Vijay needs to sing a different tune now

Sunday, June 15, 2003

By Thomas Boswell ~ The Washington Post

If Tom Watson shot 65, then Vijay Singh shot 62 the next day, the top feel-good and feel-bad golf stories would've hit the U.S. Open back-to-back.

That quip, and variations on the theme, was heard all over Olympia Fields Country Club on Friday. The sentiment reached its peak as Singh, the guy who said he wanted Annika Sorenstam to miss the cut, faced a 10-foot birdie putt at the 17th hole as he tried to become the first man ever to shoot 62 in a major.

The putt was dead straight and slightly downhill. But Singh misread it. He forgot that millions of women were willing it left.

Singh's stroke seemed headed into the heart of the cup until the final inches, when the ball moved left as if magnetized. The putt peaked down into the hole, then found the edge and stayed out by the width of a dimple.

Oh, what a shame.

If Singh had hit the ball harder, it would've ignored the break and fallen.

At the 14th green, a Singh shot stopped short of the hole. "I think Annika could have put it in," called out a male voice, according to a witness. The heckler was thrown out. As the sinner was ejected, Singh waved his putter in his direction.

What's as gauche as hoping a golfer will fail? Well, perhaps it would be as unsporting as saying you'd withdraw if you were paired with a woman golfer who was in the field on a legitimate sponsor's exemption. Perhaps it would be as bad form as heaping pressure on the best woman player on earth just because, once in her career, she wanted to test herself against men.

Someday, probably someday very soon, all Singh's remarks about Sorenstam -- made more galling because he tried to weasel out of them by saying his extensive remarks were taken out of context -- will be forgotten and forgiven. But not just yet. The Colonial was only three weeks ago. Sorenstam acquitted herself too well there and Singh conducted himself too poorly, withdrawing with a transparent excuse to duck the heat.

While some were content to see Singh settle for 63 Friday and a tie for the second-round lead, rather than 62, it's too bad that one lout took his Sorenstam sympathies too far. At the 14th green, a Singh shot stopped short of the hole. "I think Annika could have put it in," called out a male voice, according to a witness. The heckler was thrown out. As the sinner was ejected, Singh waved his putter in his direction.

Any normal pro golfer would've sensed instinctively that the heckling incident would gain him sympathy. But Singh's wires have been crossed for nearly 20 years when it comes to controversy, issues of honesty and a sense of victimization. Of all the world's top players, he's probably the one best equipped to soldier through a character controversy yet also the one to be most deeply wounded by it beneath his stoic mask.

When he was 22, Singh was kicked off the Asian tour after being accused of changing his scorecard to make a cut. He says it was a misunderstanding. But the incident made him such an outcast that he ended up teaching golf at a remote nine-hole course at a logging camp in Borneo. There, with temperatures over 100 degrees, he hit balls for hours every day, vowing to return and make his mark.

Singh was also asked off the Australian tour for a while because of hotel and phone bills he hadn't paid. He squared accounts and returned. But his baggage increased and his emotional calluses toughened. When he finally reached the PGA Tour, he often practiced at the extreme right end of the range with every other player behind his back.

In a sense, Singh has been on a perverse pilgrimage to redeem himself for 20 years with his victories in the Masters and PGA Championship as testament to his endless practice and fluid, powerful swing. Yet he can't resist getting in his defiant digs. His Sorenstam shots were in character.

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