By Robert Bicknell

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September 30, 2007

Beware of "Masking agents"…

I was perusing the newspapers the other day when I found an item about Italy’s battle with performance enhancing drugs and the on-going fight to ban them and their users. Now, while this is not a big surprise as every country seems to be investigating their athletes, it was a surprise to see who got caught in the middle...a prematurely balding professional golfer who was using a hair-growth supplement.

Yes, I know...its stories like these which keep newspapers in business.

Apparently, Italian golfer Alessandro Pissilli was suspended by the Italian Golf Federation after testing positive for the diuretic Finasteride at the Omnium National Championship on June 29 and could face a two-year ban if found guilty of a doping violation.

What makes this interesting is that he wasn’t even banned for USING performance-enhancing drugs, but because he was using Finasteride which is used to treat hair loss, but can mask steroid use.

Wonderful logic…assumed guilt through hair products.

Pissilli says he informed authorities at the time of the test that he had taken the drug for almost two years to treat a prostate problem. Even better…assumed guilt through a pain in the butt.

One of the problems is that golf has come under increased pressure from the World Anti-Doping Agency to introduce random drug testing after Gary Player opened his mouth and claimed some golfers were taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Tiger Woods agrees that there have been widespread suspicions of performance-enhancing substances being used by players, sometimes to stay calm for putts or to help boost strength.

World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules allow for two-year bans and lifetime ban, but because golf is such an honour-bound sport where players call penalties upon themselves, the worst penalty would be to actually get caught.

After careful consideration, PGA Tour head honcho, Tim Finchem decided to exclude a few items from the list of banned substances, which doesn’t sit well with WADA chief and head zealot, Dick Pound.

Personally speaking, I think Finchem got it right and, I can understand why "Dick Pound" seems to hate jocks (athletes). Growing up must’ve been really rough with a name like that.

The fact of the matter is that golf professionals are not like other athletes in that most golf pros reach their peak at an age where other athletes are already retired and selling insurance or appearing in Viagra advertisements. These are guys who come home from the tour and bounce grandchildren on their laps, smoke a big stogie while enjoying a scotch on the rocks before lighting the barbeque. If any drug is overused, it would most likely be Advil, Johnnie Walker or beer.

I agree that steroids are used in professional golf, but to confuse corticosteroids and "Medrol packs" (aka methylprednesilone) which are used to reduce inflammation with anabolic steroids and human growth hormones is simply ridiculous.

That’s like comparing a Toyota family sedan with the space shuttle. Sure, both are forms of transportation, but that’s where the comparison stops.

Also, you have to draw the line somewhere. If you follow US Olympic Committee guidelines, players couldn’t even take a cold remedy without testing positive. Yup, once again it’s those dastardly "masking agents" at work.

"He’s sneezing, quick, grab a urine sample!"

While steroids are the bogeyman of sports, another dangerous drug are beta blockers which can slow down the heart rate and keep you calm over a 3-foot putt for a gazillion dollars. The problem is that if you screw up with this drug, you’re dead.

Nick Price was prescribed beta blockers due to a heart condition, but stopped taking them, saying it hurt his game which is understandable because you cannot get an adrenalin rush when you need it. Back to back birdies wouldn’t even get you to raise an eyebrow.

People tend to forget is that golf is not a game of raw power, as proven by the amount of balls found in the trees and lakes. To be successful and play well, you need a great sense of touch. Both John Daly and Tiger Woods are good examples. Daly might be wild off the tee, but he’s got an amazing touch around the greens.

Bulking up on steroids is not conducive to a soft touch, just ask any wrestler, but not if he’s holding a steel chair and taking hair treatment drugs…




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