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Vijay Singh: Fiji to the world (at no cost) [The Fiji Times, 21 May 2003]


Vijay on a TV screen In Palau

There I was on a lazy  Sunday afternoon, in a hotel room inPalau, a tiny Pacific island far from everywhere.

It is raining outside.

I am flipping through the thirty channels on TV.  (This is notFiji).

Comedy.  Science shows.  American football.  Game shows.  World history.  Cartoons.  Sit-coms.  Movies.  BBC.  CNN.  Japanese TV.  Vijay Singh. GeorgeBush, Iraq, Cherie Blair…

Whoa, whoa, whoa!

Vijay Singh?  On a TV screen in Palau?

Yes.  Large as life, there were Vijay Singh and Dinesh Chand, representingFiji.

On CNBC’s world-wide telecast of the 2002 World Cup Championships, held inMexico.

I had missed Day 1.  This was Day 2, with Vijay hitting it close, hole after hole.   There was rotund  Dinesh Chand, holing pressure putt after putt, pumping his fist in the air, al la Tiger Woods.  And dramatically falling to his knees after missed putts.

But the commentators and the cameras kept zooming in on the hulking dark frame of Vijay Singh.

The commentators heaped praise on Vijay

They talked about his humble origins inFiji, a poor country with little tradition of golf.

They praised his tremendous achievements, his wins in fourteen different counties.

They waxed lyrical about his many US PGA wins, and especially his two Majors, including the  Augusta Green Jacket.

They thought Vijay deserved every victory he had recorded.

The commentators discussed Vijay’s tremendous work ethic, more punishing than that of any other golfer on the tour.

Vijay had also developed his own techniques- unlike others who depended on golf coaches, advisers, and psychologists.

They praised his grace in defeat, his attachment to his family.

What an inspiration for all  youngsters everywhere, they thought.

Vijay and Dinesh Chand did well too: representing Fiji

And theFijiteam of Vijay Singh and Dinesh Chand, sank birdie after birdie, in their Day Two foursomes competition.

Their birdie on the 16th hole made them joint leaders. Two more birdies and they became sole leaders.  They finished with an incredibly low score of 62 for the foursomes format (alternative shots).

Straight after their Day 2 round, the cameras followed Vijay Singh- to the  practice driving range.

Where again, he was hitting ball after ball, trying to iron out whatever little imperfection he may have seen during the day.

And the world-famous commentators kept wondering how a tiny country likeFiji, could do better than all the big countries, (USA,Britain,Australia, etc) with all their big names and depth of talent.

And indeed, the whole world- Japan, Germany, USA- hundreds of millions of people, golfers and non-golfers alike,  saw “Fiji” on the leader-board, not just on Day 2, but also throughout Day 3.

The world has watched Vijay for more than five years: and Fiji

As they have for more than five years, whenever Vijay has been in the international golfing spotlight.

A few weeks ago, Vijay appeared again at the Augusta Masters, vying for another Green Jacket.

He did not win.  But he was trying.  And he was a contender, having won before.  He was coming third at one stage. He finally finished at sixth, well above a number of great champions.  Not a bad performance at all.

Vijay puts his foot in it too, like the rest of us

Last week, Vijay Singh got into a bit of hot water, with his impetuous comments that Annika Sorrenstam, the  women’s world champion, should not be given special entry to the men’s PGA tour, when men had to qualify.

His statements were not “politically correct” but were honestly spoken, and his opinion was indeed shared by most of the men’s PGA Tour golfers (even if most dared not publicly state it).

And now he has again hit the headlines, by winning the Byron Nelson Championship, one of the more coveted titles outside of the Majors.  And he won it in style as well, having led from Day 2, despite the intense media pressure on him following his comments on Annika.

There is little doubt that Vijay Singh will continue to hit the golfing limelight in the coming years, through his sheer playing ability and the fact that he continues to be in contention and he continues to win.

He is now fourth on the PGA Tour’s Money List.

As they have done often previously, the world’s TV cameras will continue to focus on him at international golf tournaments.  They will talk about his wins over Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, David Duval, Michelson, Davis Love III,  Weir, Nick Price, and the other golfing champions.

Fiji gets world publicity, at no cost
At no cost toFiji at all, millions around the world will continue to see the word “Fiji” and associate Vijay’s face withFiji.

Anywhere in the world, mention the wordFiji, and people immediately ask- oh, you must know Vijay Singh.  Goodness knows how manyFijipeople have claimed to be cousins and neighbours of Vijay Singh.

And he is a passport, certainly to golf courses.

I was attending a parliamentarians’ conference inLima(Peru) a few years ago.   Extremely powerful Japanese parliamentarians attending the conference tried to play at the prestigious and eliteLimagolf course (in the heart of the capital).  They could not get past the security guards.

The next day, I trotted down to the same Club, handed my Fiji Golf Club card to the security guards for giving to the Club Professional.  In seconds, he came running out.  He welcomed me to his club; asked me if I knew Vijay Singh; took me on a tour of his course; and invited me to play for free (with a loan of golf clubs and golf shoes thrown in).

Without doubt,  Vijay Singh’s dark face is known throughout the world, not just to golfers, but the general viewing public, on par with the faces of  Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Nelson Mandela.

Isn’t it time Fiji’s tourism industry used his world famous face to advertise Fiji?
What about Vijay and golfing holidays in Fiji?

Shouldn’t some entrepreneur use Vijay Singh to develop another arm of tourism built on golfing holidays inFiji?

When Canada’s Weir won this year’s Augusta Masters, the Canadian Prime Minister was jumping up and down somewhere else in the world and rang him up  to congratulate him.

No one expects our Prime Minister to jump up and down whenever Vijay Singh wins the Augusta Masters or some major tournament (like our other public structures, Government Buildings floors might not withstand too much jumping up and down).

But isn’t it timeFijiinvited Vijay home to honour him with the highest national decoration we have? (just asBritaingives knighthoods to her sporting heroes and even soccer managers?)

Why don’t golf clubs around the country sign a petition requesting that Vijay Singh be givenFiji’s equivalent of the knighthood.

Send the petition directly to the Honours Board or via the President of the National Golf Association of Fiji (Mr Tony Pridgeon).

Can we expect the support of Ministers of Sport, CEO of FVB, and captains of industry in tourism?   And what about those in charge of our Honours Systems?

Let’s do it while Vijay is still hitting the international headlines.

Why haven’t we already?

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