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Punch Shot: What we learned from Singh's case

Tim Finchem and Vijay Singh
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The PGA Tour announced Tuesday that it would not suspend Vijay Singh, relating to his admission of using deer-antler spray. With the case officially closed, writers weigh in with what they learned.


That testing for performance-enhancing drugs is not as forthright as originally thought.

Maybe the World Anti-Doping Agency got it right and Vijay Singh should not have been sanctioned for using a deer-antler spray that contained IGF-1, a growth factor like human growth hormone, which is banned by the WADA, and PGA Tour, anti-doping policies.

But the question remains, if IGF-1 cannot deliver a performance benefit then why was it listed as a prohibited substance since the circuit began testing in 2008?

In August 2011, the Tour issued a “green sheet” warning players to steer clear of deer-antler spray with the unambiguous statement, “it is universally banned in all sports.” In the ensuing months hard science, and maybe even a little hand-wringing, came to the conclusion that IGF-1 isn’t as evil as advertised, at least not when it is sprayed under the tongue in such low quantities.

As a rule, the anti-doping world doesn’t do vague, just ask Doug Barron, still the only player to be suspended under the Tour’s anti-doping laws for testing positive for testosterone and beta blockers.

At the time, Barron’s doctors said his testosterone levels were low and he deserved a Therapeutic Use Exemption to supplement those levels. The Tour’s doctors disagreed and, as a result, the journeyman lost a year of his competitive life.

At the time that ruling seemed so clear cut, so clinical. But as we’ve learned from the Singh saga the world of anti-doping is not the exact science we were led to believe.


Cheating chemically is apparently a lot easier than I imagined.

And if I were of such dark character and inclination, I would feel a lot less fear that I’d be caught trying to chemically enhance my chances of winning a load of cash. I learned a lot more Tuesday about what the PGA Tour can’t do and can’t test and can’t catch.

I also learned that golf is nowhere near ready to defend itself against the greatest potential threat to its most precious asset. Golf is nowhere near ready for the threat performance-enhancing drugs possess to completely wipe out the honorable traditions upon which the game prides itself. Nothing would destroy the notion golf is nobler and different from other sports more quickly than a Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, Ben Johnson or Barry Bonds controversy. The threat becomes more relevant with golf’s Olympic push into new frontiers, where the pursuit of gold medals can change everything.


I learned a lesson that has been taught many times over the years, not just in golf: Those making the rules will always remain a step behind those looking to gain an edge.

Whether it’s track and field in the 1980s, baseball in the 1990s or golf today, when it comes to cracking down on performance-enhancing drugs, the various governing bodies are perpetually at a disadvantage, with new testing and procedures typically a defensive reaction to the efforts of an offending participant. Players hoping for a step up on their competition will always be equipped with knowledge of the latest tests and policies, a blueprint to finding the most efficient loopholes and most vulnerable areas of enforcement.

As long as there are ways to gain an edge, certain players will continue to seek them out, whether those methods are legal, illegal or somewhere in between. Enforcement can evolve and improve, and it will, even as lines become blurred among products that directly enhance performance and those that simply reduce recovery time. At the end of the day, those administering the tests and enforcing the rules will still be playing catch up, forever trying to chase the offenders who, for the most part, remain ahead of the proverbial game.


When it comes to sanctions against its players, the PGA Tour isn’t afraid of any slow play penalties.

That’s not just a commentary on the final decision to let Vijay Singh slide based on the latest findings from WADA. It’s an overview of how the entire situation played out.

Singh made the admission to using deer antler spray, which apparently contained the banned substance IGF-1, on Jan. 28. He was sanctioned on Feb. 19 and appealed seven days later. The PGA Tour finally announced its final ruling on April 30 – the entire time remaining mum on the issue.

Hey, I’m all for accuracy over expediency. In matters such as this, it’s more important to get it right than make a quick ruling. That said, when I spoke with PGA Tour executives at various times over the past three months, I was told on each occasion that there was no timeline to close this case.

Maybe there should be, though. This left a lingering issue hanging over the PGA Tour for three months, leaving its members – not to mention the rest of us – wondering when a decision would finally be reached. Here’s hoping that if those execs learned anything, it’s that speeding up isn’t just a concept for inside the ropes.