Vijay Singh needs to take a break

This is one time the PGA Tour needs to avoid the perception of

slow play.

It has been two weeks since the Sports Illustrated story that

Vijay Singh spent $9,000 on products that included deer antler

spray, telling the magazine he used the spray ”every couple of

hours … every day” and that he was ”looking forward to some

change in my body.” Singh issued a statement the next day that he

used the spray and was shocked to learn it might contain a

substance that is banned under the tour’s anti-doping policy.

Singh is still playing.

The tour is not talking, except to say it is looking into the

matter.

In what is shaping up as a bright year in golf, this is becoming

a dark cloud. Tiger Woods won at Torrey Pines. Phil Mickelson

missed a 59 by a fraction of an inch when he won the Phoenix Open.

The next week, every conversation among players at Pebble Beach

seemed to start with the same question.

”What’s going to happen with Vijay?”

Singh met with PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem at Pebble

Beach, and then made his 15th consecutive cut.

He is playing again this week at Riviera.

The big Fijian, a week away from turning 50, is one of the more

remarkable success stories on the PGA Tour. He has three major

championships, a record 22 wins in his 40s and a spot in the World

Golf Hall of Fame.

But he is looked upon differently now, and not just because he

is the source of jokes.

One photo circulating last week showed Singh’s face

photo-shopped on a deer. A magazine reported seeing Singh in the

fairway at Spyglass Hill during a practice round with his caddie,

trainer, manager – and five deer that had wandered out of the

woods.

Also at stake is his integrity.

It doesn’t help that Singh had to overcome allegations early in

his career that he doctored his scorecard to avoid missing the cut

in Indonesia. Singh, who has denied the charges, was banned by the

Asian tour. It dogged him for much of his career, even as he worked

his way from giving $10 lessons in Borneo to becoming No. 1 in the

world.

He hasn’t won since 2008, when he was the FedEx Cup champion

with back-to-back wins in the playoffs. He has been slowed by

injuries the last four years. Clearly, he was trying to gain an

edge with the deer antler spray and other products from Sports with

Alternative to Steroids.

Singh either forgot or ignored the tour’s warning a year earlier

that deer antler spray might contain an insulin-like growth hormone

known as IGF-1, which has been on the list of banned substances

since the program began in 2008.

Every now and then, the tour will warn the players of a

substance that could get them into trouble, which is what it did in

the fall of 2011.

Singh said he reviewed the list of ingredients on the antler

spray and did not see any banned substances.

That’s not being very vigilant. And it’s not much of an

excuse.

If he’s spending $9,000 on products, does he not become

suspicious enough to run this by the tour? Even a change in their

nutrient program should be enough for players to ask questions. One

player told a story Tuesday of getting a prescription for a new eye

medicine. His first call was to the tour to make sure it was OK.

The prescription cost $10.

Just as much is at stake for the integrity of the tour.

Doug Barron is the only player who has been suspended under the

anti-doping policy, which didn’t cause too much of a ripple because

only the hard-core golf fans had even heard of him. Singh is a Hall

of Famer. The longer this drags on, the more speculation that the

tour treats stars differently.

What hurts the tour in this case is its longtime lack of

transparency.

Finchem has decided that no news is the best news when it comes

to player discipline. The tour does not disclose fines or

suspensions for conduct. No one can say for certainty that Woods

has ever been fined for his course language, or if Mickelson was

fined last year for using his cell phone in the middle of a round

at the Memorial to complain about too many cell phones in the

gallery.

We know John Daly was suspended, but only because he called The

Associated Press to refute rumors he had been suspended for life

(it was only six months).

Players suspect that at least two of their colleagues have been

suspended from testing positive for recreational drugs. If true,

the tour won’t say.

Golfers are not choir boys.

Finchem wants to protect the image of golf, which is one reason

he refuses to publicize their indiscretions, however large or

small. That image is not derived exclusively from clean living, but

from the very nature of the sport. It’s a congenial game, and the

vast majority of the pros are respectful of the sport and those who

play it. That’s why golf has such a good image, and is so appealing

to the corporate world.

Under the anti-doping policy, the tour is required to disclose

the name, confirm the violation and declare the penalty.

So far, there has been silence.

This is not a call for the tour to rush to judgment. Singh’s

case is muddled. Yes, a player who admits to using a banned

substance is the same as a player testing positive. But is there

evidence that IGF-1 was in the spray that Singh was using? More

than one doctor has said it’s impossible for IGF-1 to enter the

blood system through a spray. And the tour does not have a blood

test, anyway.

Plus, players have the right to appeal, and the policy says a

hearing must take place within 45 days.

Singh brought this mess on himself, and now is the time for him

to give back to the game that has provided him with so much. Singh

could eliminate this distraction by taking a leave of absence until

the tour sorts this out. The sooner the better.