CHARLOTTE, N.C. – At 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, as Vijay Singh played the back nine at Quail Hollow Club during a practice round, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem read a statement to a room of assembled media ultimately exonerating Singh from a drug violation.
Doug Barron, the only player known to have violated the Tour’s Anti-Doping Policy, was in a hospital operating room in Memphis, Tenn., observing a rotator-cuff surgery.
For Singh, Tuesday would end a three-month ordeal. For Barron, it was just another day in his new life as a joint-replacement salesman for Smith & Nephew, a U.K.-based medical-technology company.
Singh’s drama started when the Fijian told SportsIllustrated.com for a story posted Jan. 28 that he was taking deer antler spray, which contains Insulin-like Growth Factor-1, a growth factor that is banned by the PGA Tour and many other sports.
“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 responding to the story. “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.”
No test for IGF-1 exists in routine blood screening, the Tour said. After tests at the World Anti-Doping Agency-approved laboratory at UCLA, the Tour deemed Singh’s use of the spray as a drug-policy violation and a sanction was issued, according to Finchem’s statement. After Singh appealed the decision, the Tour’s counsel “contacted WADA to confirm a number of technical points.” During that process, WADA clarified that it no longer deems deer antler spray to be prohibitive without a positive test result.
Coincidentally, earlier in the year, Singh had turned to Barron for guidance.
“He called me,” Barron said on Tuesday night from his home in Memphis. “We hadn’t hung in forever. We used to play a lot of practice rounds, in ’98 and ’99. He called me just asking some things and was very quiet and to the point. I felt bad for him. He just sounded kind of down and out, kind of like I probably sounded when it happened to me whenever they were wanting to do what they did.”
When Barron, a journeyman touring pro, tested positive at the St. Jude Classic in June 2009 for Lyrica and exogenous testosterone, both of which were prescribed by a doctor, the then 42-year-old was on his own.
Since he was the first to face a positive test under the Tour’s 2008 drug policy, the rules and procedures proved to be new and frightening.
“I felt it was very impersonal,” Barron said of the 2009 suspension that would keep him off the Tour for one year. “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.”
After Barron served his suspension, he returned to professional golf on the Web.com Tour, but he struggled and eventually decided to find another career.
“I never got to the level – which wasn’t a great level but it was a good enough level to make a heck of a living,” Barron said. “I have seen it happen to so many guys, (but) just never think it’s going to happen to you.”
Barron found his return to competition to be difficult after having played well at home with friends and then failing to produce in professional events.
So he looked for a new career and, on April 15, started his new life outside of the ropes.
“I’ve been working hard,” Barron said. “I’m an early riser anyway – I’m up at 5 every morning – I’ve been at work between 6:30 and 7:30 every day, and two days last week we went one day from 6:30 to 9:15 because we had a hip lab.”
Barron spends nights reviewing tapes of surgeries, preparing for a busy schedule during a one-year internship period.
Instead of studying a yardage book, Barron is studying anatomy. Nothing is the same for Barron after his positive drug test, but at the same time he has moved on from the Tour incident. Yet he still thinks the process has flaws. If a player who was not as high-profile as Singh, a three-time major champion and World Golf Hall of Fame member, had a potential violation, Barron said, he likely would be treated differently. Yet Barron nonetheless is comfortable with Singh’s outcome.
“I’m glad he didn’t get suspended,” Barron said. “I totally believe if they would have tried to suspend him, I would’ve hoped he would have fought it.”