SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA | Bubba Watson, of all people, may have asked the question most of us have been wondering since word broke last week that Vijay Singh has been a regular user of deer antler spray, a concoction deemed illegal by the PGA Tour and other major sports leagues for its capacity to stimulate muscle growth.
“How do you decide, hey, I think this will help you?” Watson asked. “I’m going to get some stuff from a deer antler and we’re going to be good. Who’s the guy that thought of that?”
And not just any deer.
New Zealand deer.
The stuff is intriguing enough that Singh became a devoted user, a fact he didn’t deny after the Sports Illustrated magazine story broke, citing the Hall of Famer among others, including Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who have worked with a company known as SWATS that apparently owns the lion’s share of the deer antler market.
We learned long ago – and we’ve been reminded over and over again – that some athletes are willing to push the pharmaceutical envelope when it comes to maximizing their physical abilities. It’s the competitive drive that made them special that can push them where they shouldn’t go.
Singh willingly made himself a prisoner of the practice tee, the putting green and the workout room. In return, his work ethic rewarded him with a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
On the cusp of his 50th birthday, Singh is still grinding, intent on remaining relevant on the PGA Tour before surrendering to time and the three-day workweeks on the Champions Tour. There’s no shame in that.
Apparently, Singh thought using deer antler spray and various other odd performance enhancers would help him.
What he didn’t think – if we believe his statement blaming himself for not fully knowing what he was using – was that he was violating the PGA Tour’s drug policy.
That doesn’t change the reality. Singh was in violation of the rules regardless of the fact that he apparently never flunked a drug test. The banned substance – an anabolic hormone called IGF-1 – can only be detected in blood tests. The PGA Tour doesn’t administer blood tests under its anti-doping policy, therefore, it’s impossible to determine if IGF-1 is being used by a player.
That doesn’t make it any less prohibited and because Singh was using it, even innocently, the PGA Tour has to discipline him.
Just because you may innocently violate an IRS tax law doesn’t mean you’re excused from the penalty.
What’s the point of having an anti-doping policy if it’s not enforced?
Singh’s withdrawal from the Waste Management Phoenix Open was a no-brainer. Until this matter is resolved to some degree, Singh doesn’t need to be playing tournaments.
It’s hardly a scandal and it doesn’t sully Singh’s legacy but the matter must be dealt with. The question of intent makes it awkward, getting into gray areas in the law and the implementation of a policy intended to be clear, strict and effective. There can’t, however, be selective enforcement.
To Singh’s credit, he did what too many other athletes have not done – he admitted his mistake up front.
“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,” Singh said in his statement, adding that he is cooperating with the PGA Tour on the matter.
Skeptics can question whether Singh was truly ignorant about what he was doing, but why would he talk so openly to Sports Illustrated about it if he understood the potential penalty?
Singh, a three-time major champion and one of the best players of his generation, needs to take questions on the subject. Why was he using the spray? Did he read the green sheet sent out by the PGA Tour detailing what is allowed and what isn’t? Does he think he should be suspended?
Golf has largely avoided the ugly hits other sports have taken relative to drug testing in part because the nature of the game doesn’t lend itself to chemical enhancement. Drugs might make you hit it longer but until someone invents something that guarantees every eight-footer is going in, it is likely to be spared a glaring problem.
This isn’t like Lance Armstrong or Alex Rodriguez but it’s enough to take the focus off golf’s anchoring issue for a moment.
The PGA Tour has a policy of not disclosing its disciplinary actions, though it makes exceptions for suspensions related to the anti-doping policy, Doug Barron being the only example thus far. The rules call for a one-year suspension for a first violation though commissioner Tim Finchem has the power to intercede. He lifted Barron’s suspension early.
It’s a strange story that erupted quickly. Hopefully, it will go away just as fast.