The Senior PGA Championship this weekend in St. Louis is the year’s first major for the golfers in the 50-and-over age group. All former PGA Championship winners who are healthy and eligible are in the field. Except for Vijay Singh, who has been swirled in controversy this year. Singh has been reinstated from a PGA Tour suspension over the use of deer antler spray, which was once on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances. It has since been removed from the list, but Singh filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the PGA Tour over allegations of “public humiliation and ridicule.”
He won his last major at the 2004 PGA Championship. After that win he declared, “This is a living for me. This is my livelihood. When I came out here, I just wanted to make a good living. Then I started playing really well and my motivation got stronger and stronger. I wanted to win golf tournaments and then I wanted to win majors. Now I just want to go out there and win.”
Since his Rookie of the Year season on the PGA Tour in 1993, Singh has accumulated more than $67 million, the third best all time on the tour’s career earnings list. But lately Singh has commanded more attention for his decisions off the course than for his birdies and bogeys.Rather than join his 50-and-over peers at this week’s Senior PGA Championship in St. Louis, Singh chose to play the invitational at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, an unusual move for a former PGA championship winner. Bob Tway, who won the PGA Championship in 1986, says Singh has earned the right to remain on the regular tour. But on the subject of Singh suing the PGA Tour, Tway questions the move.
“My feeling on it is that he maybe did something that was kind of something he wasn’t supposed to do,” Tway said “They got him out of it or whatever. I think I’d just leave well-enough alone.”
John Garrity, a golf writer who profiled Vijay Singh for Sports llustrated in 1996, was reporting from the Colonial this week. He says Singh’s choice of playing at the Colonial instead of the Senior PGA Championship stirs up memories of ten years ago when Annika Sorenstam came off the LPGA Tour to play with the men.
“Vijay ties into that because he made some ungallant comments that week to the effect that he didn’t think that women should be playing in men’s tournaments. He got a lot of heat and publicity because of that,” Garrity said.
PR isn’t one of Singh’s strengths. He could have made a big splash in his first senior event by playing at the Bellerive Country Club, the same course where he played his first U.S. major in 1992. But Singh doesn’t lack supporters. Fellow golfer Brad Faxon favors Singh’s decision to bypass the year’s first senior major
“I totally respect these guys who, like Vijay, can compete on a daily basis on the PGA Tour. I don’t think he has an obligation to come out here,” Faxon said. “But at the same time this is one of our big tournaments. I’m not looking at Vijay thinking he’s doing the wrong thing. I think it’s cool.”
All the details of Singh’s lawsuit haven’t yet been made public. In the meantime, Garrity says he wonders if Singh’s claims that the PGA Tour sullied his reputation might backfire on him.
“The biggest problem with that argument is the fact that there were some blots on Vijay’s reputation long before the deer antler spray controversy came up. It’s a puzzle to most of us in the golf business that Vijay would make a case out of this because it just draws attention to his earlier problems,” Garrity said.
Victories for Singh are scarce now. He hasn’t finished any better than 20th this season. Perhaps competing against his peers in the 50-and-over set sooner rather than later will give him, to use a golf term, a mulligan. A chance for a fresh start.