Commentary

Vijay Singh sticks it to PGA Tour

Lawsuit against tour shows something about three-time major champ

Updated: May 8, 2013, 10:39 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Vijay Singh has a mansion just down the street, a tribute to his hard work, his success, his skill. But it is also a nod to the PGA Tour, which provided a place for him to display his talents while greatly enriching him to play a game.

And so Singh picks this week to sue the PGA Tour?

It says more than a little something about the man, a Hall of Famer for goodness' sake, to stick it to the tour on the eve of its signature event at TPC Sawgrass, where The Players Championship begins Thursday and where he will play in the event for the 21st time.

This is the same tour that, incredibly, let him slide without a penalty last week due to a technicality in its anti-doping policy. Putting the legal mumbo jumbo aside: Singh took a substance that was on the tour's banned list, something all players had been warned about; he admitted it in a magazine article; such admissions are deemed under the policy to be the same as failing a drug test; such failures can mean up to a year's suspension.

But after a sanction was levied and Singh appealed, the PGA Tour submitted the substance to the World Anti-Doping Agency, which recently determined that deer-antler spray should not be on the list after all.

[+] EnlargeVijay Singh
Richard Heathcote/Getty ImagesVijay Singh, even though the PGA Tour essentially let him off the hook, decided to sue it on the eve of its marquee event.

Bottom line: When Singh took the substance, it was on the banned list. After the fact, WADA changed its mind. And PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, after initially suspending Singh, withdrew all punishment.

Singh should have thrown a party. He should have held a news conference, proclaimed his innocence, explained why he took the deer-antler spray in the first place, taken some accountability (the tour two years ago warned against its use), apologized, asked the tour to be more diligent about what substances are on its list, then headed back to the driving range.

Instead, Singh -- a 34-time winner with three major championships who brought his use of a banned substance to light himself -- is choosing to fight the tour because he has "been humiliated, ashamed, ridiculed, scorned and emotionally distraught.''

Remember, it was Singh who disclosed that he had taken deer-antler spray in a January story in Sports Illustrated. Deer-antler spray can contain IGF-1, a banned substance that acts like growth hormone. Singh, 50, suggested he was optimistic about its ability to help him.

"I'm looking forward to some change in my body,'' said Singh, who has suffered through injuries in recent years and has not won since 2008. "It's really hard to feel the difference if you're only doing it for a couple of months.''

Singh clearly did not know he might have been taking a banned substance, but ignorance is no excuse and an admission is the same as a failed test.

There is a good deal of chatter about deer-antler spray and whether it is effective, the levels needed to have any benefit, and the fact that the tour does not even have a test for it because the PGA doesn't use blood tests at this time.

All of that misses the point, something Singh should be keenly aware of given the sport he plays for a living.

In a game that has its share of strange, complicated rules, one thing is certain: You break a rule, you pay the penalty. It might not make sense, it might not have any bearing on the outcome, but you suffer the consequences anyway.

Singh was given a pass by Finchem and is still taking the tour to court.

Several of Singh's PGA Tour peers expressed disappointment over the move but declined to comment because they were not aware of all the facts in the matter.

Joe Ogilvie, a longtime tour player, tweeted: "He's getting incredibly poor advice.''

Geoff Ogilvy, 2006 U.S. Open champion, was puzzled by the development.

"After the drug program started in 2008, since then all the questions have gone away and all the speculation about whether golfers were on drugs,'' Ogilvy said. "It's been great. It's not evasive; we all get tested five or six times a year, and it probably helps anybody who is tempted to doing drugs from not doing them. It has achieved what it wanted to achieve.

"So I think anything that hurts the tour's anti-doping program and affects how well it has worked will not be great. This is a weird one. Everyone should be on the same side here, shouldn't they? The tour is the players, technically. We're all in it together, aren't we? Hopefully this works out fine.''

That is difficult to envision.

Singh, who has earned more than $67 million in official earnings on the PGA Tour and millions more in endorsements, has put his reputation on the line and the tour's drug-testing ability in question.

Still, the tour did all it could to protect Singh during the process of carrying out its policy. Other than acknowledging Singh's original statement, it never disclosed that it had sanctioned Singh (for 90 days, which is disclosed in the lawsuit) or that he had appealed (almost immediately) or that it had sent Singh's deer-antler spray to WADA to be tested (and the spray was subsequently taken off the banned list).

Singh also took issue with his earnings (about $100,000) being held in escrow while the appeal played out -- a stipulation that is clear in the policy.

So Singh brought these troubles on himself. The tour let him off without a penalty, but he remains mad at the organization of which he is a member and whose rules he must abide.

Amazing.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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