Vijay Singh cheated, claims ignorance, and will likely get off easy for taking ‘Ultimate Sports Spray’
VANCOUVER — Look, it was an honest mistake.
“Who knew there was growth hormone in deer antlers?” said Vijay Singh. “I thought it would just make me, you know, horny ...”
He didn’t really say that. All horn and “nice rack, Vijay” jokes aside, what the 49-year-old Fijian star actually said in a statement, after learning — to his evident horror and surprise — what was contained in the deer antler spray he’d been spritzing into his mouth every couple of hours was:
"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. 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."
Every doping code in existence begins with the fundamental principle that the athlete is responsible for what he puts in his or her body.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t cases where one gets tripped up by false or incomplete product labelling, or takes some over-the-counter cold remedy that turns out to have an amphetamine — Canadian rower Silken Laumann’s Benadryl decongestant experience springs to mind, while the Sudafed epidemic in hockey dressing rooms was anything but innocent — but not many get sympathy any more for failing to know, or pretending not to know, what’s on the banned list.
Should Vijay Singh have known that the Ultimate Sports Spray featuring Liposomal Deer Antler Technology he’d purchased from a company called SWATS (Sports With Alternatives To Steroids) was sketchy?
Well, put it this way: on the company’s website, the spray’s list of contents includes “Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1) — a precursor for the production of growth hormone (HGH)” and “Erythropoietin — a hormone product by the kidney for red blood cell production.”
So, not only growth hormone, but EPO, the scourge of Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France. Both are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Now, pro golfers tend to be pretty much nose-deep in their own navels and more interested in spin rate and trajectory and spine angle than what’s going on in the world, but even Vijay Singh — known workaholic and driving range addict — would have been hard-pressed not to hear, or read, about Mark Calcavecchia.
The 2005 RBC Canadian Open champion had been using SWATS products — even endorsing them on its website — until 2011 when he was told by the Champions Tour that the spray contained growth hormone and was therefore a banned substance. Same thing happened with Ken Green. It was widely reported at the time.
"They told me to stop taking it, and that was that," Calcavecchia told Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte. "As soon as I found out it wasn't good and didn't conform to the rules, I quit taking it.”
What all of these players have in common is the onset of middle age, and a desire to stay competitive — by artificial means, if necessary. In professional golf, there is no substitute for beating balls on the range, building a repeating swing, and after hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of swings, the body will break down.
An “all natural product extracted from the velvet of the immature antlers of male deer” sounds so cuddly. And the deer were treated humanely. Don’t forget that.
But a product that advertises “anabolic or growth stimulation” and “has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years” — that ought to have set the alarm bells ringing.
The fact that professional athletes (no names, please) have been using the spray “for years,” as the website claims, is hardly surprising.
Is anything surprising any more, knowing what we now know about Lance Armstrong and his generation of fellow fraudsters on wheels ... and the latest revelations about Alex Rodriguez and a handful of other current baseball stars now linked to a Florida-based “wellness clinic” that allegedly supplied growth hormone and testosterone ... and the gross gigantism of so many of the National Football League’s muscle-bound stars ... and the tainted sluggers and pitchers of baseball’s Steroid Era ... and all those sprinters who raced against Ben Johnson but didn’t get caught ... and the old East German and newer Chinese sporting regimes ... and the payoffs and buried drug-test results ... and on and on?
It’s only because it has happened in golf — the game in which players call penalties on themselves, the game that abhors cheating above all other sins — that Singh’s case is so newsworthy.
He didn’t falsify a scorecard or take an illegal drop or fudge the position of his ball on the green, but he did cheat, and now he’s trying to get out in front of the story and claim ignorance.
You have to admit, the odds are in his favour.
As for his punishment, just remember: the PGA Tour doesn’t take violations of its rules lightly. Why, only 18 years ago it penalized a golfer — Glen (All) Day — one stroke for slow play.
As you know, that really got everyone moving, and slow play, other than in every single tournament, has never been a factor since.
So Vijay will probably get dinged two strokes in his next start. Unless it’s the Accenture Match Play, in which case it’ll be loss of a hole.
And to prevent backsliding, he will be banned for life from the John Deer Classic.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun