphian Shaun Micheel came out of nowhere to win the PGA Championship in 2003. Micheel’s name came up in court. Last year, he got a medical exemption to use testosterone. He and Barron are friends and are the same age. Micheel told last week that the PGA’s drug-testing process “nearly drove me out of the game” and made him question whether it was worth it to play pro golf. Young said he wouldn’t talk about Micheel “but if the facts had been the same, then his TUE request would have been turned down.”

Barron’s wife and this reporter were the only spectators at the hearing. The case has attracted international attention. Pham took three days to issue his 33-page ruling after first saying he might have it in a day. He called it “a close case.”

“If Barron is permitted to play in the second qualifying stage (Q-School), it could raise substantial public policy concerns regarding the enforcement of anti-doping policies in professional sports,” he wrote in his conclusion. Rosenblum hinted that he will probe the inner workings of the PGA Tour through the discovery process if the case goes to trial. It has been assigned to U.S. district judge Samuel H. Mays. In golf parlance, Barron went for the green instead of laying up, and his ball landed in the water. Now he has a year to think about it.

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