Tour Confidential: Has the Tour Bungled the Vijay Case?

November 16, 2015

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. In court documents made public last week, Vijay Singh said he thought his use of deer antler spray was “totally legal.” Does the new deposition transcript change your opinion on how the Tour has handled L’Affaire Singh?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It doesn’t. Singh should have known it was on the banned list, but it shouldn’t have been on the banned list in the first place. The Tour’s drug-testing policy is rooted in cynicism when it should be rooted in keeping the golfers healthy and trying to ensure the playing field is level. Doug Barron got some sort of settlement from the Tour, likely because the Tour did not want to go down the deposition road too far on his suit. What he got I don’t know, but it had to be something. Vijay should have more money than the Queen of England at this point, so I can only guess that his main motivation is to embarrass the Tour. Why he wants to do that I’m not sure. You could make the case that the Tour has allowed him to live the life he leads, but Vijay would likely say his golf skill is what allows him to lead the life he leads. In any event, you have an angry golfer and a worried Tour and this will likely get more interesting if it stays public long enough.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): The revelation that Mark Calcavecchia was given only a warning for the same thing was eye-opening, as was the fact that the punishment required a test that indicated the presence of the drug, and there isn’t one. If I’m betting, my money is on Vijay.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Nothing in the deposition transcript changes my opinion on how the Tour handled this matter — though it was certainly enlightening, and good for a chuckle or two. The Tour thought it was doing the right thing all along, taking the high road by attempting to enforce its rules even against a superstar. Yet, the rationale behind the rule was flawed, and that’s not necessarily the Tour’s fault. Of course, logic would have dictated that they cut Vijay some slack, considering he freely admitted to Sports Illustrated what he did. Vijay comes off as a mostly innocent dupe — but a dupe nonetheless — and the Tour got caught in a darned if we do, darned if we don’t situation in terms of punishment. Tough case, tough call.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Doesn’t change my opinion that as a pro athlete Vijay is responsible for knowing every product he ingests, but this was a fascinating peek at Singh’s frustration with how the Tour handled his case. That Singh lost a presumably lucrative deal with Cleveland explains why he appears bent on pushing this lawsuit as far as he can.

2. Sergio Garcia was one shot back with three holes to play at the BMW Masters in Shanghai, but he closed bogey, double-bogey to drop to T11. Sergio continues to hang around leaderboards but clearly hasn’t lived up to his once seemingly limitless potential. What player in the past 20 years has been most disappointing in terms of talent versus results?

VAN SICKLE: It wouldn’t be Sergio. He’s won a lot of money and quite a few tournaments. He’s been at this since he was 15 and after almost 20 years, it’s understandable if he’s a little burned out. Sandy Lyle won a Players and an Open and was the best player in the world for about a year, and was a true natural. Then he got off track with his swing, started getting into mechanics and never got his game back. I thought he’d win a bunch of majors.

RITTER: Sergio has had a very profitable career, but he probably belongs on that list because of all his close calls, especially in majors. Dustin Johnson is another player who should have more wins at this point. All time, John Daly was so gifted, it’s a shame he was never able to find consistency on or off the course, because he had the talent to ring up a whole bunch of titles.

PASSOV: If the criteria had been 30 years or 40, instead of 20, I would have volunteered Tom Weiskopf, who had that phenomenal swing and an ability to get hot and absolutely dominate, but 16 wins and a major is pretty strong. He also had 90 top-5 finishes in his career and four Masters runner-ups. Currently, I’d nominate Sergio from the men’s side, Michelle Wie from the ladies’ side.

BAMBERGER: Batting in the first position, Fred. Followed by Fred, Fred and, batting cleanup, Fred. The rest of the order goes Fred, Fred, Fred, Fred and, in the ninth spot, Fred. Harsh, yes, but rooted in this: the players will tell you that the three most talents golfers of the past, say, 30 years are Fred, John Daly and Tiger. Fred first. The players know.


3. After a runner-up finish at the BMW Masters, Patrick Reed now has five top-10 finishes in his last seven tournaments but hasn’t come up with a trophy. Should Reed fans be concerned about his recent inability to close?

PASSOV: Reed fans should have zero worries. It’s not as if he’s a longtime consistent closer — he only owns four PGA Tour wins total — but he’s playing great right now, and if he continues to be in the hunt week after week, he’ll close out his share. He did well to make the playoff here, with an unexpected eagle at the 69th hole, even if he power-lipped a four-foot par putt at the 71st to lose his lead. He’ll be fine.

BAMBERGER: Patrick Reed and his fans have no need to worry. He knows he can win, he knows he can close and he’s playing so well. Contend enough and you will always win some, and he’ll win more than his share.

RITTER: Reed’s a gamer who’s rounding back into form after a spotty summer. I like his chances for a nice bounce-back year in ’16.

VAN SICKLE: I’m not sure it’s a coincidence that Reed hit a downturn right about the time Shane Ryan’s book painted a very unflattering portrait of him. I think that story hurt his ego and great golfers have great self-belief. I think he was wounded and maybe now he’s just starting to get it back. I’m not worried about his closing. He hit some clutch shots at Valspar this year in a playoff with Jordan Spieth and Sean O’Hair. He’ll be fine.

4. Under a revised format, players can only reach the PGA Tour via the Tour and its FedEx Cup-like four-event playoff. Q-school is now a tournament that delivers players only to the Tour. Do you like this new-ish format and do you think it’s been a success?

VAN SICKLE: The new format turned the PGA Tour into something of a closed shot. Sure, the rare exceptional talent like Spieth can maybe play his way onto the Tour, but it now forces most collegiate stars into indentured servitude on the Of course, Tour players aren’t going to complain about keeping some young competition at bay for another year. The only thing more convoluted than the FedEx Cup playoffs is the four-event series featuring guys who already have their PGA Tour cards going against guys trying to get theirs. The old Q-school was more dramatic and made more sense.

PASSOV: Now in its second year, the revised format leaves me a little torn. Undeniably, the Tour is by far the better breeding ground for success on Tour, but I’m a little nostalgic for the drama and “out-of-nowhere” stories tied to the Q-School. Sort of like using grades vs. SATs for college admissions — though I can’t figure out which is which.

RITTER: It might be too early to deem it a success or failure, but I preferred the old format, where a guy could rise from obscurity to the big leagues just by navigating the qualifiers. Cinderella stories are great for pro golf (and golf writers), and the old system held better odds for producing them.

BAMBERGER: The newish formula was made necessary by the FedEx Cup non-playoffs. No, I liked the old system better. I liked a season within a calendar year, the dogfight of Tour school and the fresh start of January. Some newish things I do like are smoke-free bars, tuna burgers and 6-hybirds, but not into the wind.


5. Lydia Ko decided to skip the Lorena Ochoa event in Mexico due to fatigue after a busy trip in Asia, citing the need to rest up for next week’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. Given the fact that Ochoa is acknowledged as one of the most admired players in LPGA history, is this a sign of disrespect for Ko to bail on this?

BAMBERGER: Lorena was a wonderful golfer and is a lovely person but her impact on Lydia Ko was likely close to non-existent. Lydia can play where she wants to play, as they all can, the women, the men and — this day is coming — the gender-neutral, too.

VAN SICKLE: Everybody weathers global travel differently. If Lydia Ko couldn’t get ready to play after flying halfway around the globe, that’s her call. Lorena Ochoa knows that as well as anyone and I’m sure she understood.

RITTER: Nah, Ko played four straight weeks in Asia. No need to view the move as anything other than burnout.

PASSOV: I’m not going to be the one to criticize Lydia Ko for anything, given what a class act and incredible success she is. Gosh, though, she is young and healthy and I wish she could have figured out a way to say yes to the ultimate class act I’ve witnessed in the women’s game. It’s like Rory skipping Arnold’s tournament for a bunch of years. Hey, they’re all independent contractors, but they wouldn’t enjoy the living they do if it weren’t for the heroes of the game. It would be nice to see them honor these giants at the very least by entering their tournaments.

6. Graeme McDowell announced that his second restaurant will open in the spring. Earlier this year Tiger Woods got in the restaurant business as well. What Tour player would you like to see open his/her own restaurant and why?

RITTER: I’d pick a pro who knows food, preferably the kind of cuisine that I also enjoy. Jerry Kelly is involved with a great oyster joint in New Orleans and is a self-described foodie. If he opened his own Cajun seafood restaurant, I think it would be a hit.

PASSOV: I would have lined up in the queue to partake in Craig Stadler’s All-You-Can-Eat Seafood Buffet … but that’s just me.

BAMBERGER: Miguel Angel Jimenez. The Mechanic understands the importance of good wine and long meals. Tiger always strikes me as a guy who eats standing up with one eye on his watch and the other on his phone. Graeme I think of as more of a beer guy, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’ll take my chances on the Spaniard. The best food I know is in Barcelona.

VAN SICKLE: Jesper Parnevik. It would be a restaurant of constant surprises and good humor. And probably free ice cream … in 39 flavors, like his old outfits.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.