Performance Enhancers: Not Just for Baseball

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Concern about performance-enhancing drugs has now reached professional golf, but it's not just steroids. It seems that the enhancing drug of choice for some golfers are beta-blockers, a class of medicine generally prescribed for people with heart disease.

DAVID WAS: Any golfer who's hunched over a four-foot putt trying to win a weekend wager of five bucks at the local municipal course may well wonder how the pros invariably managed to knock these modest shots in the hole.


With more on sports and doping, it's DAY TO DAY contributor and steroid-free golfer David Was.

WAS: The answer, at least 95 percent of the time, is the same as that old Carnegie Hall joke - practice, practice, practice. Repeatability is the key to enhanced athletic performance, whether it's foul shots or chip shots. Then again, the Professional Golf Association plans to institute some kind of drug testing in the near future after years of whisperings that a small number of its players might be taking steroids or, more surprisingly, beta-blockers.

Beta-blockers are generally used for people with cardiac problems. They work by reducing the flow of adrenaline and lowering one's heart rate. Not a bad recipe when looking down the shaft at a putt that might be worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars.

Golfers - a notoriously superstitious breed - even wear magnets and jewelry they believe that will chill them out of tad. Recent U.S. Open champ Angel Cabrera was wearing a bracelet called the Trion Z and the victorious 2002 European Ryder Cup team donned a stress-reducing necklace called the Q-link.

Additionally, given the advances in golf technology, a few pros can hit the balls 400 yards off the tee. Some worry that young golfers might want to emulate their mentors by taking the muscle juice that Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire are suspected of swigging.

I like to look back to the supposed golden years of pro sports, when legends like Babe Ruth would prefigure the excesses of rock and roll with their licentious off-field behavior. As his teammate Joe Dugan once said, Babe would go day and night, broads and booze. Ruth is even reputed to have shot himself up with extract from a sheep's testes and actually believed that bourbon helped him hit the long ball. Substance abuse is not a new phenomenon.

But remember those beta-blockers? In 2004, the New York Times reported that they were being used extensively in an arena one usually associates with chamomile tea and finger sandwiches - classical music.

Apparently the drug Inderal is the magic bullet when it comes to performance anxiety. And some players who used to be hopeless Nervous Nellies now play for outfits like the New York Philharmonic - all courtesy of mother's little helper.

But star soloist disparage such pharmaceutical crutches, saying that fear enhances a performance, giving it that blood and guts passion that audiences like to feel, whether it's a ninth-inning homerun or Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

(Soundbite of Beethoven's Ninth)

BRAND: David Was is half of the fearless musical duo Was (Not Was).

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from