First Posted: 5/9/2013
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — One spectator wore fake deer antlers. Another yelled about eating venison. And a group of guys shouted, “Stay off the spray, Vijay.”
But for the most part, there was little public reaction to Vijay Singh’s lawsuit filed against the PGA Tour during the opening round of The Players Championship on Thursday.
Hecklers were few and far between at TPC Sawgrass — possibly because it was a well-behaved golf crowd, possibly because it was Singh’s home course and possibly because few care enough to make a public outcry.
“He doesn’t deserve that,” playing partner Robert Garrigus said. “I don’t know how many majors he’s won. I don’t know how many tournaments he’s won. He’s won a lot of money out here. He deserves our respect as players even if he’s suing the PGA Tour or not. It’s a delicate situation right now. Unfortunately, it had to happen. But it is what it is. …
“I only heard a couple of idiots out there today. They were getting a little saucy. There were a couple of guys being stupid, but other than that, it was fine.”
Singh sued the PGA Tour on Wednesday for exposing him to “public humiliation and ridicule” during a 12-week investigation into his use of deer antler spray. The tour dropped its case last week.
The lawsuit and its timing raised eyebrows.
The Players Championship is the tour’s flagship event and is played on the course Singh has honed his game on for the past decade.
But there was little reaction from the Stadium Course gallery. The most noticeable response came at the first tee, where Jacksonville resident Jim Kavanagh wore those felt antlers.
“He won’t talk to the press, so I thought maybe I could get a reaction out of him,” Kavanagh told reporters. “He shouldn’t be suing the PGA Tour. He should be suing WADA.”
Garrigus noticed the antlers and sarcastically called them “pretty special.” Nonetheless, he couldn’t avoid joking about the lawsuit.
“I kind of made fun of it today on the first tee just to loosen things up a little bit, which I do very well,” Garrigus said. “I was like, ‘Well, you’re in the spotlight right now, aren’t you big guy?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, for the wrong reasons.’ It was fun.”
They laughed, and Garrigus let it go for the rest of the round.
“I didn’t get into it,” he said. “I don’t know the details; I don’t know what he’s suing for and all that stuff. He’s obviously earned the respect until everything goes through. That’s what I’m saying about that.”
On the par-3 third, a woman shouted, “We don’t care what the PGA Tour says. We support Vijay” as the golfer passed.
Singh even played the famed and often raucous island-green at No. 17 without much fanfare. There was a “you (stink)” comment on the 18th, followed a few minutes later by someone shouting, “We got your back, Vijay.”
“He was fine out there,” said J.J. Henry, who also played in the group with Singh. “I don’t know much about it. I’m out here trying to tackle a tough golf course. I’ve played a lot of golf with him and he’s always been good to me. That stuff is none of my business. I’m trying to figure out how to stay out of some of these hazards.”
Singh bogeyed two of the first three holes and fell 12 shots off the lead with a double at No. 8.
He rallied on the back nine, making birdies at 16 and 17, but pulled his next tee shot into the water and finished with a bogey and a 2-over 74.
He is tied for 99th, 11 shots behind Roberto Castro.
Singh said in a Sports Illustrated article in January that he used deer antler spray and he was “looking forward to some change in my body.” The spray was said to include an insulin-like growth factor that was on the tour’s list of banned substances. The tour sent a sample from Singh to be tested, and it returned small amounts of IGF-1.
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem announced April 30 that the tour was dropping its case because of new information from the World Anti-Doping Agency, which said deer antler spray was no longer considered prohibited because it contained just minimal amounts of the growth factor.
The lawsuit claims the PGA Tour relied on WADA’s list of banned substances and methods without doing any of its own research, including whether such substances even provide any performance-enhancing benefits. Singh’s lawyers said the tour “rushed to judgment and accused one of the world’s hardest working and most dedicated golfers of violating the rules of the game.”
The 50-year-old Fijian, inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2006, hasn’t spoken to reporters about any subject since releasing a statement in February confirming that he took the deer antler spray.
He declined comment after his opening round.
Singh had about a dozen or so spectators following him Thursday, maybe the most telling sign of his career.
Singh has the Masters and the PGA Championship among his 34 tour victories. He holds the PGA Tour record with 22 wins since turning 40. His best year was in 2004, when he won nine times. Singh has not won since the Deutsche Bank Championship in September 2008, two months after the tour’s anti-doping program was launched.