Is the PGA Tour doing right by Vijay Singh?
Lack of transparency is hurting the PGA while it decides the Fijian's fate
Published on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 09:25AM EST Last updated on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 10:03AM EST
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 cellphone in the middle of a round at the Memorial to complain about too many cellphones in the gallery.
We know John Daly was suspended, but only because he called The Associated Press to refute rumours 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.
ITSY BITSY SPIDER: Golfers deal with many hazards throughout the course of a game. Most never come down to life and death. But that’s what Swedish rookie Daniela Holmqvist encountered recently while attempting to qualify for this week’s LPGA - Ladies European Tour event in Australia.
According to a story published on the Swedish website Svensk Golf, Holmqvist was playing out of the rough on the fourth hole at the Royal Canberra Golf Club when she felt a sharp pain just above her ankle. When she looked down, she saw a large, black creature with a red spot on its back just above her sock line. She quickly swatted the insect away before doubling over in pain. When she described what happened to the caddies in her group, they became very concerned and scrambled for their phones to get medics on site as quickly as possible.
"When I told the local caddies in my group what had happened, they got very upset and said it was a Black Widow.”
While the bite from a Black Widow spider can result death - children and the elderly are the most susceptible - only 14 deaths have ever been recorded in Australia from the spider bite and none since the introduction of antivenom in 1956. Still, Holmqvist wasn’t going to wait around and play the odds. As the pain increased, she pulled a tee out of her pocket - "it was the only thing I had handy," she told Svensk Golf - and used it to cut open the wound so she could squeeze out the venom and keep it from spreading.
"It wasn't the prettiest thing I've ever done, but I had to get as much of it out of me as possible."
The do-it-yourself surgery apparently did the trick and after being checked out by medics, Holmqvist was allowed to finish the tournament, where she shot 74. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to qualify for this week's tournament.
Got bit by a poisonous black widow today on course, a caddy said that people die from it and that I should seek medical attn.. I shot 74.
Got bit by a poisonous black widow today on course, a caddy said that people die from it and that I should seek medical attn.. I shot 74.— Daniela Holmqvist (@DHolmqvist) February 12, 2013
The weirdest part of the day is that there was a rumor about me being bit by a kangaroo. Do they even bite? I'd like to hug one though..
The weirdest part of the day is that there was a rumor about me being bit by a kangaroo. Do they even bite? I'd like to hug one though..— Daniela Holmqvist (@DHolmqvist) February 12, 2013
So there is "the shark" "pink panther" etc am I "the spider woman" now? Better than "the kangaroo lady" though..
So there is "the shark" "pink panther" etc am I "the spider woman" now? Better than "the kangaroo lady" though..— Daniela Holmqvist (@DHolmqvist) February 12, 2013
BLAME IT ON GOLF: The IOC’s decision to eliminate wrestling from the Olympic calendar brought shock and anger from the Olympic sporting community. It also caused some observers to look around and try to find someone or something to blame for decision. Anyone who has spent any time around the IOC knows that this had everything to do with politics and less to do with sport (If the IOC were really serious about moving the Olympics forward, it would do away with all judged sports - but we digress).
Dan Wetzel over at Yahoo! Sports decided to point the finger at golf as the reason for wrestling’s demise. His argument is that no pro golfer will ever treat winning a gold medal as the greatest accomplishment in his/her sporting career as much as a speed skater, a skeet shooter, a half-pipe snowboarder or a wrestler.
The Olympics are special when they offer the ultimate global competition for a group of athletes, where everyone builds to this singular moment. It doesn't matter if it's a millionaire such as Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt, or a teenage gymnast with a dream, or a poor courageous middle distance runner out of Central Africa, the Olympics are an accomplishment that brings joy and tears and importance and everything.
Rory McIlroy will win a gold in Rio and then head off to his next event. Yes, it will be cool. Yes, he'll say the right thing. Yes, he'll enjoy it – the way the professional tennis players enjoy it – but it isn't bigger than the British Open or whatever major is next.
It probably won't be as important as even the Ryder Cup, golf's fine international competition.
The IOC should seek sports that care about the Olympics, not just jamming popular TV sports into the Olympic system and pretending it's the same thing.
NO TV FOR U: Padraig Harrington says the golden rule of coping with jet lag - don’t watch television.
Asked about the hectic travel schedule of some golfers which see them criss-cross the globe in a matter of days just to get from tournament to tournament, Harrington said his solution is to combat jet lag is stick to a routine, maybe hit the gym, while watching television is a definite no-no.
“If you wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and you’re wide awake, do not put on the television,” the three-time major winner said. “That is the golden rule, do not put it on. Just lie there and look at the four walls, but the minute you put on the television, that’s it. You ain’t ever getting back to sleep.”
The globe-trotting Irishman knows all about the potential pitfalls of jet lag, his most recent run of tournaments taking him to Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, South Africa, Abu Dhabi and then Arizona and California over the last four months.
Asked how he managed to shake off the effects of such a dizzying itinerary, Harrington replied: “You feel it if you’re not working. So jet lag and travel, it’s harder (to deal with) when you go home and you don’t have a time scale to stick to.
“I’ve got to make an 8.10 am pro-am time tomorrow, so I’m getting up probably 2-1/2 hours before that. I’ve got to make a 7.50 am time on Friday, so I’m getting up three-and-a-bit hours before that time. I just have to get up and get on with it.
“One night’s sleep deprivation has no effect on performance whatsoever. Two nights is extremely detrimental. So I know no matter how bad I sleep or how bad I feel, I can get through a round of golf. I can last that length of time. I’ll be fine.”
Harrington also recommended plenty of gym time to keep jet lag at bay.
“Getting into the gym always gets you back on track,” said the 41-year-old, who is playing his fourth consecutive tournament this week.
“That’s probably one of the keys. We’ll all do that. We’ll all wake ourselves up by going to the gym. And there are other simple disciplines, being professional in the sense of hydrating and eating properly.”
TIGER SEES HIS SHADOW: Tiger Woods emerged from his three week hibernation since winning his 75th career PGA title, saw his shadow and announced that he would return to play golf next week. Woods says he will play three consecutive events starting with the WGC-Match Play Championship in Arizona followed by the Honda Classic and ending with the Cadillac Championship.
It’s the second straight year Woods has decided to play in the Honda Classic, which is essentially his new “home” event since moving into new digs in South Florida.
A quick glance of Tiger’s schedule posted online shows the Masters as his next tournament after the Cadillac event, but look for Woods to add Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill event to his schedule and the not-to-be-missed Tavistock Cup as Augusta tune-ups.
“It's the most humbling sport in the world. I literally don't think I've ever done anything where I can't like semi pick it up. It's been a challenge and a struggle, but I have been able to pick up some things along the way and make my game better and stronger and more consistent, but it's just not at the point where I want it to be.” -- Swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all-time, on his progress picking up the game of golf now that he’s retired from competitive swimming
Files from the Associated Press were used in this report