The PGA Tour asked a New York state court to throw out a lawsuit by golfer Vijay Singh claiming 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, filed a complaint May 8 in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan accusing the PGA Tour of “reckless administration and implementation” of its anti-doping program. Singh said in the filing that he used the spray, which contains a substance related to growth hormone, for knee and back problems and checked its ingredients against the tour’s list of banned substances to make sure it didn’t contain any of them.
The tour imposed an undisclosed penalty against Singh on Feb. 19, about a month after he said in a Sports Illustrated article he had used the spray. It cleared him in April after the World Anti-Doping Agency said it was no longer outlawed.
The tour in a court filing yesterday asked a judge to dismiss the golfer’s case, saying it “conducted itself reasonably and responsibly in its treatment of Singh.” The tour said it’s uncontested that Singh used the spray, that it contained a banned substance, that the tour had the authority to impose sanctions for the substance and that the golfer had the chance to challenge his suspension.
“On the basis of these undisputed facts, the tour’s decisions under its own anti-doping program to impose discipline on Singh and ultimately to rescind that discipline, can hardly be described as illegal or having been taken in bad faith and accordingly, as a matter of law, should not be second-guessed by the court,” attorneys for the PGA Tour said in the filing.
Singh said he was suspended from the tour in February for 90 days. He was allowed to play pending an appeal of the suspension, although the tour held in escrow about $100,000 of his prize money.
There’s no test to determine excessive levels of IGF-1, a substance found in deer antler spray that is naturally produced by the human body and is related to growth hormone. On April 26, the tour was told by the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, that it no longer considered the spray a prohibited substance without a positive test, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said April 30.
While the tour’s five-year-old doping policy doesn’t include blood testing, Finchem said the tour would probably adopt it if there’s no other way to test for 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 the athlete hasn’t tested positive for it.
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,” which was 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, which is 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.
Singh said the tour hasn’t tried to discipline other golfers who have used the spray.
Singh, a native of Fiji, claimed 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.
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 with $67.5 million in earnings and holds the title for the most wins after the age of 40.
He isn’t in the field at the U.S. Open, the second of golf’s four annual major tournaments, this weekend at Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia.
The case is Singh v. PGA Tour Inc., 651659/2013, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).
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