Rude: It's time for Vijay to sing a little
Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.
After all that fuss about deer antler spray, after all the debating and screaming and conjecturing and expending of emotional and financial capital and backroom and clubhouse lawyering and eleventh-hour laboratory testing, remarkably we have come to this: Deer antler spray is no big deal after all.
Or, as Shakespeare came up with comedically more than 400 years ago, “Much ado about nothing.”
The monster that was deer antler spray, of course, exceeded its 15 minutes of fame with regard to Vijay Singh. The Fijian twisted in the wind of public opinion and a PGA Tour investigation for three months since admitting he used the now-famous but apparently unhelpful deer antler spray, then on the Tour’s banned list, in late January.
He continued to play among whispers if not shouts, only to be cleared Tuesday because of a simple but powerful memo from the World Anti-Doping Agency to the Tour that in part read: “The use of deer antler spray (which is known to contain small amounts of IGF-1) is not considered prohibited.”
And so that is that. Or is it?
For certain, the silent Singh is the beneficiary of “upon further review” and apparently good legal representation. He decided to lawyer up and appeal an undisclosed Feb. 19 Tour sanction. It was during that appeal process that WADA, for whatever belated reasons, changed its mind about the prohibition of deer antler spray.
That prompted the Tour to clear Singh, much to the confusion if not chagrin of some players who wanted a quart of Singh’s blood. Among those was the multiple Tour winner who told me at the Masters that Singh should be suspended from all tours for a year.
Interestingly, those objecting did not include Doug Barron, the only person suspended for performance-enhancing drugs during the Tour’s 5-year-old policy. Rather, Barron said he was glad Singh did not get sidelined.
“I am glad the Tour did the right thing for a change,” Barron told me.
Singh, meanwhile, has chosen not to comment since issuing a statement about three months ago. The choice of silence over elaboration long has been the modus operandi of this proud, private man wary of the news media.
Ironically, Singh found himself in this mess because he spoke openly late last year with a Sports Illustrated reporter he didn’t know. Singh went on about his use of deer antler spray, not knowing it was on the banned list. The unwitting admission constituted a violation and spawned the subsequent three-month circus.
As a result, Singh has told confidants that he doesn’t plan to talk with the news media again. Such a sentiment is not surprising, considering his distrust and the bulls-eye he became. But it also is ill-advised, particularly considering the good news he received Tuesday about his livelihood.
Singh shouldn’t just attend a news conference; he should call one. Put a smile on, gather the press and answer questions until everyone is tired. The matter would be put to rest rather than linger. He would benefit from emotional closure and, if handled properly with contrition, positive public relations.
Instead, Singh went quiet and withdrew from the Wells Fargo Championship on Wednesday. He left Charlotte citing a bad back, no doubt impaired by the hauling around of stress. The problem with the strategy of deferral is he will be faced with inquiries next week at The Players Championship in his hometown of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Avoidance doesn’t mean the elephant leaves the middle of the room.
In the absence of a Q&A, it wouldn’t take a PR specialist to help craft a statement. Pro bono, we’ll handle it right here, right now:
“I made a careless mistake that I regret and have no one to blame but myself. I vow to be more diligent with what I put in my body. Though I’m sorry the matter created a fuss for so many people, I’m grateful that the long process has cleared me. I look forward to getting back to doing what I love, hitting a golf ball, and would appreciate everyone’s support after this ordeal.”
In two respects, at the least, the Singh case is similar to Tiger Woods’ “Dropgate” controversy at the Masters. One, there was a rush to judgment before governing bodies made a ruling. Two, many, though not this corner, will believe neither got the penalty he deserved. The voices of golf can be harsh, often wanting to lock someone up for going 40 mph in a 35 zone.
As it turns out, Singh ultimately didn’t violate anti-doping policy, but he did violate one of the Tour’s most important unwritten tenets: When there might be an inkling of doubt, don’t be in doubt. That applies to the Rules of Golf or the drug policy. Call an official. Ask for clarification. Get a ruling.
Given his past, Singh, of all people, should be careful and cross all T’s and dot all I’s. The Fijian in 1985 was banned from the Asian Tour for alleged cheating. Admirably, after an exile, he put that behind him by outworking everyone else and winning 34 PGA Tour titles en route to the Hall of Fame.
His story is one of the most compelling in the game’s history, one worthy of a made-for-television movie. Hey, he regularly used to walk through sewers under a Fiji airport runway to hit balls.
For my money, his tale is more powerful than the one about the Cypress, Calif., prodigy who hopped out of the high chair and hit balls into a net in the garage. Yet the Singh saga doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
Once again, he bears responsibility for that. A little cooperation can help in a big way.