Back To Golf Off the course Vijay Singh couldn't have had a worse week. On it his performance at the Nelson couldn't have been better

May 25, 2003

For those keeping score at home, make it: Misogynists 2, Women 0.
There was no joy in Mudpackville last month when Martha Burk
struck out at the Masters, and things got worse last week when
male chauvinist pigheadedness scored again as Vijay Singh won the
EDS Byron Nelson Championship. These two events weren't really
victories for men--far from it. Nobody wins when off-course
controversies overshadow two of the game's biggest tournaments.
But while Singh's seemingly mean-spirited remarks about Annika
Sorenstam's participation in this week's Bank of America Colonial
set off a firestorm of criticism, his subsequent two-stroke
victory over Nick Price solidified his reputation as one of the
steeliest competitors--as well as one of the biggest enigmas--on
the PGA Tour.

No sooner had Singh prevailed at the Nelson than he announced his
withdrawal from the Colonial. At his Sunday-evening champion's
press conference, Singh said that he needed a break after four
straight weeks on the road, that he hoped to attend Wednesday's
memorial service in New York City for Mark McCormack, the IMG
founder who died last Friday, and that he had promised his wife,
Ardena, he would pull out of the Colonial if he won the Nelson.

Interesting that Tour players by rule must wear pants on the golf
course, even if they don't wear them at home.

It truly was a remarkable week at the TPC at the Four Seasons
Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas, in Irving, Texas, though
it's difficult to decide which was the bigger head-scratcher:
that Singh, a 40-year-old from Fiji who rarely engages the media,
was the one player to take a strong anti-Annika stance, or that
he shrugged off the ensuing controversy as if it never happened.
Most players would've withered in the face of the media barrage
Singh brought upon himself when he was quoted by the AP on May 12
saying, among other candid comments, that he hoped Annika would
miss the cut at the Colonial. Singh may as well have said he was
in favor of child abuse.

The backlash was swift and furious. He had stepped over the line
into politically incorrect territory--he had to know there was
trouble when Fuzzy Zoeller said he agreed with Singh--and the
media, recognizing easy prey, pounced. The reaction included
opinions from Burk, former astronaut Sally Ride and a slew of
frothing newspaper columnists who can best be represented by The
Washington Post's Thomas Boswell. Under the headline LARRY, MOE
AND CURLY, Boswell ripped Singh and two other players, Price and
Scott Hoch, who weren't keen on Sorenstam's Colonial visit.
Sunday's Dallas Morning News printed a batch of letters about
Singh, pro and con, plus an editorial cartoon of Sorenstam
pulling a cart in front of a Nelson competitor, implying that she
had overshadowed a tournament at which she wasn't even playing.
Which was accurate.

Making matters worse was Singh's attempt, after his initial
comments, to extinguish the blaze with lighter fluid. "I'm
surprised the way it came out," he said on May 13. "There was no
attack on Annika. It wasn't put that way. If I did, I would like
to apologize to her. It came out the wrong way. What I actually
said was that if I miss the cut, I'd rather see her miss the cut
as well. Hopefully, I won't miss the cut, because I don't want to
have a woman beat me." As if that displayed so much more
goodwill.

Singh also made it clear where he stood on Sorenstam's acceptance
of a sponsor's exemption. "This is a man's tour, not a ladies'
tour, and there are guys out here trying to make a living," he
said. "If she or any woman wants to play the men's tour, they
should qualify like everybody else."

Singh put voice to what many other Tour players were thinking but
were too afraid--or too tactful--to say. A few players, like
Price, the defending champion at the Colonial, spoke candidly. He
said Sorenstam's invite "reeks of publicity." Still, Singh drew
all of the heat because he made the mistake, intentionally or
not, of making his remarks personal. "He got crucified," said
Price. "Vijay is a straight-up person. I don't think he meant to
say that he wants Annika to miss the cut. He was frustrated with
all of the questions."

Price was disappointed, too, that the Nelson event had been
overshadowed by the Sorenstam issue. "It's sad," he said last
Saturday. "Yes, this is entertainment, but the entertainers have
qualified to be here. I would have absolutely no problem with any
gal who qualified to play on our Tour. But should Annika get a
free ride? Ask those Indianapolis 500 drivers if they'd give up
one of their spots in the race to a woman."

And yet, amidst all this hyperventilation, somehow Singh played
on. "I don't read papers much; it didn't bother me," Singh said
on Sunday. "My wife kept telling me what was going on, but I
tried not to get distracted. I focused on the game. This is Byron
Nelson's tournament, and I didn't want anything else to interfere
with that. If I started reading the papers, gosh, I probably
would have withdrawn."

It's a good thing he didn't, because golf fans would have been
deprived of a remarkable performance. Singh went 15 under in
breezy conditions on a challenging track with only two par-5
holes, and his final-round 66 was a masterpiece of precise
shotmaking.

Singh's careerlong dislike of the media (which is sure to
intensify now) has left him underpublicized and underappreciated,
despite a career that--surprise!--will likely land him in the
World Golf Hall of Fame. His Phoenix Open and Nelson Championship
victories this year give him 13 Tour wins, including two major
championships, the 2000 Masters and the 1998 PGA. That's two more
career wins than Hall of Famer Payne Stewart had, though Stewart
won three majors. Singh also has 21 international victories.

Singh has improved the weakest part of his game--putting. He uses
a cross-handed grip on a belly putter and ranks 28th in the
Tour's putting statistics. The Nelson capped a recent hot streak.
Singh tied for sixth at the Masters, tied for ninth in Houston,
finished 11th in New Orleans and was second in Charlotte. His
solid ballstriking makes him a bona fide U.S. Open contender, but
thanks to his second win of the year and, especially, his dustup
over Sorenstam, he won't come into Olympia Fields under the
radar. Singh will now have to deal with the kind of distractions
he has sought to avoid throughout his career. On Sunday night he
admitted that, yes, the criticism hurt. "I felt as if it didn't
do justice to me," he said. Then he shrugged and added, "What's
done is done." Of his withdrawal from the Colonial, he added,
"It's just as well," implying the obvious: His presence would
have only added more fuel to the controversy.

Of course, that's exactly why he should have gone. Beating
Sorenstam by eight or 10 or 20 shots would've capped a riveting
couple of weeks. Singh doesn't understand that, and he never has.

When he won in Phoenix earlier this year, Singh refused to smile
at the boisterous spectators who chanted his name on the last few
holes. "I'm not out here to entertain the fans," he said later.

Singh's wrong. That's precisely why he's out there, and last
week, for the first time in his career, he was as entertaining
off the course as he was on it.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID WALBERG [INSIDE COVER] VIJAY Makes a Statement Singh Rips Annika, Wins the Nelson, Bails on the Colonial G4 COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG HOT STREAK In the last four weeks Singh has made 90 birdies, gone 49 under par and finished tied for ninth, 11th, tied for second and first. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG CUTTING REMARKS The media ganged up on Singh all week. COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN NICK'S KNACK Price has knocked Sorenstam for months without consequence.

Gary Van Sickle's Underground Golfer appears weekly at
golfonline.com.

"Yes, this is entertainment," said Price, "but the entertainers
have qualified to be here. Should Annika get a free ride?"

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)