The PGA Tour asked a New York state judge to throw out a lawsuit by golfer Vijay Singh, who claims he was publicly humiliated by a suspension for using deer-antler spray before he was cleared of wrongdoing two months later.
Singh, 50, the world’s top-ranked player in 2004 and 2005, sued the tour in May over the “reckless administration and implementation” of its anti-doping program. Lawyers for the PGA today asked Justice Eileen Bransten to dismiss the complaint, saying Singh agreed when he signed a membership pact with the tour that the only remedy for any discipline imposed under its anti-doping program was arbitration.
“No one pressured Mr. Singh to play on the PGA Tour,” Jeffrey A. Mishkin, an attorney representing the tour, told Bransten in a hearing in Manhattan. “He wanted to play, and like every other player he accepted the eligibility requirements.”
Singh said in the suit that he used the spray, which contains traces of IGF-1, a substance related to human growth hormone, for knee and back problems after checking its ingredients against the tour’s list of banned substances to make sure it didn’t contain any of them.
Singh was suspended from the tour in February for 90 days. He was allowed to play pending an appeal. The tour dropped the suspension after the World Anti-Doping Agency said it no longer considered use of the spray a prohibited activity without a corresponding positive test for IGF-1 and gave Singh back about $100,000 of his prize money that had been held in escrow.
There’s no test to determine excessive levels of IGF-1, which is naturally produced by the human body.
While the tour’s five-year-old doping policy doesn’t include blood testing, Commissioner Tim Finchem said in April that the tour would probably adopt it if there’s no other way to test for a particular substance, such as IGF-1. The policy calls for sanctions if a player admits using a substance on WADA’s banned list even if the athlete hasn’t tested positive for it.
“An admitted use is a violation,” Mishkin told the judge today. “You don’t need to have a drug test.”
Singh, a native of Fiji, claims the tour’s actions led him to be “humiliated, ashamed, ridiculed, scorned and emotionally distraught” and led to harassment that compromised his professional career. He is seeking damages, including punitive damages, to be determined at trial.
“Mr. Singh was disciplined without the PGA doing a modicum of investigation, a single scientific test and without communicating accurately or factually what the situation was with regard to Mr. Singh,” Peter Ginsberg, an attorney representing the golfer, told the judge during today’s hearing.
Sports Illustrated reported in January that Singh and former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who retired from the National Football League this year after his team won the Super Bowl, used the spray. Lewis denied using it.
Singh said his caddie, Tony Shepherd, recommended that the golfer use a product called “The Ultimate Spray,” made by the company Sports With Alternatives to Steroids, or SWATS, according to the lawsuit.
Shepherd told Singh the spray was an “all-natural” product that he had used and that he knew other professional golfers were using, according to the suit. Singh said he used the product for about a month during the off season, spraying it into his mouth.
IGF-1 is an abbreviation for “Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1,” a hormone naturally produced by the human body that is needed for childhood growth, according to the suit. Children suffering from growth failure may be prescribed a drug called Increlex, a form of IGF-1 that is biologically active and must be given through injection to be absorbed into the body, according to the suit.
After the Sports Illustrated article was published, Singh gave the tour a bottle of the spray and a urine sample that was negative for any banned substance, according to the suit. The tour submitted the bottle to the Olympic Analytical Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, which found that the material tested negative for “anabolic androgenic steroids” while identifying one of the materials as IGF-1, he said in the complaint.
The UCLA lab determined that the spray contains 60 nanograms of IGF-1, not enough “to be anything more than a placebo,” according to the suit.
“The substance that was in the spray is an inactive substance,” Ginsberg said. “The substance that is banned by the PGA is an active substance. At best, the spray was a placebo.”
Singh said in his suit that the tour hasn’t tried to discipline other golfers who have used the spray. Singh has never tested positive for any banned substance and is being treated differently than other players, Ginsberg said.
“The PGA has made exception after exception after exception,” Ginsberg said. “For some reason, the PGA singled out Mr. Singh and treated him differently than it has historically and traditionally treated other members.”
Singh has won 58 tournaments, including 34 PGA Tour events, and also won two other major tournaments, the 1998 and 2004 PGA Championships, according to his suit. He is third on the PGA Tour’s career money list after Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson with $68.2 million in earnings and holds the title for the most wins after the age of 40.
Bransten didn’t rule on the dismissal during today’s hearing.
The case is Singh v. PGA Tour Inc., 651659/2013, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).