PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Missing from this year’s Players Championship proceedings is as iconic a figure as anything at TPC Sawgrass.
As ubiquitous as photos of the island-green 17th hole, the palatial clubhouse and even Pete Dye, whose twisted mind gave creation to the Stadium Course, this year’s Players seems strangely incomplete without the stoic figure of Vijay Singh pounding range balls into the bright, blue sky.
When he isn’t out making millions of dollars at far-flung Tour events, Singh is a fixture at TPC Sawgrass, almost always digging holes on the far side of the practice tee, the players' side, in search of answers.
But for the first time in more than two decades the Fijian, who lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., is conspicuously absent from the venue he is most associated with.
Instead, Singh will spend this week awaiting answers that don’t seem to be forthcoming.
It was a year ago Wednesday that Singh stunned the golf world when he announced on the eve of the 2013 Players that he had sued the Tour for, among other things, the “reckless implementation of its anti-doping program.”
Singh, you may recall, ran afoul of the circuit’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs when he told a Sports Illustrated reporter that he’d used the Ultimate Spray, which contained IGF-1, a growth hormone like HGH that is on the Tour’s prohibited list.
Singh was suspended and during the appeals process the World Anti-Doping Agency, which is what the circuit’s PED policy is modeled after, pulled a U-turn, claiming that the use of the spray was not a violation, and the Tour dropped the case against Singh.
But Singh wasn’t interested in absolution.
He wanted more. He wanted a full accounting for being “labeled by the PGA Tour, media, some fellow golfers and fans as someone who intentionally took a banned substance in an effort to gain a competitive advantage.”
At the time, many of Singh’s Tour frat brothers considered the suit, and particularly the timing, bad form. Many believed Singh had been given the ultimate mulligan via WADA’s adjusted stance on deer-antler spray and should be content with the outcome.
Twelve months, 75 motions and countless hearings later, we now know why Singh wanted his day in court.
Last Friday, for example, we learned via a discovery filing that in a letter dated April 28, 2013, the Tour was trying to interpret WADA’s change of heart in a letter sent to Dr. Olivier Rabin, WADA’s director of science.
“Am I correct (that) WADA’s position today is that the ‘use’ of deer-antler spray is not a doping violation?” wrote Andy Levinson, the Tour’s executive director of policy administration.
Two days later the Tour announced that Singh had been absolved of any wrongdoing.
A year removed from that hectic day, Singh likely isn’t sitting around awaiting his legal resolution or his Players fortunes.
He’s currently the third alternate into the field this week and hasn’t missed a Players since 1992, but with each passing day his chances of landing a coveted tee time are dwindling.
Similarly, an order filed by New York Supreme Court judge Eileen Bransten in March made it clear his case is on the slow track.
According to an adjusted conference order, all of the depositions will be completed by Dec. 19 and the deadline for the discovery phase of the lawsuit is June 30, 2015.
The “note of issue,” which is used to have the court’s clerk enter a case into the calendar for trial, is due by Aug. 31, 2015. Which means the lawsuit will not likely go to trial until the end of next year or the beginning of 2016.
It is a long, drawn-out process that at least partially explains Singh’s pedestrian play.
Since last year’s Players, Singh has just a single top-10 finish on the PGA Tour (he was runner-up at the Frys.com Open) and the episode has clearly taken a toll on the multiple major winner.
“It has been going on for a whole year and it kind of messed up my whole season,” Singh said in December at the Australian Masters. “The best thing I told myself to do is just focus on what I know best which is playing golf and let the legal side take care of its own.”
The “legal side” will be sorted out eventually, languidly. As for the competitive component, there was a glaring answer in the spot on TPC Sawgrass’ practice range where Singh normally resides.
At 51, it seems Singh’s pursuit of legal answers is just beginning, while his dogged quest for competitive clarity may be coming to an end.