Vijay Singh has no one to blame but himself. Apparently he agrees. Ostensibly that is why he said Wednesday that he is “angry” for unwittingly having taken a banned substance. In turn, he left himself open to a possible PGA Tour suspension.
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Singh not only violated the tour’s anti-doping policy, he violated one of the tour’s most important unwritten tenets: When there might be an inkling of doubt, don’t be in doubt.
That applies to the Rules of Golf or the drug policy. Call an official. Ask for clarification. Get a ruling.
Trying a new cough drop? Check it out.
In Singh’s case, he admitted to using deer-antler spray, which contains a banned substance called insulin-like growth factor, or IGF-1, which is said to contain an anabolic hormone that stimulates muscle growth.
Singh violated another simple principle: Read.
That idea should have been rammed home to players after Dustin Johnson didn’t realize he was in a bunker at the 2010 PGA Championship despite postings and packets explaining that all sand would constitute a hazard.
Yet the printed word apparently escaped Singh, for in August 2011 the tour issued an “anti-doping warning” on deer-antler spray in the monthly informational green sheet distributed to players.
Given his past, Singh, of all people, should be careful and cross all T’s and dot all I’s. The Fijian was banned from the Asian Tour for cheating in the 1980s but admirably put that behind him by outworking everyone else and winning 34 PGA Tour titles en route to the World Golf Hall of Fame.
His story is one of the most compelling in the game’s history, one worthy of a made-for-TV movie, and doesn’t need any more stains. Yet his tale doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves, perhaps because of the ancient Asia episode but more likely because he hasn’t warmly embraced all members of the news media.
Further, as former Tour player Bill Kratzert said Wednesday on Golf Channel, there were whispers before Tour drug testing began in 2008 that Singh, the ultimate ball beater even in his 40s, perhaps was using performance-enhancing drugs.
Singh, though, won the FedEx Cup the same year testing started. At age 45. So much for that conspiracy theory. He admirably overcame another perception with hard work and remarkable success.
But when the news broke the other day that Singh openly talked with Sports Illustrated about using deer-antler spray, some started using the word “whispers” again.
It’s sensible to suggest, however, Singh didn’t know the spray was banned, for he wouldn’t have talked publicly about it otherwise. I don’t believe he knew it was on the no-no list, but I believe he should have known. And the irony about his candor is that Singh is not known for opening up to the press; rather, he’s known for often saying no to many in the Fourth Estate.
His offense here would seem to be one of ignorance, odd because Singh is a street-smart man who deeply commits to fitness and has surrounded himself with trainers over the years. There’s no reason for him not to be more careful or knowledgeable.
As for what’s next, who knows?
Singh, who turns 50 on Feb. 22, withdrew Thursday from the Waste Management Phoenix Open, citing a bad back. At first glance, that appeared to be either good timing or a deflected excuse only the most naive would believe in light of all the deer-antler buzz.
But PGA Tour executive vice president Ty Votaw maintains the back injury is legitimate, that his understanding is Singh did not get out of bed all day Wednesday. Further, he said Singh did not withdraw because of suspension and can continue to play during a tour review period that likely could take 45 days.
And you thought you had a bad day? Singh was doubly ailing and the jokes had barely begun. (Such as: Does one find deer-antler spray in the health, dairy or meat section of the supermarket?)
Interestingly, the banned substance he took is not among those targeted by the tour, for it takes urine samples, not drawn blood, in testing. The fact the spray isn’t among the substances tested, though, doesn’t figure to help Singh’s cause to avoid suspension because, according to tour guidelines, admitting to PED use is the same as testing positive in that both are violations.
Nor does it matter that Singh didn’t know he was using a taboo spray, for the tour policy reads, “It does not matter whether you unintentionally or unknowingly used a prohibited substance.”
A first-time offender can be suspended up to a year and fined $50,000. Such sanctions would appear to be too severe in this case. But, based on the facts, it seems reasonable to suggest the tour should send Singh to the sideline for a while, one to three months, whatever.
It’s up to commissioner Tim Finchem to do the right thing and, at the same time, show that the drug program actually carries weight.
It’s not all bad, though. Singh could heal his back while on sabbatical.