LAST DECEMBER atthe Target World Challenge, I walked the first round with Vijay Singh andPadraig Harrington. The pair had a gallery of no more than 30 people, includingseveral Irishmen in green soccer jerseys, a few Indian fathers with their gawkypreteen sons, and me. From an elevated tee box somewhere on the back nine thetwo hit their booming drives to the fairway below. As they were striding totheir second shots, Singh stopped to use a portable lavatory at the edge of thefairway.
While the otherspectators continued on, I waited. A minute later Singh exited the restroom,and for those fleeting seconds on the pristine fairway of the Sherwood CountryClub, separated only by a rope and 20 yards, it was just Vijay and me. We werehaving a moment. As he walked by he gave me a little "bro" nod.
That part of methat is still a child felt like the kid catching Mean Joe Greene's jersey. Butthe older part, the part that thinks about these things, simply was thrilled tohave had a brief, private moment with a guy I have tried to emulate, not onlyin the fluid grace of his swing but also in his method of being. For me, Singhis one ideal of the minority sports figure. He does what he does, and he doesit well. He does not apologize. He is not nice for the sake of being nice. Heis not meek. He is Bonds at his best, without the steroid allegations or theself-pity.
Vijay is the typeof guy who saves his best work for Labor Day. Played over the Labor Dayweekend, the Deutsche Bank Championship has been good to Singh. It was there in2004 that he replaced Woods atop the World Ranking. And it was there just a fewweeks ago that Singh shot a blazing eight-under 63 in the final round to winfor the second consecutive week in the FedEx Cup playoffs, all but guaranteeinghim the Cup and the $10 million payout.
I don't care thatno one predicted that Singh would win or that he gets a fraction of the lovegiven to Tiger and Phil. And I don't care that when I turned on SportsCenterthat night to catch the highlights of the Deutsche Bank, there was no mentionof Singh until 45 minutes into the show and then only a cursory story.
I do care thatyoung South Asian kids have one more possibility of what they can be. Tigerfaded the color line in golf, but there are multiple color lines in thiscountry, and Vijay is doing his own bit. He leads a flock of South Asians inprofessional golf that provides a brief history lesson on the movement ofIndians across the globe. There is Arjun Atwal, Indian born and Long Islandbred; Jeev Milkha Singh, the son of an Indian Olympian tearing it up on theEuropean tour; Daniel Chopra, half-Indian, half-Swede and all bleached blond;and Vijay, the Indian from Fiji.
Most of all, Icare that Vijay probably doesn't care about any of this. That split second whenhe and I made eye contact may have been special to me, but I would bedisappointed if I learned that at that exact moment, on that sunny day atSherwood, Vijay was thinking about anything other than whether to hit aneight-iron or a nine into the green.
Sameer Pandyateaches South Asian literature at UC Santa Barbara and is completing anovel.
GOLF PLUS willnext appear in the Oct. 27 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
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POINTS OF PRIDE Singh added to his legacy by winning the FedEx Cup.
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