VIJAY Singh pulled out of the Phoenix Open yesterday after being condemned by a fellow major winner over his use of a banned substance, which former Open champion Bob Charles has now admitted he has been taking for “20 years or more”.
While Singh, a three-times major winner and former world No 1, cited back reasons for his withdrawal from the event in Scottsdale, his late decision came a day after he admitted using deer antler spray, which contains a banned performance-enhancer connected to human growth hormone.
Despite the Fijian saying he was unaware the substance was on the PGA Tour’s banned list, two-times major winner Mark O’Meara believes Singh should “probably be suspended for a couple of months”, though his comments on the controversial subject were overshadowed by an admission from Charles.
The Kiwi, who won the Open Championship at Royal Lytham, said he was a spokesman for the deer antler product and used it daily over two decades. He said he was “totally unaware of illegal substances. . . being in the horn or the antler of the deer”.
But, in an admission that has sent bigger shockwaves through the game than even fellow Golf Hall of Fame member Singh did 24 hours earlier, Charles added: “I take one or two deer velvet capsules daily and have been doing so for virtually 20 years or more.”
According to a report in leading American magazine Sports Illustrated, Singh allegedly paid one of the owners of Sports with Alternatives to Steroids (SWATS) $9,000 in November for the deer antler spray and other products.
The 49-year-old released a statement on the eve of the Phoenix Open confirming he had taken it, that he was “shocked” and “angry” at himself and that he was in co-operation with the PGA Tour over the issue.
Since the PGA Tour’s anti-doping programme was launched in 2008, American journeyman Doug Barron is the only player who has been suspended for a violation. In November 2009. the then 40-year-old was banned for a year for taking a performance-enhancing drug.
Speaking after completing his opening round in the Dubai Desert Classic, O’Meara said he had a lot of respect for Singh, whom he described as a “friend”, but insisted that his situation should be no different to the likes of Barron.
“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,” said the 1998 Open champion.
“I was a bit surprised to hear what Vijay said. I don’t think he’s a guy that would take advantage of anything and, besides, I like Vijay. I wish the best for him and his family.”
Asked if he felt Singh, renowned for being one of the hardest workers in the game, although his career was stained early on when he was accused of changing a scorecard by one of his playing partners, had tried to be dishonest, O’Meara jumped to his defence. “Has Vijay tried to bend the rules? No I don’t think that,” he added.
Offering his views on the matter before teeing off in the Phoenix event, Masters champion Bubba Watson said people who used banned substances were “sad” and claimed anyone who used deer antler spray should be “checked for mental problems”.
However, also speaking in Dubai, both Colin Montgomerie and Paul Casey said they believed measures to combat doping in golf, including random testing, were adequate.
Montgomerie, who locked horns with Singh on numerous occasions over the years, described the specific use of deer antler spray as “odd” and insisted the European Tour had nothing to worry about with him when it came to doping.
“I can only speak for myself and it’s not widespread within the Montgomerie family,” the 2010 Europe Ryder Cup captain said, looking down at his torso. “Unfortunately. You can see that though, can’t you, really.”
Casey added: “I don’t think doping is a problem in golf whatsoever. I really don’t. There are so many facets to our sport. Why was he taking it? Was he taking it to recovery from injury?
“It doesn’t help you get the ball in the hole at the end of the day. This is the first case I’ve heard where a guy admitted to taking anything.”
Adding some humour to the subject, Lee Westwood said golfers had to be “careful” about what they take. “I try not to take anything now, really, other than Corona and vodka,” said the Englishman with a smile.
Barron, meanwhile, has criticised PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem for handling his case badly, claiming he was the victim of a “quick judgement”.
In an interview with Golfweek, he said: “I felt it was very impersonal. I felt like I took the test, I failed it, the commissioner put off on meeting for six weeks and he told me on the phone with my attorney in a phone conversation that I was suspended for a year, and that was it.
“If he would have taken the time to review my case and seen that I had low testosterone documented, then it would have been a whole different deal. I’m not going to speculate whether I was the scapegoat. . . but I think it was not accurately done. It was just a quick judgment, in my opinion.”