It’s 2004 and you’re 41-year-old Vijay Singh. You have just ended Tiger Woods’ streak of 264 consecutive weeks at the top of the Official World Rankings. You’re the first golfer to earn $10 million in a single season.
You’re the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year with nine victories, 18 Top 10’s, and you won the Vardon Trophy. It was one of the best seasons of all time. The Year of the Veej!
Yet, you may just be the least admired player in professional golf.
Vijay’s journey to the top of the golfing world has been well documented. He’s the son of an airplane technician who also taught golf.
Growing up in Fiji, his family couldn’t afford golf balls so he used coconuts instead. He emulated the swing of Tom Weiskopf to help formulate his own, and in 1982 he turned professional.
In 1984, he won the Malaysian PGA Championship. But despairingly, the following year would possibly turn out to be his most defining moment in golf.
At the 1985 Indonesian Open, Vijay’s scorecard was altered two strokes so he could make the cut. Although he denied any involvement, he was accused of cheating and banned from the Asian Tour for two years.
He moved to Borneo, where, for two years he gave golf lessons and hit practice golf balls. He admits this was “the lowest point of my life.”
The next few years is what shaped Vijay into the complex and obsessive golfer we know today. He bounced around different golf clubs trying to earn money and resurrect his career.
At one time, literally ‘bouncing’ at a bar in Edinburgh while trying to qualify for the Open, which he failed to do. He used golf as a means to not only a better life, but also a better person.
He became involved in philanthropic relations in his native Fiji, where he’d later be appointed Goodwill Ambassador.
Being born an Indo-Fijian, he knew from experience what it’s like to be on the undesirable side of race relations and called for Fijians to put their differences aside.
After all, he was a man of color trying to make a living in a predominantly white sport. And for the man whose name means “Victorious Lion,” this new way of life resonated on the golf course as well.
In 1988, he entered the European Qualifying School and was finally successful. In 1989, Singh won his first European Tour title at the Volvo Open Championship in Italy and finished 24th on the European Tour Order of Merit.
He won seven more tournaments before finally entering the PGA Tour in 1993, where he won Rookie of the Year.
His meticulous work ethic became legendary and, as they say, the rest is history—and historical.
So why is it that such a man is respected rather than admired? Golf Digest wrote that Singh had become “pro golf’s bad guy” due to a quote about Annika Sorenstam that was taken out of context. Spectators refer to him as a “sexist oaf” and “Vijay the Villain.”
The aforementioned race issue could be a factor, but we all know in today’s game the most popular player is a man of color. The reason is simple.
Golf is to blame.
Golf is an individual sport; making it an anomaly in America. It gears itself towards creating sub-cultures for its own profit.
Who else would still be giving sponsorships for John Daly to play drunk? David Duval needed the biggest downward spiral in sports history to become a fan favorite.
It’s the culture attached to golf that’s not befitting for an uncharismatic Fijian who refuses to take time out from hitting practice balls to do some arbitrary interview.
He’s president of the club that knows it’s better to have something to say, than to have to say something.
Or maybe he still hasn’t gotten over being labeled a cheater by his peers. No matter the circumstance, he still has a certain amount of responsibility attached to the claim.
Could that be why he shuns interviews and seems to have an issue with Tiger’s "Do no wrong" reputation. (Vijay’s caddie wore a “TIGER WHO?” cap during his 2000 President’s Cup match versus Tiger.)
If it’s a villain that golf wants, then Vijay is certainly willing to play the perfect candidate and prosper from it. He’s cast himself as the outsider and knows the world of golf doesn’t owe him anything.
That being said, he does deserve a bigger gallery than Daly while he takes home the FedEx Cup this season at age 45!
Until then, he’ll just keep checking into hotel rooms and rearranging the furniture so he can refine his swing to fit his tall, slender, and villainous stature.