Performance Enhancing Drugs and the PGA Tour

Vijay Singh’s recent revelations about using PED’s puts the PGA Tour in a interesting position, I give my take on what they should do.

Thrash TalkA few weeks ago, Lance Armstrong did an interview with Oprah and essentially admitted that after lying to us for over ten years, he had in fact taken performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). To many this was not a surprise.

Recently Vijay Singh and Bob Charles announced that they too have taken PEDs. This was much more of a surprise because many, myself included, believe that PEDs aren’t likely to make you a much better golfer.

Golf has not had any problem with PEDs in the same way that baseball and cycling have been plagued by them. Being stronger in golf can help out of the rough at times but can actually hinder your abilities if taken too far. I have heard rumblings that people believe Tiger was a user of PEDs, but those claims are unsubstantiated so they are not worth discussing. There have been some arguments regarding beta blockers but even the advantage of these have been disputed. This makes Vijay’s decision to take these PEDs a very intriguing one. Did it help him stay out on the range longer? Work out longer hours? These questions are likely to remain unanswered.

One could make a strong argument that Vijay has had a longer career than most golfers, but even that argument is a stretch. Could his career been lengthened by taking this deer antler spray? Possibly, but the effects of this PED are largely unknown, so whether it actually helped him will remain up for debate. It is well documented that Vijay was very devoted to using the PGA Tour fitness trailer as well as his marathon range sessions. By using these PEDs it might not be that hard to believe that it helped him. He could practice longer and work out more maybe in some small portion due to this spray, this would mean he gained an advantage from its use.

The interesting piece of this story lies in how the PGA Tour plans to punish Singh for his use of the PED. O’Meara came out quickly after the story hit and said that Vijay should be suspended for “a few months” for the indiscretion. This is a seminal moment for the PGA Tour and PEDs. If the suspension is too soft, for example if they don’t penalize him at all, they set a precedent that the PGA Tour doesn’t care if the players use PEDs (or at least certain kinds of PEDs). In my opinion this is a very bad precedent because young kids maybe trying to get onto their high school golf team may feel that using PEDs will give them an advantage and make the choice to use them. I believe the PGA Tour needs to deliver a message that the use of PEDs are in no way acceptable. In baseball I feel the penalty is not severe enough. My proof is there are still players who will take the risk and use them.

Currently baseball players get a multiple game suspension. The players lose a little salary but the team is largely unaffected. The Giants Melky Cabrera was caught during this 2012 season suspended 50 games and the Giants still won the World Series. Imagine for a second that the penalty was that the Giants has to vacate 50 wins in the current season? I can promise you nobody on any team will use PEDs if this is the penalty. Why? Because the penalty is so severe they will not want to have the other players in the locker room despise them for costing them a chance at making the playoffs.

Vijay Singh

The PGA Tour needs to make the penalty severe. Currently PEDs are not a problem, but as the game moves to a more and more athletic place as it has done for the past ten years, the temptation to stay on the range longer, hit the gym harder and possibly get an advantage from PEDs will only increase. If the penalty is a slap on the wrist the PGA Tour will send the wrong message. For Vijay my penalty is a suspension for the rest of the season and no playing privileges for 2014. Meaning to play on the tour he will need sponsors exemptions or go to Q School and the Tour. Because he is past champion of the Masters I will let them decide if he gets a spot to play there.

Too severe you say, in my opinion the players clearly worry deeply about keeping their status on the PGA Tour. They all voted to make it so hard to lose your spot and to make it on the Tour, with the changes that will happen at the end of this year the players clearly value this. By taking it away I will eliminate the problem. Some will argue it is not a problem at all, perfect, then you should not care that my penalty is so severe because in your mind we will never need to use it.

This story still has a number of unanswered questions and because Vijay doesn’t share much we are likely not to get many of the answers. One thing I would be willing to bet on, Vijay will likely not be making an appearance on Oprah.

Photo credits: © Reuters.

13 thoughts on “Performance Enhancing Drugs and the PGA Tour”

  1. I would agree with a 1 year suspension, 2 years is too much. If a player is caught cheating/using PED’s he is likely to lose more in endorsement deals than tournament winnings; thus 1 year would be adequate.

  2. If Vijay used IGF-1 he should be punished. The PGA had it on a list of “banned substances” and they clearly defined the boundries.

    The punishment should fit the crime, and I agree with your idea of the appropriate consequence. Take away what is most valuable to them, and you will have no more issues with PED’s.

  3. Check out the latest issue of Golf World for a some clarifications on l’Affaire Deer Antler.

    Singh admitted on his own that the deer antler extract he was using reportedly contained Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF-1).

    Mark Calcavecchia was told by the tour two years ago to quit using the spray, which he was endorsing at the time. The tour put out a notice for players to quit using it.

    GolfWorld cited the rules in question:

    …There is no distinction in the tour’s doping guidelines about intent.
    “You are strictly liable whenever a prohibited substance is in your body,” the policy states. “This means if a test indicates the presence of a prohibited substance in your test sample, you have committed a doping-violation regardless of how the prohibited substance entered your body.”

    From Bill Fields, A verdict on deer-antler spray? GolfWorld, 18Feb2013, p. 13.

    Two critical factors in the Singh case:
    * Singh admitted his discovery on his own, not as the result of a test.
    * It’s unclear if IGF-1 can actually be absorbed through a spray.

    During the Deane Beman era, the PGA commissioner served as a czar of sorts who meted out fines and sanctions in private.

    The tour has a range of potential punishments it could levy. One issue may be “due process.” PGA tour players don’t have a union like NFL players have, so we don’t know if Singh would file a lawsuit if he felt the punishment, if given, is too harsh.

    As to our author Michael, I feel you are a little “out of the loop” on Golf in the USA since 1900 when you made this statement.
    Golf has not had any problem with PEDs in the same way that baseball and cycling have been plagued by them.

    Back in the 1960s, drug use in the rest of society quitely crept into professional golf. Our family’s doctor was a big golfer, and warmed me as a high schooler to stay away from sedatives as a way to improve my golf game. He told me about going to a pro tournament where he saw several of the pros popping curious pharmaceuticals shortly before tee-off; some reinforced the dosage at the turn.

    The recent beta-blocker scandal is just another chapter in the long story of drugs and golf.

    Also, there was the eternal issue of drinking among pros and amateurs to “calm the nerves.”

    If the PGA hits Singh really hard, is there anything to prevent him from hanging out on the European or Asian tours? I honestly don’t know the answer to this.

  4. Michael, just wondering why you say Tiger Woods and PED’s shouldn’t be discussed because nothing has been substantiated. Lance Armstrong’s use has been discussed long before being substantiated. Barry Bonds use has been discussed for years without being substantiated. Tiger was being treated by Dr. Galea who pleaded guilty in court to providing athletes with PED’s. In his 30’s, when it get’s hard to increase muscle mass, Tiger’s body went through the same transformation as Barry bonds, Sammy Sosa and a host of others. There is plenty to discuss about Tiger and PED’s but the media refuses to do so. That would be a much bigger scandal for golf than Vijay using deer antler spray and it should be thoroughly discussed and investigated.

  5. Two points

    1. Unless there is proof that whatever was in the deer antler spray is bad for his health, it seems ridiculous to punish VJ. Even milk is a performance enhancing drug.
    2. VJ has 34 career PGA Tour wins so he has a perpetual tour card and would not have to go back to Q School or otherwise qualify to play. Twenty career wins is the magic number.

  6. Bob Charles never used the deer antler spray, he was a strong endorser or the deer vevet tablets which contain the same amount of IGF as a large glass of milk. To taint him in PED is wrong. As for Vijay good luck solving that problem, I think it would be fairer to let his natural decline be punishment enough.

  7. Rudy, Tiger’s body did not go through “the same transformation.” You must not have ever seen him in person in those time frames. He’s much smaller than he appears on TV. He’d look like a wimp standing next to Nick Faldo (the modern day Nick).

  8. PED’s in golf? Come on! To me that’s like taking PED’s for yoga! Golf is a game of accuracy and finesse. I think PED’s would just make you too strong for the sport. I’m not saying Vijay should get off the hook for his actions, I’m just saying do you really think it would help a golfer? During the season these guys are walking miles and swinging sticks 5 or 6 days a week and most of them work out anyway. I just think there’s some sports PED’s are useless.

  9. According to USA today, the PGA began PED testing in July of 2008. A number of golfers, including Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have stated that they have not been tested away from a tournament site. I cannot find a banned substance list, so I am guessing that they are testing for elevated levels of testosterone.

  10. If you are willing to cheat on your wife, what makes you think they would not cheat on the game?

    I dont trust Tiger one bit!

    PED is perfect for Golf. It may not help bulking up, but it helps with recovery. And on sunday when you are in the hunt and not tired like everyone else!

    Golf is dirty!

  11. I think scientifically you have to prove that it changes your game and at this time there is no proof of that. In controlled environments your body destroys all these chemicals when you ingest it orally, the only way this would provide and advantage is if you were taking by injection or syringe method. There will be in coming years “VERY CLOSE” when there are substance’s that do change your ability to perform VERY CLOSE. And some of this will be RX prescribed.

  12. Goldigger, as discussed in the forum, you cannot reasonably define METHODS of application. Listing the banned substances themselves is the only method that can work.

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