Singh's battle against the Tour comes into focus

By Rex HoggardNovember 10, 2015, 7:16 pm

It was a random Tuesday when the media storm struck Vijay Singh.

“Ross, my phone’s blown up,” Singh told Ross Berlin, the PGA Tour’s director of player relations, on Jan. 29, 2013, as the Fijian prepared to play that week’s Waste Management Open.

“Vijay, its because an article that came out in Sports Illustrated, and you were interviewed and you admitted using deer antler spray,” Berlin explained.

The article, which was posted on SI.com just hours earlier, told the tale of S.W.A.T.S., a two-man company that billed itself as an alternative to steroids and sold an assortment of products from “negatively charged” water to something called Ultimate Spray, the substance Singh admitted to using “every day.”

According to the SI.com story and the S.W.A.T.S. website, the spray contained IGF-1, a growth hormone like HGH, which is banned by the Tour.

The ensuing media maelstrom and investigation has led to 2 1/2 years of contentious and often confidential litigation between the Tour and Singh, who filed a lawsuit against the Tour in New York County Supreme Court in May 2013.

That lawsuit reached a milestone last week with a flurry of filings, including a request from both Singh and the Tour to the court for summary judgment. Last week also marked the end of an intense discovery process, with over 130 filings posted to the public record last Thursday (Nov. 5) that at least partially pull back the veil on this bizarre episode.


For the Record: Kizzire's fast start; Singh's lawsuit against Tour


In his deposition last December in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Singh – who has not publicly discussed either the Tour’s investigation into his use of the Ultimate Spray or his lawsuit – said it was his caddie, Tony Shepherd, who suggested he use the spray to help with knee and back injuries.

He also said that the Tour crafted his statement to the media following the release of the SI.com article, and that he was never comfortable with it.

“They made a statement and I didn’t like what was said,” Singh said in his deposition.

Jeff Rosenblum, a member of Singh’s legal team, declined to discuss the specifics of the case, and a Tour spokesman did not respond to an email requesting comment. It’s the circuit’s policy to not comment on ongoing litigation.

Some of the discovery offers a glimpse into the nuanced world of anti-doping, like an email exchange between Ty Votaw, the Tour’s executive vice president of communications, and a golf writer from the Associated Press who asked, among other things, if deer antler spray was on the Tour’s list of banned substances.

Votaw responded that, yes, deer antler spray is on the Tour’s banned substances list, when in fact it is not. The substance IGF-1, an ingredient found in the spray, is on the banned list, but not the product itself. It’s a nuanced distinction but central to Singh’s claim that the Tour was negligent in its handling of his case.

Singh applied the Ultimate Spray to his knee and back, “which was very weird,” he said, as well as in his mouth (as instructed by S.W.A.T.S. owner Mitch Ross) for about a month and a half. He also said he agreed to the SI.com interview to help promote the product.

According to court documents, Singh was notified within two weeks after the publication of the SI.com article that he had violated the Tour’s anti-doping program, which is modeled after the code used by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and considers an admission of use tantamount to a positive test.

In a letter sent the next day (Feb. 15, 2013), Singh responded to the Tour’s ruling, writing, “I did not go to Mitch's website and simply took him at his word which was, in retrospect, a big mistake. I believe in my innocence, I hope you, the commissioner and the Tour think likewise.”

Four days later, Singh met with Tour commissioner Tim Finchem in his office at TPC Sawgrass and was informed he would be suspended for 90 days, a sanction that would be retroactive to Feb. 4.

“I asked them (Finchem and Ed Moorhouse, the Tour’s co-chief operating officer) what would have happened if I hadn’t given them the bottle [of Ultimate Spray]? They said I would have been suspended for longer.” Singh said in his deposition.

Singh turned over a bottle of the spray to Berlin the day the SI.com story was published and two separate tests found IGF-1 in the sample.

Whether the amount and the biological makeup of the IGF-1 found in the Ultimate Spray warranted a violation or provided any doping benefit has turned into a point of contention in the lawsuit, with both sides providing expert testimony.

“Any IGF-1 in the S.W.A.T.S. deer antler spray is inactive, and thus unable to have any biological effect,” wrote Dr. Michele Hutchison, a pediatric endocrinologist and scientist, in a letter dated May 8, 2015.

Hutchison added, “The PGA [Tour] could have requested Mr. Singh to provide a sample of blood to test for elevated IGF-1 levels in order to determine if he had used a banned substance. However, based on all the evidence identified above, I strongly doubt that such a test would have yielded an IGF-1 level above the normal range.”

The Tour responded with testimony from Larry Bowers, the chief science officer with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

“The amount of IGF-1 in the product or biological activity of IGF-1 are wholly irrelevant to determining whether Mr. Singh’s admitted use of the S.W.A.T.S. Ultimate Spray constituted an anti-doping violation,” Bowers said.


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PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem at a news conference in 2013, announcing that the Tour was dropping its case against Singh. (Getty Images)


The lawsuit and discovery, much of which is redacted, has also focused on the timing of the Tour’s investigation.

Finchem announced at an April 30, 2013 news conference that, “WADA clarified that it no longer considers the use of deer antler spray to be prohibited unless a positive test results,” and the Tour was dropping its anti-doping case against Singh.

In that news conference, Finchem said the Tour received WADA’s notice on deer antler spray four days earlier on April 26, 2013.

But on Feb. 1, 2013, Dr. Olivier Rabin, WADA’s science director, responded to a request for clarification on deer antler spray from the chief executive of Drug Free Sport New Zealand, writing in an email, “WADA takes a very similar approach for deer antler as we do for colostrum or some other dietary supplements ... Deer Antler Spray is not prohibited per se, but WADA recommends athletes be extremely vigilant with this supplement because it may contain IGF-1.”

Four days later, less than a week after the SI.com article was posted, WADA published a “clarification” regarding IGF-1 on its website. It also on its website in 2013 explained that colostrum, which like the Ultimate Spray contains trace amounts of IGF-1, “is not prohibited per se.”

It wasn’t until late April, however, that the Tour contacted WADA for clarification, some three months into the investigation into Singh’s use of the spray and ensuing appeals process.

In fact, according to testimony from Rabin, as far back as 2008 WADA ruled that colostrum contained “minute amounts of IGF-1” but was not considered a prohibited product. In February 2013, it announced a similar view of deer antler spray.

“The PGA Tour is not an experienced [anti-doping organization],” wrote Richard Ings, one of Singh’s scientific experts who was former chief executive of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA). “Seeking clarification from WADA was a necessary step before determining that a [anti-doping rule violation] had occurred, especially when the PGA Tour has indicated that it defers and refers to WADA on anti-doping matters.”

Singh also conceded that he did not see the Tour’s warning regarding deer antler spray and IGF-1 in a memo sent to players in April 2011, adding that it wasn’t until after the investigation began that he learned of the notification from Jason Dufner.

“[Dufner] said it was accidental how he read it,” Singh said in the deposition. “He was sitting in a can having a you-know-what and it was laying on the floor so he picked it up, and he was surprised that it was on it.

“He said if he hadn’t been in the can at that moment in time, he’d have never known that it was [on the banned list].”

Singh also claims the Tour breached its fiduciary duty to him and that he “has been damaged in [an] amount to be proven at trial,” although a recent filing in the case for a dispute resolution hearing sets that sum at $5 million.

In his deposition, Singh suggests the Tour’s investigation and initial ruling over his use of the Ultimate Spray tarnished his reputation and suggests it prompted Cleveland Golf, who had endorsed the 34-time Tour winner for 16 years, to end its relationship with him.

“There was rumors on Tour, with the manufacturers, that ... because of my suspension, my credibility with the golfing world, Cleveland Golf may not extend the contract [beyond 2013],” Singh said.

Singh’s lawsuit also points to other players – most notably Mark Calcavecchia (who admitted to using the Ultimate Spray) – who were not subjected to the same investigation and initial sanctions as Singh.

“Tom Pernice was on, he was a good person to talk to because he was on the Player Advisory Board forever,” Singh said. “He mentioned a few golfers that were disciplined and was disciplined and for what reason.”

That portion of Singh’s testimony is followed by a redacted paragraph.

The next step in the case is for the court to rule on motions for summary judgment filed by both parties. The court’s determinations on those motions are  not expected for several months. Meanwhile, the parties will participate in a voluntary, non-binding dispute resolution hearing with a mediator.

The next step in the lawsuit is a voluntary, non-binding dispute resolution hearing with a mediator. Both sides have filed motions for summary judgment that will be ruled on in the next few months.

If the two sides fail to reach an agreement in dispute resolution the next stop would be a jury and, according to Rosenblum, that likely wouldn’t occur until late 2016 or early 2017.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.