Vijay Singh withdrew from the Wells Fargo Championship, one day after the U.S. PGA Tour cleared the golfer of wrongdoing for using deer-antler spray because the World Anti-Doping Agency said it was no longer outlawed.
Singh, who was at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, yesterday for a practice round, withdrew this morning with a back injury, according to the tour. The tournament starts tomorrow.
The tour had imposed an undisclosed penalty against Singh on Feb. 19, about a month after the golfer said in a Sports Illustrated article that he had used the spray.
On April 26, the world’s top golf circuit was told by WADA that it no longer considered deer-antler spray to be a prohibited substance without a positive test, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said yesterday at a news conference in Charlotte.
“Based on this new information, and given WADA’s lead role in interpreting the prohibited list, the tour deemed it only fair to no longer treat Mr. Singh’s use of deer-antler spray as a violation of the tour’s anti-doping program,” according to a statement from the golf circuit.
While Singh was cleared, the case led to scrutiny of the sport, which Finchem and players have long touted as being among the cleanest.
“It seemed like it was handled very haphazard,” Joe Ogilvie, a member of the tour’s Player Advisory Council, said in an interview on the Quail Hollow practice range. “We need to be buttoned-up a little better. When that’s your brand, it’s incumbent upon you as a player and us as a tour to make sure that brand is not sullied in any way. Players have to realize that anything you put in your body really needs to be vetted with extreme caution.”
There is no test now to determine excessive levels of IGF-1, a substance found in deer-antler spray, which is applied under the tongue. IGF-1 is naturally produced by the human body and is related to growth hormone.
“There is no test currently available in a normal blood test and the difficulty with IGF, in addition to doing a test, is identifying a reasonable level from which if you exceed, you’re considered doping,” Finchem said at the news conference. “We all have IGF in our systems all the time.”
While the tour’s five-year-old doping policy doesn’t include blood testing, Finchem said the tour would likely adopt blood tests if they were determined to be the only way to find a particular substance, such as IGF-1. The tour’s doping policy calls for sanctions if a player admits using a substance on WADA’s banned list, even if there’s no positive test.
Singh, the 2000 Masters Tournament winner and a World Golf Hall of Fame member, has continued to play on the U.S. Tour this year while awaiting the ruling. The 50-year-old from Fiji is 135th on the tour money list this year with $202,127, having played eight events.
Sports Illustrated reported in January that Singh and former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis used the spray. Lewis denied such use, while Singh said he was unaware that the spray contained banned substances.
“When I first received the product, I reviewed the list of ingredients and did not see any prohibited substances,” Singh said in a statement released after the article.
Lack of blood testing drew criticism this week from Greg Norman, a two-time British Open champion from Australia.
“If you really want to be serious about it and find about what’s really going on, we need to do blood testing,” Norman told the Australian newspaper. “I think it’s disgraceful, to tell you the truth.”
Doug Barron, who played mostly on lower-tier professional circuits, is the only golfer to be suspended, receiving a one-year ban in 2009 after testing positive for testosterone, a muscle builder.
Barron, 41, didn’t have a therapeutic use exemption when he was randomly selected for testing at a New Orleans tournament.