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Harrington predicted "accidental" doping problems 5 years ago

Vijay Singh during last year’s US Open. Picture by Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.iePádraig Harrington joked this week that Paul McGinley will make a great Ryder Cup captain because his “Little Guy Syndrome” makes him naturally combative. What he makes of Vijay Singh’s deer antler spray troubles remains to be seen but he might well advise the Fijian to plead “Old Man Syndrome.”

In case you missed it, Singh was named in a recent Sports Illustrated report that also linked Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis with deer antler spray, a substance that contains IGF-1, a natural, anabolic hormone that stimulates muscle growth.

The problem is that the product, which is manufactured by the controversial company Sports with Alternatives to Steroids (SWATS), is banned by both the NFL and the PGA Tour.

The SI report says Singh ordered quantities of the spray last November and quotes the three-time major champion as saying that he takes it, “every couple of hours, every day.”

“I’m looking forward to some change in my body,” Singh is quoted as saying. “It’s really hard to feel the difference if you’re only doing it for a couple of months.”

The PGA Tour promised to investigate and Singh quickly issued a statement, through the Tour, claiming he didn’t know that deer antler spray contained a banned substance:

“While I have used deer antler spray, at no time was I aware that it may contain a substance that is banned under the PGA TOUR Anti-Doping Policy.  In fact, when I first received the product, I reviewed the list of ingredients and did not see any prohibited substances.  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.”  

Harrington is extremely careful about the medication he takes for regular aches and pains, colds, flus and other ailments and makes doubly sure that they contain nothing that could cause a problem by consulting with his doctors and the tours.

At best, Singh could be described as naive in the extreme for using deer antler spray without checking it out thoroughly. But the Fijian’s predicament will not come as a major surprise to the Dubliner, who predicted similar incidents when asked about the introduction of an anti-doping policy in golf during the 2008 Masters.

Q: “Speaking for yourself or maybe some of your peers in Europe, is everybody kind of ready for the drug testing program, however it is administered over there, to begin? Do you think now that it’s kind of upon us, do you think some of the players are prepared for it and ready and willing to go forward with it?”

P.H.: “That’s a big question. Very big question. You know, if you’re an athlete from the age of probably 14, 15 years of age and sometimes even younger, you’re conditioned to maybe ask a question before you take any medicine. You know, anybody in athletics, they wouldn’t eat or take anything before and question it, whereas all of the professional golfers, we’ve been around a long time, and guys, if they get a headache, they automatically take headache tablets and if they get the flu they take whatever they can buy across the counter in the shop or take sleeping tablets or whatever, because we aren’t conditioned to ask those questions.

“There is going to be a period of time where players have to stop and think. It won’t be automatic for a few years. I do feel that, I don’t think there’s any issue or problem in golf whatsoever. I do believe the testing in the short term, you know, if there is positives, I reckon there will be a couple of positives where they are accidental; you know, somebody took something and just wasn’t aware, which is obviously going to be an issue. But it’s needed. It has to be there. You know, we believe the sport is clean but it has to be seen to be clean, as well, and so it is important to have that policy in place.

“The transitional period will be difficult for some players, there’s no question. You can go back to the French Open, there was a positive test three or four years — must be six years ago now, one player, because he took a cortisone injection and the doctor had not checked the right box. It was not his fault but still came up a positive. There was no problem but the player himself got a lot of bad press over it and it affected sponsorship and things like that.

“The transition will never be pleasant. And I am aware there are certain players who are on medication and in order for them to be allowed to stay on that medication, they want them to come off the medication so they can get a baseline view of that, which seems a little bit tough; if you need the medication, you can’t really come off the medication.

“As I said, transition is always going to be difficult but transition in everything is a little bit awkward. In five years time, ten years time, when you have a new crop of young guys coming up, they won’t even think twice about it. They will know exactly what they can and can’t do, and so we are going to put a little bit of effort in to make sure that, you know, the guys following us will have it a little easier.”

Singh celebrates his 50th birthday next month and clearly belongs to the older generation of players who grew up without having to worry about innocently taking a banned substance.

His punishment could come in the form of a ban from the PGA Tour for a breach of the anti-doping policy that clearly states that “it does not matter whether you intentionally or unknowingly used a prohibited substance.”

Whatever about Singh’s “angry” mood, Harrington sounded highly positive on his arrival in Arizona for the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

He even got the chance to take the mickey out of McGinley again, though he went to great pains to point out that his former Ryder Cup partner’s “Little Guy Syndrome” makes him ideal captaincy material:

“He’s an interesting guy because he’s a real fighter, and he’s quite an organized person when it comes to teams.  He’ll be trying to manage the team and take control of a lot of things it would seem, kind of like a Bernhard Langer, but he also has a [big smile from Harrington here] ‑‑ he has a little guy syndrome.  He’s a little fella, and he likes to fight.  He really has that little bit from his football days.  He’s got it inside him and will lead the team well in that respect as well as being organized. There’s two good sides to him in that part.”

Harrington can’t wait to tee it up on the par-three 16th, which is completely enclosed by grandstands packed with 20,000 beer-fueled fans at a event that attracts up to 500,000 fans all week.

“I hear they’re putting green on for the Irish fellas [on Saturday],” he said. “Had they told me before I would have turned up earlier!

“I’m thinking about pulling a shirt over my head and running down to the green if I hole out. That’s a soccer celebration, and with my six pack and everything, it would look perfect. All I remember is Henrik Stenson got grief for his physique when he obviously stripped down to his boxer shorts, so I now realize no professional golfer should ever do that again.  If he’s getting grief, the rest of us are in a lot of trouble.”

All Stenson did was stand around in the mud in his underpants. Singh’s position makes him look equally foolish. As former Walker Cup and Irish Amateur Open champion Keith Nolan tweeted today: “How many guys wearing Deer Antlers when Vijay gets to the tee on 16?”