Golf enters sports' realm of suspicion

By Rex HoggardJanuary 30, 2013, 8:08 pm

This is not a love story. In the world of big-money, sports-hero worship has become an unrequited pastime best left to the innocence of children and fools.

From Lance Armstrong on Oprah’s couch to Roger Clemens’ dogged denials, we’ve been conditioned to lower our expectations, not to mention our ability to be shocked. There was no handwringing then when the last 24 hours delivered the classic doping dance.

Buried some 39 paragraphs into a 69-paragraph opus on SportsIllustrated.com, in itself a measure of how cavalier we have become about doping in professional sport, came news on Tuesday that Vijay Singh regularly used the Ultimate Spray, a liquid derived from deer antlers that contains IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor).


Sobel: Singh did the crime, now he should do the time


According to the company that sells the spray, S.W.A.T.S. (Sports with Alternatives to Steroids), IGF-1 is a natural, anabolic hormone that stimulates muscle growth. It’s also universally banned by every major sports league including the PGA Tour.

In an interview last week with Sports Illustrated, Singh said he used the spray “every couple of hours … every day,” and “sleeps with the beam ray on and has put chips on his ankles, waist and shoulders.”

“I’m looking forward to some change in my body,” Singh told the reporter. “It’s really hard to feel the difference if you’re only doing it for a couple of months.”

On Wednesday, Singh did what every athlete backed into a doping corner would do – deny, deny, deny.

“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,” he said in a statement.

“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.”

Never mind that IGF-1, which is what HGH is converted into in the liver, has been on the Tour’s list of banned substances since it began testing in 2008. Never mind that on Aug. 17, 2011, the Tour issued an “anti-doping warning” via the green sheet which is circulated to players monthly that cautioned players about the spray and reiterated IGF-1’s status as a banned substance.

“The PGA Tour has learned that a supplement product marketed as ‘deer antler spray’ contains a prohibited substance under the PGA Tour anti-doping program,” the warning read.

“Deer antler contains IGF-1 which naturally occurs in the human body and is a growth factor, like human growth hormone. IGF-1 protects cartilage, promotes the growth of bone cells, and facilitates recovery. It is universally banned in all sports.”

Never mind that there are few players on Tour who spend more time tuning body, mind and swing than Singh. Never mind that the Fijian has scorched conventional wisdom having won more events in his 40s (18) than he did in his 20s and 30s combined (16).

Never mind that on S.W.A.T.S’ own website they list IGF-1 not once but twice as an active ingredient in the Ultimate Spray and characterize it as “a precursor for the production of growth hormone (HGH).”

Never mind that under the Tour’s anti-doping policy while HGH and IGF-1 are banned, there is no current test for either substance. “We have not determined a reliable test for it,” said Ty Votaw, the circuit’s executive vice president of communication and international affairs.

It’s the same in most other sports because the only way to test for HGH or IGF-1 is via a blood sample and union athletes and independent contractors have shown an almost universal reluctance to do that.

The only law that applies here is that athletes are responsible for what they put in their bodies and while being “angry” that he inadvertently juiced may work in the court of public opinion the doping courts take a slightly harder line (see Barron, Doug 2009).

There is no small amount of irony that the same month that baseball’s Hall of Fame refused to induct anyone into Cooperstown because of the pall cast over the game by the so-called “steroids era” sees a member of Golf’s Hall of Fame run afoul of the circuit’s doping standards.

An aside to the current dust up with Singh is that, according to two longtime Tour trainers, the Fijian could have been doing shots of the deer antler spray every hour for a year and it would provide virtually no performance benefits.

“You can get stuff off the counter at GNC that is legal that would provide better muscle growth and recovery,” said one trainer.

But in the dogmatic world of anti-doping neither intent nor outcome justifies the crime. How the Tour plans to proceed next is the million dollar question – or maybe it’s the $9,000 question, which is how much Singh reportedly paid for the spray, chips, beam ray and powder additive in November.

It is not the best-case scenario for Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., considering that a high-profile player has admitted publically that he used a banned substance that would otherwise be undetectable to Tour testers.

One can only imagine that Barron, who is the only player suspended under the Tour’s anti-doping policy for using testosterone and beta blockers that had been prescribed by his doctors for health reasons, will be paying particularly close attention.

As for the rest of us, well, we’ll probably move on because we’ve learned that expecting too much out of our athletes is a recipe for disappointment. It took golf a little longer than other sports to reach this desensitized crossroads but it seems we’re finally there.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.