Vijay Singh has been silent on the subject of his ongoing legal battle with the PGA Tour since filing his lawsuit in May of 2013.
Court filings made public last week, however, offer a glimpse into the largely secret process by which the Tour administers its anti-doping program.
In his deposition in December, Singh claimed to have been misled by Mitch Ross, the owner of supplement maker S.W.A.T.S., and caught by surprise when his admission to Sports Illustrated that he used deer antler spray created a media firestorm and quickly drew the ire of the Tour.
“I thought it was totally legal,” Singh said in his deposition. “It was all natural, I was told. And when somebody tells me it’s a totally natural product, I feel that there’s nothing in a natural product that requires me to check with any manual.”
Singh said his personal assistant reassured him that his use of deer antler spray must be allowed because it had been endorsed by another pro golfer.
“My personal assistant looked [the website] up and saw that Mark Calcavecchia's face was there,” Singh said. “He was doing an ad for the product. And she said, ‘If Mark Calcavecchia is using it, it should be totally natural,’ and she had no reason to look any further.” (According to multiple reports, Calcavecchia admitted to using the spray for six weeks before the Tour informed him that it was prohibited.)
The product, though not explicitly prohibited by the Tour, contained IGF-1, a banned growth hormone. The Tour had in fact published a “greensheet” in 2011 warning its players that deer antler spray and other supplements, though marketed as natural, could contain banned substances.
But Singh said he wasn’t made aware of the memo until he spoke with fellow Tour pro Jason Dufner after the investigation into his use had already begun.
“[Dufner] said it was accidental how he read it,” Singh said during the deposition. “He was sitting in a can having a you-know-what and it was laying on the floor so he picked it up, and he was surprised that it was on it. He said if he hadn’t been in the can at that moment in time, he’d have never known that it was [prohibited].”
Two weeks after the article was published, Singh was notified by the Tour that he had violated the rules of its anti-doping program, and after a brief correspondence with Commissioner Tim Finchem in which Singh admitted that he “did not go to Mitch's website and simply took him at his word which was, in retrospect, a big mistake,” Finchem told Singh he would be suspended for 90 days.
Shortly thereafter, the World Anti-Doping Agency determined that deer antler spray contained only trace amounts of IGF-1 and notified the Tour that its use was “not prohibited per se” unless it triggered a positive test, prompting Finchem to announce that the Tour was dropping its anti-doping case against Singh and rolling back its suspension.
According to Singh, however, the damage had already been done. He contends the suspension harmed his reputation and resulted in the termination of his contract with longtime sponsor Cleveland Golf. His case centers around allegations of “disparate treatment,” the argument that he was subject to harsher punishment than other pros, like Calcavecchia, who have used the product.
Both sides have filed motions for summary judgment, but according to Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann, that’s just standard legal procedure prior to a trial, and judges are unlikely to grant such motions because the losing side will appeal under the argument that a jury should hear the case. That said, McCann doesn’t expect a ruling on those motions until 2016, and the possibility of a settlement grows as a trial approaches.
“Neither Singh nor Tour executives likely wants to be part of a high-profile trial where they'd have to answer tough questions while under oath,” said McCann. “At some point they'll probably agree on settlement terms that neither side will love but both will find acceptable and preferable to continuing to litigate.”