Golf

Singh faces no PGA doping sanctions

OH, DEER!
Vijay Singh admits using Deer Antler spray, but escaped penalty.
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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In 2001, a security guard who obviously didn’t follow golf demanded to see Vijay Singh’s player badge before allowing him into a locker room.

PGA TOUR WIN LEADERS

Collecting trophies is a habit of Tiger Woods.

The big Fijian — who once worked as a bouncer in rough clubs — didn’t even break stride, opening the door while extending a middle finger in the guard’s face.

Now, he’s at it again.

This time the three-time major champion is flipping off the PGA Tour and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), two organizations whose credibility has taken a beating over their bungled handling of Singh’s doping case.

Shockingly, the 50-year-old faces no sanctions after an embarrassing about-face on Tuesday over Singh’s admission that he took a prohibited supplement called Deer Antler spray.

The product — which the PGA Tour warned players not to use in 2011 — contains a banned growth hormone, IGF-1, that is similar in its performance-enhancing capabilities to HGH.

Singh admitted using the spray — which he said he didn’t know was illegal — in a magazine article earlier this year.

It seemed an open-and-shut case.

Singh didn’t fail a drug test. The PGA, however, only tests urine, and a blood test is required to detect IFG-1. But Singh’s admission was enough to get him suspended at a behind-closed-doors hearing on February 17.

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Not to worry. Start this one off right with this weekend's golf capsules.

But Singh lawyered-up and filed an appeal.

On Tuesday he was cleared, not because of any argument his lawyers made, but because WADA was forced to admit it no longer considered Deer Antler spray “prohibited.”

Although the drug-testing body, based in Montreal, doesn’t really know if it’s prohibited or not because it turns out there never was a valid test for IGF-1.

WADA and the PGA Tour now say the evidence is thin that the spray Singh used contained enough IGF-1 to have any real impact or that the naturally occurring growth hormone could even be ingested orally.

"The bottom line is that given the change by WADA, we are dropping the case against Mr. Singh," said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.

Although IGF-1 can be detected in an expensive blood test — which the PGA Tour does not employ — Finchem said the further problem “is identifying a reasonable level … (that could be) considered doping.”

“We all have IGF in our systems all the time,” he said.

Finchem said WADA’s “scientists concluded (Deer Antler spray) resulted in infinitesimal amounts actually being taken into the recipient's body: amounts that couldn't be distinguished even if you had an accurate test.”

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For some golfers, the biggest prizes aren't their tournament wins but their wives and girlfriends.

The other problem was that no one’s ever decided how much IGF-1 is too much.

“A positive reading means that you're surpassing a certain level. There hasn't been any level ever set,” Finchem said. “The science isn’t right yet.”

That much is painfully obvious.

But why act when the science was so wrong?

The repercussions to this public-relations disaster will be far-reaching.

WADA is the world’s leading authority on doping; it was founded in 1999 to lead the fight against drugs in sports.

WADA needs to be — excuse the pun — clean so that wealthy athletes with celebrity lawyers can’t raise doubts about its reliability.

Meanwhile, as for the PGA Tour, perhaps Greg Norman wasn’t too far off the mark over the weekend when he described golf’s anti-doping policies as “disgraceful.”

The fact that the Tour rarely — if ever — tests golfers away from tournaments is a policy fraught with danger because it only subjects players to urine tests instead of the more thorough blood tests.

''If you really want to be serious about it and find out about what's really going on, we need to do blood testing,” Norman told The Australian newspaper.

“I think it's disgraceful, to tell you the truth. The golf associations have to get together and step it up.

''It's a pin prick for a player and you find out what's going on. If you're the head of golf or any sport, if you're the commissioner for a sport, it's your responsibility to make sure your sport is clean ... that should be your No. 1 priority.''

It’s difficult for Finchem to maintain golf is clean when one of the sport’s highest-profile players took a substance that was banned and yet nothing will happen to him.

Singh will argue that he’s been cleared — but surely it’s just by technicality.

Should he really escape any punishment just because Deer Antler spray turned out to be snake oil?

Golf is a sport that prides itself on the fact its players police themselves and strictly adhere to all kinds of arcane rules.

But that’s hardly the lesson of the Singh case.

“Technicalities are becoming rules,” wrote Tour player Steve Flesch on Twitter. “And rules are becoming suggestions.”

Tagged: Vijay Singh

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