The Facts of the Matter Revising Vijay Singh's history only obscures what he has accomplished

May 21, 2000

What's the half-life of embarrassment? What's a fair sentence
for a youthful indiscretion? These are two of the questions
raised by the success of Vijay Singh. When he won the Masters
last month, reporters couldn't bring themselves to ask Singh
direct questions about his suspension for cheating on the Asian
tour in 1985. "This is not a murder mystery, where you go and
dig up all the facts and investigate it," Singh said in response
to an oblique query at Augusta about his two years of exile as a
teaching pro in Borneo. "That part of my life is disappointing
and heartbreaking, and I just want to leave it alone."

If Singh's past is not a mystery, you would never know it from
much of what has been written recently. Golf magazines and
newspapers have referred to "allegations" of cheating in Singh's
background. Here in GOLF PLUS, two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie
Els faulted SI for bringing up what he called "an
unsubstantiated allegation about an event that may or may not
have occurred 15 years ago."

You can't fault Els for defending a friend, but the media
waffling is historical revisionism. There is nothing alleged or
unsubstantiated about the fact that the Southeast Asia Golf
Federation suspended Singh indefinitely for altering his
scorecard in the second round of the '85 Indonesian Open in
Jakarta. It's also a fact that Singh was banned from playing the
Australian PGA circuit--not for cheating but for failing to pay
off loans and long-distance phone bills.

I know these things to be true because I checked them out for a
1996 feature story on Singh. I went to his homeland of Fiji and
interviewed the club members who watched him learn the game on
the watergrass fairways of the Nadi Airport Golf Club. I talked
to golf officials in Australia and Southeast Asia. I interviewed
the Indonesian Golf Association official who ruled that Singh
had improved his score in Jakarta by a stroke--just enough to
make the cut--before signing his card. I reviewed the incident
with Asian tour players of the time, including the Canadian pro
who played with Singh that day. "It was not a misunderstanding,"
said an American player who was there. "All of us who were
around are very upset that Vijay denies this."

On the other hand almost everyone I talked to pointed out that
it was another time, another place--almost another Vijay. Singh
was 22 when he got caught in Jakarta. He was cocky, immature and
steeped in a culture of gamesmanship. Three years later, when he
won tournaments in Nigeria and Sweden and qualified to play on
the European tour, he was a quite different fellow, serious,
disciplined, remote and honest. Singh has played hundreds of
tournaments since taking his punishment, and his record is
unblemished. Asked if he can recall a single instance in which
Singh was accused or even suspected of stretching the rules,
veteran PGA Tour rules official Wade Cagle says, "Not in any
way, shape or form. He's been a perfect gentleman."

Meanwhile, a number of big-name Tour players have been accused,
fairly or unfairly, of cheating. Greg Norman charged Mark
McCumber with doctoring the line of a putt at the '95 NEC World
Series of Golf. Jarmo Sandelin denounced Mark O'Meara for
inching his ball closer to the hole after marking it at the '97
Trophee Lancome in France. Television viewers snitched on Paul
Azinger when he mindlessly pawed a creek bed at the '91
Doral-Ryder Open, thereby improving his stance.

These days all you can accuse Singh of is brilliance. Since 1989
he has won seven European tour events, seven tournaments in the
U.S., eight Presidents Cup matches and two majors, the '98 PGA
and now the Masters. He has also, over time, won the friendship
of many of his Tour colleagues. When they need a swing tip, a
practice-round partner or a reminder of what hard work can do,
they go to Vijay. Yet the cloud of Jakarta hangs over Singh. At
the Masters, a member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team dismissed the
Fijian with the flip remark, "Once a cheater, always a cheater."

All the evidence, however, points the other way. If I were a
judge, I would order that Vijay's juvenile record be sealed.
Then I would rush out and buy tickets to next month's U.S. Open
at Pebble Beach, where Singh will go after stage two of the
Grand Slam.

The mystery is not what did or did not happen in Vijay's distant
past. The mystery now is why Singh doesn't get the respect he
deserves for 15 years of great golf and honest play.


The mystery is not what did or did not happen in Vijay's distant
past. The mystery now is why Singh doesn't get the respect he