SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Vijay Singh’s shock and anger has turned into withdrawal.
Singh, who admitted to having used a substance banned by the PGA Tour, withdrew Thursday from this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, citing a back injury.
Singh, 49, of Fiji, disclosed that he used deer-antler spray in an interview with Sports Illustrated. The magazine said Singh paid a co-owner of Sports With Alternatives To Steroids, a two-man Birmingham, Ala., company, $9,000 last November for the spray, hologram chips and other products. The deer-antler substance contains a banned performance-enhancer connected to human growth hormone.
Singh released a statement here Wednesday, saying: “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. 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.”
Ty Votaw, the Tour’s executive vice president of communications, says the Tour is “looking into the matter.”
According to Section One of the Tour’s Anti-Doping Program Manual, a player is strictly liable whenever a prohibited substance is in his body, regardless of the circumstances.
Neither Singh nor the PGA Tour would say whether Singh has ever tested positive for IGF-1.
But according to Votaw, testing for that substance would require blood testing, which is not part of the PGA Tour’s regime. The Tour uses a urine test.
However, Singh has admitted to taking the substance, according to the Sports Illustrated article, which appears in the Feb. 4 issue, and in his statement Wednesday.
“You are strictly liable whenever a prohibited substance is in your body,” Section One of the Tour’s Anti-Doping Manual reads. “This means that if a test indicates the presence of a prohibited substance in your test sample, you have committed a doping violation regardless of how the prohibited substance entered your body. It does not matter whether you unintentionally or unknowingly used a prohibited substance.”
Because Singh did not test positive for the banned substance, according to Section Two (D) (8) titled PGA Tour Anti-Doping Program, Prohibited Conduct, Singh’s verbal admission is treated as a positive test and can be used to determine a violation of the rules.
According to Votaw, once the story broke Tuesday, the Tour started an investigation into Singh’s conduct, but would not comment further because of the confidential nature of the drug-testing regime.
Singh, who turns 50 on Feb. 22, holds 34 PGA Tour titles, has won more than $67 million in earnings and is a World Golf Hall of Fame member. In two starts this season, he tied for 20th at the Sony Open and finished T-27 at the Farmers Insurance Open. He is No. 89 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Doug Barron, a journeyman touring pro, is the only Tour player known to have been suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs since drug testing started in 2008.
At the time of his positive drug test, at the St. Jude Classic in June 2009 in his hometown of Memphis, Tenn., Barron was taking Lyrica as a substitute for propranolol, a banned substance and exogenous testosterone, which he received by an injection from a doctor in early June. He had been prescribed propranolol since age 17.
Barron had applied in June 2008 for a therapeutic use exemption and was denied in October. He appealed to Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who denied the appeal later that month.
“The day I failed the drug test the next day I shot 77,” Barron said. “I knew I had failed, but I didn’t think the consequences would be there, but it put stress on me knowing that even that day that for a year I kind of carried it really hard.”
After a protracted process that took months, Barron lost his ability to play on the PGA Tour for a year, but the experience and how he was treated still gnaws at him.
“I felt it was very impersonal,” Barron said from his home in Memphis. “I felt like I took the test, I failed it, the commissioner put off on meeting for six weeks and he told me on the phone with my attorney in a phone conversation that I was suspended for a year, and that was it. If he would have taken the time to review my case and seen that I had low testosterone documented, then it would have been a whole different deal. I’m not going to speculate whether I was the scapegoat. . . . But I think it was not accurately done. It was just a quick judgment, in my opinion.”
Barron has been cleared to play on the PGA Tour and in fact received his second consecutive TUE for testosterone last fall, which would extend his ability to take the supplement for two more years.
But professional golf is secondary for Barron, 43, who holds a marketing degree from Mississippi State. He is looking for a job in medical sales and said he might play a Web.com event or two. His dreams of playing on the PGA Tour are over.
For Barron, the experience of testing positive was difficult and humbling, but he doesn’t think Singh will share a similar experience.
“If Tiger Woods or Vijay fail it, I can’t see them suspending Vijay Singh for a year,” Barron said. “That’s just the facts.”
Bubba Watson wonders what Singh was thinking.
“We all make mistakes,” Watson said. “It’s about overcoming the bad things, bad mistakes. But truthfully, it’s sad that people do stuff like that. It’s sad that people would put some weird thing like that in their body, not knowing what it’s going to do to their body.”
Watson, who withdrew from last week’s Farmers Insurance Open while enduring a bout with the flu, called the Tour before taking any medicine, to be sure that he would not be consuming a banned substance.
“I don’t know whose responsibility it is, but I’m playing for millions of dollars,” said Watson, the reigning Masters champion. “Yeah, I’m going to make sure I do everything right to be able to compete at a legal stance, I guess you’d say. So yeah, it is; it’s going to be my responsibility, because why would I not do that? Why would I not check and make sure? 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.”
– Alex Miceli contributed to this report