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Despite everything going on this week, it’s not like Vijay Singh hasn’t exactly been a stranger to criticism and controversy over the years.
There was the alleged cheating incident on the Asian Tour that ultimately led to an investigation and his subsequent lifetime ban on that tour, although it’s worth noting that Singh maintained that his scorecard wasn’t intentionally “doctored” to make the cut in the event back in 1985. He claimed it to be an honest mistake and really hasn’t talked about it much in the 27 years since. “That part of my life is disappointing and heartbreaking, and I just want to leave it alone,” he was quoted as saying in THIS archived SI article by John Garrity back in 2000.
Then there was the playful-yet-tense moment back in 2000 during the Presidents Cup, when Tiger and Vijay were going head-to-head in a match during one of the days and Singh’s caddie (Paul Tesori) showed up on the first tee wearing a hat that read, ‘Tiger Who?’ on the side. “I don’t know where he got that hat,” Singh would later comment. “But I said why not?” As history reveals, the ploy to get in Tiger’s head obviously backfired, and many years later Tesori talked about that incident being a “life lesson” for him as a caddie, in THIS article written by ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski back in 2007. “I had been on Singh’s bag three months, I was carrying for the International Team. It was a fun thing to wear. Guys at the range said, ‘You should wear it.’ It was a naïve thing. At the end of the round — and it was a huge life lesson for me — I actually went up to Tiger and said, ‘Hey, bro, I meant no disrespect to you at all.’” Although it was a playful jab directed at Woods, basically making light of his incredible and ever increasing popularity back during that point in his career, it was also something that quite a few people in many circles considered improper gamesmanship that was allowed, if not encouraged, by Singh himself. After all, it’s commonly accepted that a player’s caddie is an extension of his player, thereby requiring him to follow the same codes of conduct and professionalism as the player he’s looping for. And not that it matters in practice, but most players themselves readily acknowledge that.
Speaking of gamesmanship, who can forget the big brouhaha between Vijay and Phil Mickelson with the spike-gate incident back in the 2005 Masters? Most will recall that midway through the 2nd round, Singh (who was playing in the group behind Mickelson at the time) complained about spike marks on the 12th green and cited the size of the spikes in Mickelson’s golf shoes as the source of the problem. Phil was approached by Masters tournament officials on two different occasions as he played the 13th hole up ahead, informing him that Singh felt that his spikes were creating “undue damage” to the greens. In the locker room after the round, Mickelson and Singh reportedly got into a heated discussion about the incident after he overheard Singh talking to other players about it, and he decided to confront Vijay. “After sitting in the locker room for a while, I heard Vijay talking to other players about it and I confronted him,” said Mickelson in THIS BBC Sports article back in 2005. “He expressed his concerns and I expressed my disappointment with the way it was handled. I believe everything is fine now.”
Yet Phil’s not the only player that Vijay has had a run-in with. Some of you might recall last year’s Sony Open when Singh was paired up with Rory Sabbatini and got into a serious squabble with Sabbatini’s caddie for moving while he was going through his putting routine. It was alleged that Vijay swore loudly enough at the caddie that the nearby tournament marshals working gallery control could easily hear what was going on, and eventually Sabbatini had enough of it and stepped in to defend his looper. “The only thing I told Vijay is whatever he was saying to my caddie is inappropriate. I was just sticking up for my caddie, who doesn’t deserve to be talked to in that manner,” Sabbatini was quoted as saying in THIS NY Times sports article. The PGA Tour refused to comment about Singh’s conduct, other than stating that they would be investigating the matter.
But Despite the instances above, nothing Vijay has done throughout his career, good or bad for that matter, stands out more than the remarks he made back at the Colonial in 2003. It wasn’t intended to be this huge historical statement-making event ala Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King back in the 1970′s… she just wanted to see how competitive she could be playing with the men on the courses they play. We’re talking about Annika Sorenstam, obviously. And if anyone in the history of the LPGA, (besides Babe Didrikson Zaharias, of course) had earned the right to measure her game against the men, it was certainly Annika. But some people didn’t see it that way, including quite a few of her male counterparts on the PGA Tour. It just so happens that Vijay, to both his credit and his demise, was the player that the media focused on because of the degree of his outspokenness. ”I hope she misses the cut,” Singh said in THIS article posted on ESPN back in 2003. ”Why? Because she doesn’t belong out here.” Under enormous pressure having been in the spotlight the day prior, Singh backed off of his commentary the next day long enough to imply that he initially meant that Sorenstam should’ve been required to earn her spot in the event by qualifying, instead of taking a spot in the field away from some other player who deserved it more.
Then of course you have the unconfirmed reports of profanity-laced tirades directed at a few reporters and tournament volunteers over the years, the occasional indifferent attitude displayed toward some of the fans at certain venues, and other he-said, she-said type of stuff that always gets plenty of circulation in the Google search engine rumor mills, things mind you that are often said and written about dozens of other players as well. Vijay is far from being the only target of criticism on the PGA Tour, to be certain, but he is certainly the biggest thanks to his reputation. So after a while, all of that stuff from the past continues to follow. Whether they’re fabrications that have absolutely no basis, or facts that can’t be refuted, these things can indeed have an impact on how his fellow touring pros perceive him. And how one is perceived by his peers has every reason to determine whether or not he’ll have someone coming to his defense, especially in a crisis situation when someone in his corner is most needed.
Although there has been an attempt by some to reveal some underlying sympathy towards Vijay, especially in light of him coming out and admitting that he used the banned substances right away, the following bottom line cannot be overlooked: only one player over the past few days who has been asked to comment on this story has come out and said that Singh should not be suspended. That player is Tom Pernice, Jr – someone who by the way considers Singh a very close friend.
Here’s what Mark O’Meara had to say in THIS article on PGA.com: “I guess they could probably suspend him for a couple of months. I would think so. Listen, people have had to pay the price before and he should be no different. If that is the case and the commissioner and tour feels he should be suspended for X amount of time, I think Vijay is man enough that he’ll do that.”
Fellow Masters Champ Bubba Watson called it “weird” in THIS article when asked about it. “It’s sad that people live and die by their sport and they have to, I guess, cheat and go around it and try to better themselves with deer-antler spray. I’m not just going to take something and ask questions later. I’m not going to take deer antler-spray and find out what it is later…. I think we should check them for mental problems if they’re taking deer-antler spray. That’s kind of weird.”
What about Mr. Cup Spitola himself, Sergio Garcia? “I mean obviously if he’s taken a banned substance obviously he’ll probably be punished for it,” Garcia remarked in THIS article over at sportal.com.au. “It’s unfortunate but that’s the way, that’s the rules.”
You know, it really doesn’t matter in the end what the players themselves think about Vijay, whether he’s a nice guy or not, what the general public might think about him, etc. because in the end the PGA Tour says they’re serious about enforcing their Anti Doping policy. They’ve got no other choice but to suspend him or deliver some sort of punishment, otherwise they put themselves at risk of a lawsuit from the player they suspended three years ago for the same policy infraction, not to mention losing every ounce of their credibility they have about maintaining a clean sport. I think everyone, including the media, fans and the players, recognize what has to be done.
It’s just that a lot of people aren’t exactly thinking that this couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.