COMMENTARY | Vijay Singh wrote the PGA Tour a "Deer John" letter on Wednesday, in the form of a lawsuit filed in New York State Supreme Court.
Singh and his lawyer Peter Ginsberg accuse the PGA Tour of "reckless administration and implementation of its Anti-Doping Program" and subjecting the Fijian to "public humiliation." The problem is that Singh brought this all on himself.
In a Jan. 28, 2013, Sports Illustrated piece, Singh admitted to taking a substance known as deer-antler spray which, at the time, was banned under the Tour's anti-doping program. It was banned by the Tour and the World Anti-Doping Agency (who helped guide the Tour's creation of its banned-substance list) because the spray was thought to contain an insulin-like hormone, IGF-1, that is considered a performance-enhancing drug.
The PGA Tour had warned its players about taking deer-antler spray in 2011 after Mark Calcavecchia not only admitted using it, but promoted it. Despite the warning and the slap on Calc's wrist, Singh used the spray anyhow. The 50-year-old's admission triggered an investigation of the case by the Tour despite two factors: (1) the fact that IGF-1 can only be absorbed by the body if injected as opposed to orally via deer-antler spray and (2) the Tour could not conduct a test for IGF-1 because it only takes urine, not blood, samples from players.
For three months, the outcome of the case was the subject of speculation and questioning. Singh continued to play on the PGA Tour through the entire process, refusing comment on the topic.
Then last week, the PGA Tour announced its response: nothing. The Tour consulted with WADA, which had since decided taking deer-antler spray alone is not enough to warrant a sanction. Only a positive test for IGF-1 was enough. Since the Tour could not produce that evidence, the decision was made to not suspend Singh at all instead of a 90-day suspension Singh alleges in his lawsuit was to be his original penalty.
Of course, the timing is not by mistake. Singh could have waited to file his lawsuit but took to the court system on the eve before the Tour's biggest event. That's some way to repay the Tour and commissioner Finchem for essentially absolving Singh of any wrongdoing despite his blatant disrespect for the anti-doping program and the Tour's warnings about deer-antler spray. Curiously, Singh's suspension, had it been enforced by the Tour, would have ended at the conclusion of this week's Players Championship.
The suit itself is riddled with typos, errors and misleading statements, including that the PGA Tour operates the PGA Championship (no, that's the PGA of America), as well that Singh's urine samples did not indicate a banned substance (great, only a blood test could identify IGF-1).
The filing also goes into a lengthy string about IGF-1, the tiny concentration of it found in deer-antler spray and that cow's milk contains the substance as well. However, the concentration of IGF-1 in deer-antler spray is as much as 20 times higher than what's found in milk. That's merely a distraction.
It may turn out that deer-antler spray is as effective in enhancing performance as deer urine, sold in far higher quantities to hunters than the product produced and supplied to Singh by Sports With Alternatives to Steroids (S.W.A.T.S.). The company has experienced a boom in business since the S.I. story, convincing at least a few thousand people that a little buck shot in the throat might make them stronger or faster. The joke's on them. Even still, the Tour's anti-doping program says it's a no-no to even attempt to take a prohibited substance.
Perhaps the height of the filing's comedy, however, is the notion that the Tour caused "media and fans focused on Singh's alleged violation of the Anti-Doping Program rather than on Singh's play." That stemmed from his admission that he took a substance the PGA Tour banned at the time, which the anti-doping program clearly states is a violation.
This filing was meant for public consumption. It was meant to cause a stir and create sympathy for Singh. He doesn't deserve any, but the Tour is not without fault. To use the words of Singh's lawyer, the nature of this lawsuit is rather specious, but it may force some important changes in the Tour's anti-doping program.
Perhaps it will force the PGA Tour to adopt blood testing, which could have identified IGF-1.
The Tour may no longer be able to rely on WADA for advice on its program and enforcement, as well as take drug testing administration completely in-house.
If those changes happen, they will be a good thing, no matter how preposterous the events that precipitated them.
Ryan Ballengee is a Washington, D.C.-based golf writer. His work has appeared on multiple digital outlets, including NBC Sports and Golf Channel. Follow him on Twitter @RyanBallengee.
- Sports & Recreation
- PGA Tour
- Vijay Singh