Vijay Singh drags PGA Tour into drug snarl

Vijay Singh, who has been battling injuries, said he used deer antler spray, not knowing it contained a banned drug.
gregory bull/associated press
Vijay Singh, who has been battling injuries, said he used deer antler spray, not knowing it contained a banned drug.

It’s rare in today’s sports world to go 24 hours without hearing or reading about someone implicated in another performance-enhancing drug saga.

Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez, Ray Lewis. Closer to home, Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Bolden. Now Vijay Singh.

Pick a sport, and odds are one of its athletes has become embroiled recently in the multi­layered, multifaceted, depressing, dirty drug game. Who’s taking what? How are performances or results improved or impacted? Who — and what — should or shouldn’t be banned?


Golf is just the latest sport to deal with the performance-boosting drug controversy, after Sports Illustrated’s investigative report this week on a company called Sports With Alternatives To Steroids (SWATS) and the athletes it may have been doing business with.

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Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens star linebacker playing in Sunday’s Super Bowl, is taking the denial approach. He has never used the deer-antler spray, despite what SWATS says, and any insinuation that he’s not clean should be enough to send the person accusing him to head straight for confession.

Singh is taking a different approach. Yes, he took the spray. He also didn’t deny using some of the other products SWATS offers, or paying the company $9,000 for the supply, as noted in the Sports Illustrated report. What Singh said Wednesday — one day after the story came out — is that he didn’t know the spray contained IGF-1, a muscle-building drug that has been on the PGA Tour’s banned substances list since 2008.

“While I have used deer-antler spray, at no time was I aware that it may contain a substance that is banned under the PGA Tour Anti-Doping Policy,” Singh said in a statement, released by the tour. “In fact, when I first received the product, I reviewed the list of ingredients and did not see any prohibited substances.

“I am absolutely shocked that deer-antler spray may contain a banned substance and am angry that I have put myself in this position. I have been in contact with the PGA Tour and am cooperating fully with their review of this matter. I will not be commenting further at this time.”


Singh might not be talking any more, but you can bet he’ll be asked about it when he finishes his first round at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which starts Thursday. Assuming that the tour doesn’t step in and prevent him from playing in the first place, that is.

Singh, by admitting he took a banned substance, is subjecting himself to disciplinary action by the tour, which could include a suspension. Whether he knowingly took something on the banned list or, as he claims, unknowingly, matters not, according to the tour’s anti-doping policy. A positive drug test is also not needed; Singh’s admission, in the tour’s eyes, carries just as much weight.

This isn’t some journeyman pro looking for some kind of illegal advantage to play — or stay — on the PGA Tour, like Doug Barron in 2009. Barron is the only player ever suspended by the tour as a result of its anti-doping policy, sitting out one year after he tested positive for testosterone and beta blockers.

Singh has 34 PGA Tour victories in a career that seems best-suited for a movie or a bestseller. Born into nothing in Fiji, Singh overcame a difficult start as a young professional, including a cheating scandal, and ultimately reached golf’s summit, spending 32 weeks as the world’s No. 1-ranked player, a title he snagged from Tiger Woods. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2005, one year after winning the PGA Championship, his third major championship.

Respected by his peers for a work ethic that borders on legendary (Singh’s motto could be “Have range, will practice”), Singh has become the poster boy for PGA Tour success at an advanced age. He’ll turn 50 on Feb. 22, but in the past 10 years, he has won 22 times, a record number of tour victories by a player at least 40 years old.


What to make of his current predicament, then? Will Singh’s accomplishments, especially those 22 wins, be questioned or lessened because of his ties to a performance-enhancing substance? Will his “I didn’t know” stance subject him to sympathy, or added scorn?

There are those who have never been in Singh’s camp. They recall the incident at the 1985 Indonesian Open, when he was accused of altering his scorecard and subsequently kicked off the Asian Tour indefinitely. They don’t forget the words he spoke about Annika Sorenstam when she played in a PGA Tour event in 2003. (“I hope she misses the cut. What is she going to prove by playing? It’s ridiculous.”) They’ve seen him be brusque with spectators and blow past autograph-seeking youngsters. If you’ve looked for reasons to not root for Singh, he has supplied plenty.

‘‘It’s sad that people live and die by their sport and they have to, I guess, cheat and go around it and try to better themselves with deer-antler spray,’’ Bubba Watson told reporters as he prepared for Thursday’s first round at the Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Ariz. ‘‘I’m not just going to take something and ask questions later. I’m not going to take deer-antler spray and find out what it is later. I think we should check them for mental problems if they’re taking deer-antler spray. That’s kind of weird.’’

The tour hasn’t commented on what kind of action it might take against Singh, other than to say it’s investigating.

Because he has already confessed, it shouldn’t take long. Under the best-case scenario, Singh is guilty of being exceptionally careless, an infraction that should result in a suspension, simply going by the tour’s policy. If his motive was a bit more sinister — something that will no doubt be debated but probably never known for sure — professional golf will be properly lumped in with all the other sports fighting a performance-enhancing drug problem.

Maybe that’s how it should be. Cialis, after all, remains one of the tour’s most consistently visible television sponsors.

Michael Whitmer can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.