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Opinion & Analysis

Singh: Ruthless and immoral, or simply careless?

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Vijay Singh should be remembered as one of golf’s most successful late bloomers, with 22 of his 34 PGA Tour wins taking place in the decade since he turned the big four-oh. He should be honored for his 26 second-place finishes, 17 third-place finishes and the more than $67 million he’s earned on Tour. He should also get a place next to Ben Hogan on the Mount Rushmore of golf as one of the all-time range warriors.

Instead, the last lines of his legacy may end up reading the same as his early entries: cheater.

A recent Sports Illustrated story exposed a small sports supplement company that had been marketing a spray containing IGF-1, a growth hormone-like substance that is banned by every major sports league, including the Tour. The story named several prominent athletes as clients, including Singh. Like most of the athletes who are caught using, he claimed that he did not know the product, which is derived from deer antlers, contained a banned substance. To his credit, Singh has admitted his use of the product and is complying with Tour officials as they investigate they situation.

“I am absolutely shocked that deer-antler spray may contain a banned substance and am angry that I have put myself in this position. I have been in contact with the PGA Tour and am cooperating fully with their review of this matter. I will not be commenting further at this time,” said Singh in a written statement.

Tour officials will want to know how long he has been using the product and what else he may have been using before determining what action to take — including a possible suspension, a decision that could ultimately cost Singh millions in endorsements and prize money. In the meantime, Singh has withdrawn from the latest Tour stop, the Waste Management Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Ariz.

It’s not a stretch to say that Singh is one of the least popular players on the Tour, so it’s no surprise that he isn’t getting much support from his peers.

‘‘It’s sad that people live and die by their sport and they have to, I guess, cheat and go around it and try to better themselves with deer-antler spray,’’ Bubba Watson told reporters in Scottsdale. ‘‘I’m not just going to take something and ask questions later. I’m not going to take deer-antler spray and find out what it is later. I think we should check them for mental problems if they’re taking deer-antler spray. That’s kind of weird.’’

Tour veteran Mark O’Meara went on record calling for Singh to be suspended.

“Probably he should be suspended for a couple of months, and I don’t know what the PGA Tour Commissioner is thinking, but people have had to pay the price before and he should be no different,” O’Meara told reporters.

Like Tiger Woods, Singh doesn’t have an easy smile or a “aw shucks” way of talking to the press or the fans. On the contrary, he seems to go out of his way to alienate, aggravate or intimidate anyone around him that he doesn’t feel the necessity to connect to, which is barely anyone.  Once after a practice session, I asked him if I could get five seconds for a couple of questions. He looked me over, raised and eyebrow and said, “I’ll give you three.”

A lifetime of being crunchy and obtuse leaves Singh ill-equipped for the public relations storm that he will have to navigate over the coming months or even years. Through his many accomplishments, Singh had managed to bury the stigma of allegations of improving his lie and altering his scorecard while on the Asian Tour during the 80s. He also managed to distance himself from the disparaging remarks he made about Annika Sorenstam’s historic appearance on the men’s tour.

But this time, it will be harder to avoid a lasting scar. Singh finds himself now categorized in a group that includes Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez. They’re all considered cheaters, guys who would do anything to obtain and maintain excellence. They all have stellar career records that are now regarded as counterfeit, even the portion of their achievements that came before they began using PEDs.

Bubba Watson has a point; you’d have to be almost crazy to check for the banned ingredients and not see them on the list. I found the ingredient in just a casual search of the Tour drug policy guide. It leads the skeptic to think three things.

  1.  Singh believed that he was getting a product that would help his aging body stay young.
  2. He had faith that the product would achieve that because it contained a substance that is banned precisely because it did just that.
  3. Like every other steroid peddler, the deer antler spray guys likely told Singh that it was untraceable. It seems like a hard line to take, but that has been the path that virtually every other performance enhancing drug case in every other sport has taken.

The PGA Tour is probably as ill-equipped for this situation as Singh. While they do in fact have a detailed policy, they have little practical experience with how to handle a positive test or an admission of guilt like Singh’s. Indeed, since testing began in 2008, only one player, Doug Barron, has tested positive and subsequently been suspended.

Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem would be well served to give MLB Commissioner Bud Selig a call. Selig knows all too well the perils along this path. As the guardian of his sport, Finchem may be tempted to gloss over, minimize or even cover up elements of the story out of a desire to keep the sport out of the negative spotlight. Such actions proved folly for baseball. When every owner and every player knew there was a problem in the sport, instead of confronting the issue they chose collective silence as a course of action. It proved to be a disastrous decision, rendering a generation of its greatest stars irrelevant to the overarching history of the game.

As the Tour determines what to do in the case of Singh, officials should keep in mind that baseball and golf are similar in that their histories are just as important as their present. The ability to draw a line of comparison from Tom Morris to Tom Watson to Bubba Watson is essential to the appreciation of the ancient game. While most have come to grips with the effect that equipment technology has had on the game, there will likely be no tolerance for game improvement via illegal supplements.

For Vijay Singh, the coming days will determine whether he will be perceived as ruthless and immoral, or simply careless and gullible. For the sport, the challenge will be to respond to this incident in a way that prevents an isolated spot from becoming a lasting stain.

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. John Fugazzi

    Mar 12, 2013 at 2:19 am

    One sided, lop sided, and short sighted. Vijay Singh probably was an naive idiot for actually hearing and trying some herbal remedy. Shady players have personal shoppers who buy things like this for them to “give a try.”

  2. Screamin'

    Feb 6, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    I seriously doubt that deer antler spray is the reason for his success after 40.

  3. Red

    Feb 6, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…always a nice catalyst for rip-job article

  4. Anthony D'Cruz

    Feb 5, 2013 at 8:52 am

    It appears that Vijay is not very popular. Can you imagine what would have happened to him had he stolen a cm or two on the putting green and sank the putt for a win? What if he had declared it was an ‘honest mistake’? Would he have been let off? I’m afraid the poor man’s already been found guilty before the hearing.

  5. Harbaugh

    Feb 3, 2013 at 11:33 am

    Bubba kicking a man while he is down and being applauded for it – what on earth???

  6. Tony

    Feb 3, 2013 at 10:49 am

    I find this article fails in providing an objective view i.e. it is charged with bias. Leave your hurt feelings and opinions at the door if you claim to be a jouurnalist. Epic fail.

  7. Eric Evans

    Feb 2, 2013 at 10:15 am

    This does not surprise me one bit about Vijay considering how much of an a$$ he is.

  8. Troy Vayanos

    Feb 1, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    I couldn’t imagine Vijay Singh ever taking a banned substance to gain an advantage over his opponents. I’m still not sure how this would help in golf anyway.

    The only substance that would benefit in golf would be beta-blockers which are banned anyway.

    I’m be interested to follow this story and see how it turns out.

  9. Mac

    Feb 1, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    its a bunch of b.s. when he says that he didnt know it contained the substance, he obviously knew that it would help with anti-aging to stay in the PGA for as long as he could, but to end like this? Terrible choice, v.j. terrible choice.

  10. Bill's an idiot**

    Feb 1, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Too*

  11. clay smith

    Feb 1, 2013 at 7:58 am

    Although the article nails him in his attitude and how people feel about him, (seen him up close at a tournament), why would he tell a national magazine reporter he was using it if he was hiding it? What’s funny is most of these (over the counter) products are bogus, make bogus claims, and don’t do what they say. Plecebo effect. I think he should be tested to see if he has any IGH-1 in his system, I bet he doesn’t, and then assess a punishment if necessary. Maybe a slap on the hand for not ‘checking’ on the ingredients.

  12. Blanco

    Feb 1, 2013 at 2:22 am

    From what I know about the deer antler, it’s been used in the past by many a high-profile PGA tour player, all of whom are not mentioned in this article… there is also no discussion of what may have led Singh to use it. I also understand that it gives the body a larger dose of one of its naturally occurring chemicals that aids in recovery from injury (as opposed to something that provide a competitive advantage over healthy golfers), ala the Toradol injections used by hundreds of NFL players before every game… This is the extent of what I understand yet I realize there is more to it of course.

    Just as the PGA goes out of its way to be vague and “obtuse” in dealing with rules violations, the author and GolfWRX continues to puzzle me with articles like this. I look to the front page for golf journalism, and the forums for opinion. Most of the writers on Golfwrx write in a journalistic manner and when opinion pieces are written, the “opinion” is clearly understood by reading the article’s title. “Singh: “R”uthless and immoral, or simply careless?” leads me to think I’ll hear at least two sides to this story.

    Instead, I’ve just wasted two minutes on a purple anti-Vijay tabloid piece. If Williams considers himself a journalist, he has again compromised his integrity by revealing his personal distaste for Vijay (and Tiger Woods conveniently) and giving zero voice to the contrary of Mark O’Meara and Bubba Watson of which there is plenty. In fact, I’ve read a few articles published in respected news outlets where the “least popular player on the PGA tour” stigma has been accurately painted as a media-born concept and holds no weight in reality.

  13. DH2

    Feb 1, 2013 at 12:51 am

    He is a selfish person who doesn’t care about others. I pulled some major strings for him and no gratitude was given back. I work for a major Hotel in Denver and called in a favor to a trainer at an exclusive athletic club. Vijay got to have the weight room to himself for half an hour each day for a week. Vijay and his trainer did not thank me or give me a gratuity for my efforts. I hope the tour suspends him.

  14. Gibby

    Jan 31, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    Once a cheater, always a cheater. Remember the hat he wore that said “Tiger Who”

    Well soon it will be “Vijay Who” He will always be remembered as a cheater who treated everyone around him like crap!

  15. LBW

    Jan 31, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    VIJAY IS AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN A PERSON THAT PUSHES THE RULES TO THE POINT OF CHEATING

  16. MaxW

    Jan 31, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Vijay strikes me as an intelligent guy; irascible and a curmudgeon, and definitely not careless and gullible. He knows you play the game of golf by the rules. He knows there are banned substances. He knows one phone call to the PGA tour would determine if the product and/or substance was banned or not. Just like on the course he can ask a rules official about a rules situation or not. He did not ask the Tour about the product/substance and now he should pay the penalty.

  17. naflack

    Jan 31, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    It doesn’t surprise me considering who his trainer is…

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Marine and GolfWRX forum member “djfalcone” explains the story of how he got to caddie for Rory McIlroy and Johnny Vegas through the Birdies for the Brave program, and how knowledgable Rory is about his equipment. Make sure to check out his full forum thread here.

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An early look at the potential U.S. Ryder Cup Team

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With the Masters and the Players Championship complete, I wanted to examine the statistics of the current leaders in Ryder Cup Points for the U.S. Team. Over the history of the Ryder Cup, the U.S. Team has relied on pairings that were friends and practice-round companions instead of pairing players that were more compatible from a statistical standpoint. This has led to disappointing performances from the U.S. Team and top players such as Jim Furyk performing poorly at the Ryder Cup, as he is ill-suited for the Fourball format.

After a disastrous 2014 Ryder Cup where the U.S. Team lost by a score of 16.5-11.5, the U.S. decided to use a more statistical approach to Ryder Cup play. According to my calculations, the 2016 U.S. Team’s pairings were the closest to optimal that the U.S. Team has compiled in the last seven Ryder Cups. And not surprisingly, the U.S. Team won 17-11 over the Europeans.

Since there are several months to go before the Ryder Cup, I won’t get too much into potential pairings in this article. Instead, I will focus more on the current games of top-12 players in U.S. Ryder Cup Points Standings and how that translates to Ryder Cup performance.

About the Ryder Cup Format

In the Ryder Cup, there is the Foursome format (alternate shot) and the Fourball format (best score). There are distinctly different metrics in the game that correlate to quality performers in each format.

In the Foursome format, short game around the green performance is usually critical. In a typical stroke play event such as The Players Championship, short game around the green performance usually has a much smaller impact on player’s performance. But in a match play, alternate-shot format the opposite has been true. My conclusion is that with the alternate-shot format, more greens in regulation are likely to be missed. The team that can save par and extend holes is usually likely to come out on top. The European team has mostly dominated the U.S. team over the past 20 years in the Foursome format, and the European teams typically are stronger with their short game around the green.

Other factors involved with Foursome play are Red Zone Performance (shots from 175-225 yards) and being able to pair the right players together based on how they each play off the tee and with their approach shots from the rough. For example, a pairing of Phil Mickelson (who misses a lot of fairways) and Zach Johnson (who is not very good from the rough) would likely be a poor pairing.

In the Fourball format (lowest score), the best performers are high birdie makers and players that perform well on the par-4s, par-5s, and par-3s. Bubba Watson makes a lot of birdies and plays the par-4s and par-5s well, thus making him a good candidate for the Fourball format. The only issue with Bubba in the past is he has occasionally struggled on the par-3s. That can be resolved by pairing him with a player who makes a lot of birdies and is a strong performer on the par-3s. The reason for Jim Furyk’s struggles in the Fourball format is that he does not make a lot of birdies and is a merely average performer on the par-5s.

Note: All rankings below are based out of 209 golfers.

1. Patrick Reed

In the past, it has been difficult to get an accurate depiction of Reed’s game. He was notorious for either getting into contention or blowing up if he wasn’t in contention after the first round. He is now far better at avoiding those blowup rounds and remaining competitive regardless of how he well he performs at the beginning of the tournament. His iron play has been excellent, and since he is good on approach shots from the rough, short game around the green and he makes a lot of birdies and plays the par-4s and par-5s well, he should continue to be a great competitor in the Ryder Cup format. Given his inability to find the fairway off the tee, however, I would recommend pairing him with a quality performer from the rough in the alternate shot format.

2. Justin Thomas

On paper, Thomas should be Team USA’s toughest competitor as he has little in the way of holes in his game. He drives it great, hits his irons well from every distance, has a superb short game and can putt. He also makes a ton of birdies, plays every type of hole well and rarely makes bogeys. Like Reed, it would be advisable to pair him with a player that is a quality performer from the rough in the alternate shot format.

3. Dustin Johnson

DJ is the second-strongest performer on paper. The only thing that currently separates Justin Thomas from DJ is their Red Zone play. DJ has typically been a world-class performer from the Red Zone, however, and the data suggests that his ranking from the Red Zone should rapidly improve. He struck it well from the Red Zone in his last two events at Harbour Town Golf Links and TPC Sawgrass. And with his putting performance this season, he could make for a great competitor in this year’s Ryder Cup.

4. Jordan Spieth

Spieth has the metrics to be a strong Ryder Cup performer, as he strikes the ball well with his driver and his irons while having a superb short game around the green. His only weakness in the Fourball format is his performance on the par-3s, but that is due to his inability to make putts from 15-25 feet (198th). That is the crux of the situation for Spieth; can he get his old putting form back?

A look at previous great putters on Tour that inexplicably struggled with their putter shows that Spieth is going about his putting woes the correct way. He’s not making equipment or wholesale changes to his putting stroke. He is continuing to work with what made him a great putter just like Jason Day did last year when he inexplicably struggled with the putter early in the season… and then turned it around and regained his old putting form.

The question is, how long will it take for Spieth to regain his old form? Typically, players like Spieth that have a dramatic drop-off in their putting take about a year to regain their old form. He may not regain that form by the time the Ryder Cup takes place. If he does, Team USA is very strong with its top-4 points earners.

5. Bubba Watson

Bubba is off to a strong enough year to make the U.S. Ryder Cup Team, but the best bet for him is to stick to the Fourball format given his struggles around the green. Watson’s performance on the par-5s has not exactly been remarkable, but typically he’s one of the very best in the world on par-5s and can make a ton of birdies.

6. Rickie Fowler

Fowler has not been as strong in some areas of the game such as Red Zone, shots from the rough and putting as he has been in recent years. That makes him a little less appealing in the alternate shot format, but he still has a solid foundation to be a quality contributor in either format. The upside is if Rickie gets back to his old form with the putter and from the Red Zone, he should be a top-notch Ryder Cup performer because he is well suited to perform in either team format. At this time, he would be best suited to play with an accurate driver and very good performer around the green (i.e. Matt Kuchar) in the alternate shot format.

7. Brooks Koepka

There currently is not enough data on Koepka due to his wrist injury he suffered early in the season. Koepka is arguably the best bomber in the world who is also a great putter and a solid performer from the Red Zone. The main issue for Koepka has been his short game performance around the green. That would typically make for a weak partner in the alternate shot format, but Koepka was spectacular in the 2016 Ryder Cup. His combination of length and putting may make him a formidable Ryder Cup performer for years to come.

8. Phil Mickelson

As a statistical analyst for golf, I never quite know what I’m going to get from Lefty. This season Lefty has putted superbly, but his performance around the green has left a lot to be desired.

In recent Ryder Cups, he has been a quality performer in both the Foursome and Fourball formats. His recent success in the alternate shot format makes him a mandatory candidate, however, his inability to find the fairway means he would need a partner who is very good from the rough. The data suggests that his performance around the green should get closer to his old form as the season goes along.

9. Webb Simpson

Like Mickelson, it’s always a surprise as to what the strengths and weaknesses of Simpson’s game will be by the end of the season. Typically, he’s been a decent driver of the ball that is often a superb iron player and short game performer. With the anchoring ban, he has struggled with the putter up to this season. Lately, he has been an incredible putter that is struggling a bit with the irons.

Most of Simpson’s struggles with the irons have been from the rough, so a partner who finds a lot of fairways off the tee could be an excellent pairing in the foursome format with Simpson.

10. Matt Kuchar

Kuchar could be a very critical player for Team USA down the stretch. There are potential players on the team that could be valuable in the alternate shot format if they can find a teammate to find fairways off the tee to make up for their struggles on approach shots from the rough. Historically, Kuchar has been the most accurate off the tee of the players mentioned thus far.

This season, however, Kuchar has been underwhelming in his ability to find the fairway. The next most-accurate drivers of the ball that are near the top-12 in Ryder Cup points are Brian Harman, Bryson DeChambeau, Kevin Kisner and Andrew Landry, and none of them have nearly the experience in the Ryder Cup as Kuchar has. If Kuchar continues to miss fairways, his chances of making the team are not good unless he’s a Captain’s pick. If he cannot find the fairway, he has little-projected value as a member of the team. He is not making a lot of birdies, and his struggles on the par-3s and does not make him a favorable teammate in the Fourball format either.

11. Brian Harman

Harman’s value is that he has fairly decent Fourball metrics and his accuracy off the tee, putting, and iron play can work well with players like Fowler, Simpson, and Kuchar in the alternate shot format.

Harman has not performed that well from around the green using the Strokes Gained methodology, however; he ranks 15th on shots from 10-20 yards. I placed that metric in there as strokes gained takes into account all shots from less than 30 yards, but 10-20 yards is the most common distance range from which scrambling opportunities occur on Tour. Thus, Harman is an excellent performer from 10-20 yards and is only losing strokes around the green due to poor performance from 20-30 yards, and those shots occur less frequently on Tour. His struggles from 20-30 yards would also explain why his par-5 performance is roughly average, as that is the distance players typically finish from the hole when they go for par-5s in two and do not make the green.

And even though Harman is not very long off the tee (147th in Measured Driving Distance), he is a quality performer from the rough and thus he does not have to be tethered to another short-hitting, accurate driver in the alternate shot format.

12. Bryson DeChambeau

Dechambeau makes for a solid Ryder Cup candidate, as he has no outstanding weaknesses in his game this season as he appears to have rid himself of the putting woes that have hurt him in the past. I think he is better suited for the Fourball format, however, given how many birdies he makes. Pair him with a strong performer on the par-3s like Rickie Fowler or Phil Mickelson and it would make a very formidable duo in that format.

A pairing with Mickelson in the Fourball format would be intriguing given DeChambeau’s excellent driving. DeChambeau could hit first and — if he continues to drive it superbly — that would free up Mickelson to not worry so much about his woeful driving and focus more on making birdies. Perhaps a Fourball pairing with Bubba would make for a situation where DeChambeau could tee off first and pipe his drive, and then give Bubba a free rip to hit it as far as he possibly can and give them a sizeable advantage over their opponents.

31. Tiger Woods

I know I said I was only going to look at the top-12 players in Ryder Cup points, but the readers would inevitably ask about Tiger anyway. Furthermore, Tiger is an intriguing candidate for the team given his current game.

Tiger has struggled in both the Foursome and Fourball format. He seems to not play that great in alternate shot. In Fourball, it appears that he plays well by himself, but he is often let down by his teammates. The Europeans have always gunned for Tiger in the Ryder Cup, and it takes a special type of teammate to deal with the hysteria of having Tiger as their partner.

There are the makings of a very good alternate shot partner with Tiger, as his iron play and putting are still really good and his short game has been incredible this season. In the Fourball format, it would be advisable to find a strong par-5 performer, as Tiger’s performance on the par-5s has not been outstanding thus far. Having said that, I could see three excellent partners for Tiger in either format.

Patrick Reed has the numbers to be compatible with Tiger’s game, and he also has the track record of living up to the moment in the Ryder Cup. Dustin Johnson is can make up for Tiger’s possible big misses off the tee and can overpower a course with Tiger. And Phil Mickelson, whose game is compatible with Tiger’s, and could provide a symbol of the old guard working together to beat the Europeans.

There are certainly a lot of compelling possible pairings for Team USA, and there is still a long way to go before we start to see what pairings are available. The European Team looks like one of the strongest in years, and with all of the potential storylines for the 2018 Ryder Cup, it could be one of the greatest Ryder Cups of all time.

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Gear Dive: How Tiger Woods used to adjust his clubs based on swing changes

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Ben Giunta, a former Nike Tour Rep and now owner of the TheTourVan.com, joins host Johnny Wunder and TXG’s Ian Fraser on this episode of The Gear Dive. Ben discusses working in-depth with Nike Athletes before the company stopped producing hard goods. He has some fantastic intel on TW and the setup of his sticks (around the 14-minute mark). They also discuss Ben’s new endeavor.

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