'He wouldn't get my vote,' the official said. 'He's an underachiever.'
Singh was 40 at the time, seemingly headed toward the twilight of his career, with 14 victories on the PGA Tour and two majors. The official, one of the 100 members in the Hall of Fame, thought he should have accomplished more given his Hoganesque swing and work ethic.
No one can dispute his record now - or whether he is worthy of the Hall.
Singh's victory Sunday in the PGA Championship, while it won't win him style points, was his third major and 20th career victory on the PGA Tour, giving him a lifetime exemption. His credentials are superior to Ben Crenshaw (19 wins, two majors) and equivalent to Nick Price (18 wins, three majors, No. 1 in the world for almost a year).
Not many could have seen this late surge coming, least of all Singh.
'When I first came out here, I just wanted to make a good living,' Singh said. 'And then I started playing really well. My motivation got stronger and stronger. I wanted to win golf tournaments, and then I wanted to win majors. Now I just want to go out there and win.
'The harder I work, I feel I can win more and more.'
The next stop is No. 1 in the world, a goal that Singh figured would take five years of great play to accomplish.
Singh moved to No. 2 on Monday in the latest world ranking, a meager one-tenth of a point behind Tiger Woods, and the Fijian takes a load of momentum into the NEC Invitational. Singh could go to No. 1 simply by finishing ahead of Woods at Firestone - and provided Ernie Els doesn't win or finish well ahead of both.
While Singh no longer spends 25 hours a day on the range, his work ethic remains legendary and leaves his peers in awe. During a practice round last week at Whistling Straits, Woods came across a shallow bunker that was only about 6 feet long and 3 feet wide.
'Looks like Vijay has been here,' Woods said. It wasn't a dig at the Fijian, rather recognition of his practice sessions that leave long trenches from the divots he creates.
His endless work on the range has paid off in a swing that he trusts enough to hit driver on holes where almost everyone else takes the safe route.
While the key shots Sunday at Whistling Straits all belonged to Justin Leonard - he missed six putts inside 12 feet on the back nine, any of which would have made him the PGA champion - the boldest move of the final round came at the start of the three-hole playoff.
The 361-yard 10th hole features an elevated fairway with a bunker in the middle, and the left side drops severely into thick grass. The safe play is a fairway metal, leaving a wedge to the green.
Singh pulled out his driver.
He was lucky to be in the playoff in the first place. Singh was on the verge of going three shots down with three holes to play when Leonard missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the 15th. He figured he would be two shots down with two holes to play until the Texan lipped out a par putt from 5 feet on No. 16.
And Singh was helpless again on the 18th as Leonard stood over a 12-foot par putt for the win, only to miss again. That led to a three-way playoff that included Chris DiMarco, and Singh ended the suspense early.
'A playoff ... you have nothing to lose,' he said. 'You've got to be aggressive when you play it. You know that you can't finish worse than second. Go all out and play for it. That's pretty much why I took a driver on 10.'
He nailed it, leaving himself just short of the green, a simple pitch.
DiMarco missed the green left and had to scramble for par. Leonard went long, leaving himself a 20-foot putt from the fringe that he lagged down to 3 feet. Singh's pitch climbed the crest at a perfect speed and trickled to 6 feet, leading to his first and only birdie of the final day.
'It was a well-deserved one,' he said. 'I waited all day for it, and it was a good time that it came.'
The most spectacular shot of the round was his 3-iron into 6 feet into the wind on the 236-yard 17th hole that drops off severely into bunkers, weeds and eventually Lake Michigan. Singh missed the putt, but at that point it didn't matter.
Putting is about the only thing that keeps Singh from winning more.
Irritated by a miserable week on the greens at Royal Troon, he ditched his belly putter after nearly two years for a conventional-sized putter and won the Buick Open two weeks ago by holding off Woods and John Daly.
He made it two in a row at the PGA Championship, and while his putting was awful in the final round - 34 putts - it carried him to a one-stroke lead after 54 holes.
'I think this is the biggest accomplishment I've ever had in my whole career,' Singh said. 'I never thought at any stage that I was going to come back and putt so well so quickly and win golf tournaments. That makes my year.'
It also makes for a Hall of Fame career, one that started anew as a teaching pro in Borneo, where he gave lessons for $10 and spent every free moment working on his swing, not sure where it might lead.
He might be in for a big surprise when the Hall of Fame ballots are mailed next year.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.