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PGA Tour drug testing policy now seems inevitable

CROMWELL, Conn. -- It was once considered not only nonessential but unnecessary, yet a drug testing policy now seems a plausible course of action in the near future for the PGA Tour.

"We don't have a rule on performance-enhancing drugs," tour commissioner Tim Finchem said at the Travelers Championship on Wednesday. "We never had. We're getting close on that. I suspect we'll be done with that certainly this year. We'll probably have more to say about that later this summer."

The process is a departure from previous claims made by Finchem that such a policy has no place on the tour.

"We see no reason to jump into the testing arena at this point without having any credible information that we have issues," he said last March at the Players Championship. "In golf, a player is charged with following the rules. He can't kick his ball in the rough, and he can't take steroids. We rely on the players to call rules on themselves, and if you look at our tour over the years, many players have, to their significant financial detriment. That's the culture of the sport."

So, what's changed? For one, both the LPGA and European tours have instituted drug testing in the time since then, leaving the PGA Tour behind the curve when it comes to curtailing a problem prior to having it influence on-course success. The long-standing notion that golf never would succumb to the immoralities that performance-enhancing drugs have played in team sports (football, baseball) and other individual sports (cycling, weightlifting) took a severe hit when these other tours implemented their plans.

Secondly -- and perhaps more importantly -- is that a drug testing policy has been backed by most tour members, including Tiger Woods, who said last August, "I don't know when we could get that implemented. Tomorrow would be fine with me," later adding that the tour should be "proactive instead of reactive."

Woods is hardly the only influential player who sees the preventative measure as a necessary evil.

"It's one of those situations where I'm not naïve enough to believe that there's not the potential for it to be an issue," said Joe Durant, who serves on the tour's policy board. "It's obviously permeated every other sport. Right now, I don't think it's an issue, but you can't just bury your head in the sand and pretend it's going to go away."

"If other sports are testing and we want to consider ourselves to be one of the top professional leagues, which we are, then we have to test," said Stewart Cink, another of the four players on the board. "Do I think that we need to have one? I don't think we need to have one to identify any people that are on drugs. There might be a few potsmokers, but there's not anyone taking steroids, I don't think. I just don't see how that would help out your golf."

And therein lies the reasoning behind why such a policy has been so slow in developing. It's the "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" mentality that is common among golfers.

"Personally, I could care less," said J.J. Henry, who serves on the 16-man Player Advisory Committee. "It doesn't affect me. A lot of people have talked about that integrity and honesty of golf is what makes it so special. I'm not saying one way or the other whether guys are doing it or not doing it. But personally I never have and never will."

Even so, a drug testing policy, which a year ago seemed unlikely to ever come to fruition, is now only a matter of time.

"It'll happen," Durant said. "Being on the board, we've already discussed it. It's just getting it correct. We just have to make sure it's done right the first time so we don't have to keep amending it, but it will happen."

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com