In Search of Vijay Singh


Vijay Singh had done the math. Fresh in the flush of his fourth victory of the season, a four-shot breeze past Tiger Woods, Singh already had figured out that he controlled his own destiny.
'I'm in the best position to win the money title,' Singh said while seated in the media room late Sunday at Walt Disney World. 'I've got two tournaments to go and I'm playing one extra tournament.'
One more 'extra' tournament, Singh pointed out, than Woods. Which meant that if Singh won his fifth event of the year next week at the Chrysler Championship in Tampa, he would guarantee himself his first money title, regardless of what happened at the season-ending tour championship the following week in Houston.
That Singh had done the math was no accident. He knows there are personal perceptions about him in the media. And in the public. And among the other players. And the preponderance of those perceptions is not good. Which is why his carefully chosen goal is to win the money title, not Player of the Year.
Player of the Year is voted on by his peers, which makes it a subjective award. Singh can't count on popularity. The money title, on the other hand, has nothing to do with personality and everything to do with hard work and perseverance.
'I've hit a million balls,' said the tireless Singh.
His personality, by the way, isn't as universally disliked as certain members of the media would have you believe. 'He's goofy in a funny way,' said Stewart Cink, who tied for second at Disney with Woods and Scott Verplank. 'He's got a sense of humor. He likes to dish it out. And he can take it.'
That's the part the media rarely sees and, therefore, the part that the public almost never learns. On his bad days, Singh wears the look of a man who feels like a dog that has been kicked too often. You see the mistrust in his eyes. On his worst days, that mistrust produces a meanness.
Add onto that the fact that Woods is the one Singh would have to fight for the public's affection if he ever chose to make a contest of it. Woods isn't perfect either. But he is a good guy with a good staff and an innate sense of when to smile and where to pitch his battles. Singh isn't Woods that way.
There is no law that says Vijay Singh has to be friendly when it doesn't suit him. There is no law that says he has to suffer fools gladly. There is no law that says players, or fans, or media members have to like him.
The sad part of it all is how much negative energy currently emanates from this tall, Fijian Indian with the preternaturally graceful swing; a fluid action that generates an almost languid power. There is nothing hurried about the 40-year-old Singh. But neither is there any indication that he will be running low on batteries any time soon.
He has won two major championships and he will surely find his spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame before his 50th birthday. Some people believe he practices ceaselessly because he doesn't know any better; that he wouldn't know a good book if it hit him on the head at the top of his backswing. Others sense an almost childlike joy in his practice habits: He hits balls because it is the thing he loves best. Most players practice to get better. Singh practices for the simple sake of the ineffable pleasure that comes with a clean strike, a shallow divot, a boring trajectory and an on-balance finish that produces no strain.
'Over time I will get comfortable and start talking again,' Singh said Sunday.
We should all look forward to that time. And if it turns out, as some suspect, that he has little to say, we can always enjoy the language of his swing.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt