Vijay Singh suing PGA over deer antler spray flap
Use of substance is no longer prohibited
Vijay Singh sued the PGA Tour on Wednesday, a week after his doping case was dropped, claiming it damaged his reputation by not doing a thorough job of researching his use of deer antler spray.
"I am proud of my achievement, my work ethic and the way I live my life," Singh said in a statement. "The PGA Tour not only treated me unfairly, but displayed a lack of professionalism that should concern every professional golfer and fan of the game."
Singh filed the lawsuit in New York, where he has a home and the tour has an office.
The 50-year-old Fijian said in a Sports Illustrated article in January that used deer antler spray, which was said to include an insulin-like growth hormone that was on the tour's list of banned substances. The tour sent a sample from Singh to be tested, and it returned small amounts of the IGF-1 chemical.
The lawsuit said the tour notified Singh on Feb. 19 that he was to be suspended for 90 days. Singh appealed. Last week, commissioner Tim Finchem said the tour was dropping its case based on new information from the World Anti-Doping Agency. He said WADA informed the tour that using deer antler spray was no longer prohibited because it contains such minimal amounts of IGF-1.
The lawsuit said the tour relied on WADA's list of banned substances and methods without doing any of its own research, including whether such substances even provide any performance-enhancing benefits.
"We have not seen the lawsuit, just the statement," PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw said. "We have no comment."
The lawsuit also said the tour held Singh's earnings in escrow during his appeal. Singh earned $99,980 US from five tournaments. The suit seeks unspecified damages.
"He's looking to reclaim his reputation and hold the tour accounting for acting irresponsible," said Jeffrey Rosenblum, one of Singh's lawyers. "He's concerned about his reputation. There should never be an asterisk next to Vijay's name."
Rosenblum also represented Doug Barron, the only player suspended under the tour's anti-doping policy. Barron sued the tour, and the case was settled. Rosenblum could not comment on the settlement, which was confidential.
Peter Ginsberg, a sports law specialist and lead attorney in the lawsuit, said the tour never bothered to analyze the trace amounts of IGF-1 in the bottle.
"What the PGA Tour accused Vijay of spraying was not a banned substance," Ginsberg said. "It was an inactive substance and could not possibly have any effect, good or bad, on Vijay. And that's something the PGA Tour easily could have determined."
Singh has made over $67 million on the PGA Tour, which he joined in 1993. He once was banned by the Asian Tour in 1985 for allegations that he changed his score to make the cut. Singh recovered from that incident to earn his card on the European Tour, and then bring his game to America, where he reached No. 1 in the world.
Singh has won the Masters and the PGA Championship among his 34 tour victories. He holds the PGA Tour record with 22 wins since turning 40. His best year was in 2004, when he won nine times. Singh has not won since the Deutsche Bank Championship in September 2008, two months after the tour's anti-doping program was launched.
The lawsuit was filed the week of The Players Championship, the PGA Tour's flagship event at its headquarters next to the TPC Sawgrass.
Singh is in the field. He has not spoken to reporters all year.
"There's no excuse for the PGA Tour to expect us to do basic research that would show there was no basis to discipline Vijay," Ginsberg said. "It was irresponsible and that behavior has to stop."
The lawsuit included a Feb. 14 report from the UCLA lab to which the tour sent the sample of deer antler spray. It claims that while the lab identified IGF-1 in the bottle of spray, it did not test to see if it was an inactive substance or whether it was in a way that could have helped Singh.
It said the UCLA report determined there was 60 nanograms of IGF-1 per milliliter, which was .00006 the strength of IGF-1 on the banned list.
"The Spray does not contain enough IGF-1 to be anything more than a placebo, as the UCLA Laboratory confirmed and the PGA Tour was well aware," the lawsuit said. It said it was comparable to taking a shot of bourbon, pouring it into an Olympic-size swimming pool, and then drinking a shot of the pool water.
Ginsberg declined to comment when asked if Singh's attorney contacted WADA before the tour dropped its case.
"If this suit is successful, what it's going to do is make the PGA Tour more responsible in the future," he said.
The lawsuit also revealed that it was Singh's current caddie, Tony Shepherd, who recommended "The Ultimate Spray" to help the Fijian's knee and back problems. Shepherd told Singh he used the spray and arranged for Singh to meet with Mitch Ross, owner of "Sports with Alternatives to Steroids," who told Singh the products were all natural and did not contain banned substances.
The lawsuit said Singh took the spray orally for about a month during the offseason. It said Ross asked Singh to talk to a Sports Illustrated reporter doing a story on the company, and Singh agreed.
Finchem said in February that the tour adopted an anti-doping policy primarily because of the perception that all sports were infected with performance enhancing drugs, and he didn't want golf to be looked upon that way. "I would say that it was largely playing defense," he said.
It also enabled golf to become part of the Olympics for the first time in more than a century.
Finchem said when the Singh case was dropped that the tour could not move ahead "with a prosecution on a player given this set of facts."
"Vijay wasn't assessed this action because he was negligent. He wasn't assessed it because he made a mistake. He was assessed it because he violated the doping code, and the doping code is predicated on a list of substances," Finchem said last week in Charlotte, N.C. "And we're now finding from WADA that that substance doesn't trigger a positive test to admission, so we have to respect that."