Last December at the Target World Challenge, I walked the first round with Vijay Singh and Padraig Harrington. The pair had a gallery of no more than 30 people, including several Irishmen in green soccer jerseys, a few Indian fathers with their gawky preteen sons, and me. From an elevated tee box somewhere on the back nine the two hit their booming drives to the fairway below. As they were striding to their second shots, Singh stopped to use a portable lavatory at the edge of the fairway.
While the other spectators continued on, I waited. A minute later Singh exited the restroom, and for those fleeting seconds on the pristine fairway of the Sherwood Country Club, separated only by a rope and 20 yards, it was just Vijay and me. We were having a moment. As he walked by he gave me a little “bro” nod.
That part of me that is still a child felt like the kid catching Mean Joe Greene’s jersey. But the older part, the part that thinks about these things, simply was thrilled to have had a brief, private moment with a guy I have tried to emulate, not only in the fluid grace of his swing but also in his method of being. For me, Singh is one ideal of the minority sports figure. He does what he does, and he does it well. He does not apologize. He is not nice for the sake of being nice. He is not meek. He is Bonds at his best, without the steroid allegations or the self-pity.
Vijay is the type of guy who saves his best work for Labor Day. Played over the Labor Day weekend, the Deutsche Bank Championship has been good to Singh. It was there in 2004 that he replaced Woods atop the World Ranking. And it was there just a few weeks ago that Singh shot a blazing eight-under 63 in the final round to win for the second consecutive week in the FedEx Cup playoffs, all but guaranteeing him the Cup and the $10 million payout.
I don’t care that no one predicted that Singh would win or that he gets a fraction of the love given to Tiger and Phil. And I don’t care that when I turned on SportsCenter that night to catch the highlights of the Deutsche Bank, there was no mention of Singh until 45 minutes into the show and then only a cursory story.
I do care that young South Asian kids have one more possibility of what they can be. Tiger faded the color line in golf, but there are multiple color lines in this country, and Vijay is doing his own bit. He leads a flock of South Asians in professional golf that provides a brief history lesson on the movement of Indians across the globe. There is Arjun Atwal, Indian born and Long Island bred; Jeev Milkha Singh, the son of an Indian Olympian tearing it up on the European tour; Daniel Chopra, half-Indian, half-Swede and all bleached blond; and Vijay, the Indian from Fiji.
Most of all, I care that Vijay probably doesn’t care about any of this. That split second when he and I made eye contact may have been special to me, but I would be disappointed if I learned that at that exact moment, on that sunny day at Sherwood, Vijay was thinking about anything other than whether to hit an eight-iron or a nine into the green.