Vijay Singh Sues PGA Tour on the Eve of the Players Championship

Fred Altvater@@tolohgolfrContributor IIMay 9, 2013

Hall of Fame member Vijay Singh has sued the PGA Tour
Hall of Fame member Vijay Singh has sued the PGA TourHarry How/Getty Images

Play begins today in the Players Championship, but the main story coming out of TPC Sawgrass concerns the lawsuit filed yesterday by Vijay Singh against the PGA Tour.

Steve DiMeglio of USA Today reported that Singh claims, “the PGA Tour violated its duty of care and good faith.” It also accuses the tour of exposing Singh, “to public shame and ridicule for months.” 

Charges of using a banned substance were brought against Singh when he admitted in a Sports Illustrated article in February that he was using deer antler spray, which apparently unbeknownst to him contained IGH-1, a banned substance.

IGH-1 was on the prohibited list prepared by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The PGA Tour uses the WADA prohibited list in its anti-doping program.

Under its anti-doping policy, the PGA Tour was forced to investigate Singh’s use of the illegal substance and he was notified that he would receive a suspension as punishment.

Singh then filed an appeal with the tour and the appeal process was under way when the announcement came last week that WADA was pulling IGH-1 off their prohibited list and it would not be a banned substance going forward.

WADA cited that IGH-1 must be consumed in extremely large quantities to affect individual performance. The American Medical Association (AMA) had advised WADA that IGH-1 was a non-factor as a performance enhancing substance. WADA also admitted that a positive test for IGH-1 could not be proven because there is no current test available for IGH-1.

In a press conference held last Tuesday, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem announced that upon receipt of this news from WADA, the PGA Tour was dropping its pending suspension against Singh. He pronounced the matter closed.  

There are some problems with Singh’s lawsuit.

It appears that the PGA Tour acted completely in accordance with its anti-doping policy. Every tour player receives a copy of the anti-doping manual and the banned substance list is continually provided to tour players.

The policy clearly states that each player is solely responsible for substances ingested. Each player individually signs an agreement that they understand the PGA Tour’s anti-doping policy and will adhere to it.

Singh publicly admitted in the Sports Illustrated article that he was taking a banned substance. The PGA Tour did not accuse him prior to the article being published. It only initiated action after it was forced to by terms of its anti-doping policy.

The PGA Tour did not deem to discredit Singh or take up a campaign against him in the media or otherwise. In fact the PGA Tour has a strict “no comment’ stance on any fines or actions taken against its members.

The process was continuing exactly as structured by the anti-doping manual.

Golf will become an Olympic sport in the 2016 games held in Brazil. The IOC has very strict drug abuse rules and the PGA Tour is attempting to conform to that rule structure in their anti-doping policy.

Additional blood testing of PGA Tour players will undoubtedly be required in the future to meet IOC rules.

When Singh joined the PGA Tour he signed a contract that states he will not sue the PGA Tour due to its actions. It seems his lawyers overlooked that clause.

He has been a member of the PGA Tour since 1993. He has won three major championships and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2006. The PGA Tour has provided Singh the opportunity to earn over $67 million in his career and millions more in sponsor endorsements.

The filing of this lawsuit was timed for maximum media coverage and to tarnish the Players Championship. The Players Championship is owned solely by the PGA Tour. It offers the largest purse in golf, annually hosts the strongest field of any golf tournament and is widely proclaimed as the "Fifth Major".

Vijay Singh has declared war on the PGA Tour and fired a very big shot across its bow.

The PGA Tour is run by the commissioner and his staff, but it is ultimately owned by the players.

Singh will have to face the very same people he is suing when he walks into the locker room at TPC Sawgrass. That may be a little awkward at best.

If this lawsuit is structured to bring about change in how banned substances are added or subtracted to the prohibited list. If it is directed more at WADA and the administration of its rules pertaining to individual athlete’s rights then it may have a some redeeming value for athlete’s that find themselves in the same situation in the future.

It appears, however, that this was born out of anger at the PGA Tour for trying to enforce its anti-doping policy which had been understood and approved by Singh as a member of the PGA Tour.

Maybe there are too many attorneys in the world.