Vijay Singh has nothing to lose.
He’s already been embarrassed and shamed publicly because he admitted to taking deer-antler spray, a farce substance that was supposed to do God knows what to help an athlete perform better. The admission in a Jan. 2013 Sports Illustrated article landed him in hot water with the PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Program and likely would have led to a suspension were it not for the intervening wisdom — weird to say — of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which told the PGA Tour that deer-antler spray’s supposed active PED chemical, an insulin-like substance called IGF-1, wouldn’t do any good for a user unless injected into their blood stream.
So Singh got hit on two fronts: For taking a substance the PGA Tour repeatedly warned players in 2011 to not touch and for taking a substance that is a complete and utter placebo.
But Singh sees it a little differently. He sees that he was treated differently by the PGA Tour than his counterparts that have had run-ins with the Anti-Doping Program. He sees that he was subject to scrutiny others haven’t been in the past in terms of how they were tested or punished for violating the program’s rules. That’s why he’s suing the PGA Tour in the Supreme Court of New York. That’s why he’s not going to take a settlement. Singh is clearly out to embarrass the Tour, expose what he feels is a mismanaged joke of a drug program and get a little revenge for being served up as, what he must feel, the biggest sacrificial lamb in the drug program’s five-plus-year history.
Vijay Singh and his lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, are a real-time case study in how to use litigation as a means of public relations, as a tool to get your message to the media.
It all began with the day the suit was filed, on the eve of the PGA Tour’s biggest event, The Players Championship. It was a 30-page one-finger salute to the folks in Ponte Vedra Beach, leaving media not too far to walk to ask Tour brass about their feelings — “no comment” — on the suit. Players were shocked, too, but with Singh on the verge of playing the Champions Tour, who cares about them?
And then things kind of simmered in the court system. Hearing after hearing, motion after motion, Ginsberg, on Singh’s behalf, and the Tour’s lawyers battled on the merits of the case. With each successive filing, Ginsberg unraveled more layers of the balata, sharing how he intends to frame the case.
At first, it was: Yeah, Vijay took deer-antler spray, but the Tour dragged Singh’s good name — not so sure on that claim — through the mud over his admission in taking a substance that didn’t actually do anything to enhance Singh as an athlete. There was the hint of what was to come later, using words like “reckless” to describe the Tour’s administration and adjudication of Singh’s case, as well the program at large.
Now it’s a much bigger issue. Singh and his lawyer want to show the PGA Tour not only treated the three-time major winner unfairly, but that they’ve been more than fair — in fact, showing downright favoritism — toward players who have (a) admitted to past use of deer-antler spray, like Mark Calcavecchia, or (b) have been rumored to test positive for recreational drugs, like Dustin Johnson.
Ginsberg first outlined his accusation in an October hearing, which any lawyer knows will be made a matter of public record, saying he intended to prove Singh was not treated in the same fashion as other players, albeit without naming them.
A few weeks later, Ginsberg again used a filing as a press release, drumming up a lot of chatter when he asked the court to compel the PGA Tour to provide a plethora of program documents, including the files of specific players: Calc, Johnson and Doug Barron, the only player ever publicly suspended under the program, among others. Names weren’t necessary; the other requests outlined would have been a catch-all statement. Naming the players he did, Ginsberg made another splash, dragging, in particular, Dustin Johnson into this mess.
For his part, Johnson wants none of it, telling Golf Channel, “I don’t know why he would call me out. Obviously, he’s in a situation where he’s looking to better himself somehow, but there’s nothing there.” Johnson denied being punished under the Tour’s Anti-Doping Program, which even if he tested positive for a banned substance could be true as commissioner Tim Finchem can dictate punishment for “drugs of abuse” or recreational drugs.
Of course, the Tour’s lawyers pushed back on the request, forcing a judge to decide if the court will compel the Tour to provide the documents the plaintiffs want. But the public won’t see them, at least not without someone clearly violating an agreement already made by the two parties to keep those records private. There won’t be a big document dump, a pile of smoking guns on who has tested positive or not. Then again, that’s what transcripts are for, and Singh has every intention of taking this trial to the bitter, very public end.
Singh has plenty of money. It’s not like his Q-school was all that high to start, so what’s another ding in his reputation? But if Singh and his lawyer can embarrass the Tour, put them through the wringer and make them squirm, then he can claim victory, even if it’s not a financial one.