Golf

Singh fighting a losing battle

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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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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.

Vijay Singh’s suing the PGA Tour, his lawyer says, to “reclaim his reputation.”

And that begs the question of just what reputation he’s trying to reclaim?

The surly Fijian — who contravened the tour’s drug policy, got off on a technicality last week but on Wednesday sued because of the damage done to his character — isn’t exactly golf’s Mr. Congeniality.

He’s curt with his peers — once famously responding with “Titleist 2” (the ball he was playing) when Tiger Woods shook his hand and wished him good luck before they teed off — ignores fans and treats the media that covers him with virtually complete disdain.

Arron Oberholser, a tour player who thought himself a friend of Singh’s, now does some work with the Golf Channel, which, he learned on Sunday at TPC Sawgrass, effectively ended their friendship.

“I nod and smile,” Oberholser said, “He stares and says, ‘Asshole’.”

Nice.

And, of course, there’s the other thing that haunts the 50-year-old.

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He wears golf’s scarlet letter: Cheater.

Golfers value nothing more than playing by the rules.

It’s a strange sort of integrity because it’s perhaps only a slight exaggeration to say you can cheat on your wife, steal from your boss, dodge your taxes, ignore your children and drive home drunk, but you’ll be OK with your regular foursome at the country club as long as you don’t cheat at golf.

Singh broke that cardinal rule in 1985.

This isn’t an allegation, or rumor or what Singh himself described to me — in between vulgarities — as “a misunderstanding, bro”.

No, bro, it was a clear-cut case of cheating.

Singh changed his scorecard by one stroke after the second round of the Indonesian Open so he could make the cut.

Sure, there were extenuating circumstances: He was broke, and he needed the money. (Indeed, Singh was also banned by the Australian PGA, not for cheating but because he didn’t repay debts he’d incurred there in the 1980s.)

But none of that matters to golfers.

Speaking about Singh, a prominent American player shook his head and said: “Once a cheat; always a cheat."

Of course, it’s probably not fair given he’s kept his nose clean ever since, but it’s a stain that won’t wash away.

“As a direct and proximate result of the PGA Tour’s actions, Singh has been humiliated, ashamed, ridiculed, scorned and emotionally distraught,” reads the lawsuit filed with the New York State Supreme Court.

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“The conduct of the PGA Tour demonstrated the intent to cause . . . Singh severe emotional distress.”

Emotional distress?

Vijay used to work as a nightclub bouncer in tough bars. In my experience, he’s not a man easily distressed. But he might be when the tour’s lawyers get through with him.

Perhaps Vijay hasn’t heard — or his lawyer hasn’t told him — about discovery.

That’s when all of this nasty stuff gets dredged up, when the tour’s lawyers ask him about that reputation he wants to reclaim.

They’ll bring up the cheating; perhaps, too, his notoriously bad treatment of caddies, and the acrimonious divorce from his ex-wife.

It will get ugly.

But Singh’s brought it upon himself.

He essentially dodged a bullet last week when the tour chose not to pursue its doping case against him because WADA — the bumbling anti-doping agency — changed its mind about the substance Singh took.

Singh admitted in an article with Sports Illustrated to taking deer antler spray, which unbeknownst to him contained a banned substance called IGF-1, which acts like HGH.

He lucked out because he spent $9,000 on snake oil. Deer-antler spray doesn’t deliver what WADA thought it did.

That’s, obviously, a slight on WADA, but the PGA Tour can’t be expected to do its own testing. Indeed, it sets a dangerous precedent for all professional leagues if Singh’s suit is successful.

TEE IT UP

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The fact remains that he contravened the tour’s drug policy by taking a banned substance. He didn’t fail a test — and says he never has — but that’s because the tour only tests urine instead of the more thorough blood tests.

Singh broke a rule and got away with it. He should’ve just said "thank you" and moved on.

Instead, he petulantly waited till the day before the start of the tour’s flagship event, The Players Championship, and filed his lawsuit, seeking unspecified damages.

“He’s getting incredibly poor advice,” said tour player Joe Ogilvie, a man some think may be a future tour commissioner.

"VJ don't do this horrible advice you got off take it from me not worth it," tweeted John Daly, who it's believed has been fined more by the PGA Tour than any other player.

Singh’s suit claims the tour exposed “one of the PGA Tour’s most respected and hardest working golfers to public humiliation and ridicule for months.”

His lawyers conveniently ignore the fact that Vijay’s done a good job of that himself over the years.

Tagged: Vijay Singh

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