Vijay Singh: the blockbuster Bollywood movie [The Fiji Times, 24 September 2004]
There have been movies about golf before. Mostly forgettable.
But can there ever be a more astonishing golf movie, whether byHollywoodor Bollywood, than one about our Vijay Singh, now the world’s Number 1 golfer.
Of course, there would be the usual “rags to riches” story, appealing to all.
But what about the other exciting sub-plots: his inability to get sponsorship in Fiji; his disqualification on the Australasian tour; his exile to the jungles of Borneo where he developed his harsh self-discipline and practice regimes; his rise in the USPGAtour, with its racial discrimination; his mammoth battles with the great Tiger Woods; his unwise statements about Annika Sorenstam; and, of course, a movie must have a love interest.
This movie would have so many super stars, it must become a block-buster. It would continue to advertiseFiji, long after Vijay has slipped from the top world rankings.
This is the movie for the Audio Visual Commission of Fiji to foster.
The rags to riches story
Of course, the main plot would be the typical “rags to riches” story. The underdog rising from the poverty stricken backwaters of Nadi in Fiji, to become the world’s number one golfer, recognised all over the world, a globe trotting millionaire.
When you add up his golf winnings and commercial sponsorships byClevelandand other golf associated companies, Vijay is wealthier than Punja or Motibhai. And all by swinging a stick against a ball.
But these successes did not come easy. Vijay’s struggles are the stuff of great movies.
The early struggles
Imagine a movie starting off with the birth of a child in a relatively poor family in the West of Fiji. Descended from the poverty stricken indentured labourers of the old colonial days.
There would be the religious rituals at some temples in Nadi. Was Vijay Singh a Punjabi or Sikh (as his name might imply) or a South Indian?
Caddying for his father Mohan Singh- one of the few Indo-Fijians then succeeding in a white-dominated colonial sport inFiji.
Then, Fiji Golf Club in Suva so discouraged non-whites, that even Fijian and Indo-Fijian government ministers (including Ratu Mara and Jonati Mavoa) often chose to go and play at the Nausori Golf Club, which was more welcoming of their non-white friends.
Vijay would be a lanky kid, unable to afford his own golf clubs, hitting golf balls with a guava stick, perhaps sneaking out with his father’s clubs now and then (and probably getting a whack for it too).
To save up for his own clubs, Vijay (and his brothersKrishnaand Meera) would caddy at the Nadi Airport Golf Club, mostly for white golfers.
There would be scenes of Air Pacific planes roaring in to land or taking off (more free advertisements for Fiji), golfers disturbed, losing some skins, Vijay laughing.
Then there would be Vijay’s rise like any other good golfer. His playing in tournaments all overFiji(like the scenic Vatukoula Golf Cub) and winning a few- as at the Lautoka Golf Club (which is hosting this week’s ProAm in honour of Vijay Singh).
Fiji companies were reluctant to sponsor Vijay- he and his father had no great connections in society. One large airport-associated company in the West was approached by Vijay for a $50,000 sponsorship to go international, and the Board refused- “it was not the kind of thing they did”.
The ex-chairman of that company ruefully told me that had they given Vijay the money and asked for only 5% of his earnings in return, his company would have been laughing all the way to the bank.
But Vijay did go international, and into more hot water. More great movie scenes.
The Australasian tour struggles
Vijay always short of money. Staying in cheap sleazy hotels. Eating the cheapest of meals. Not being able to afford the best golf equipment that his competitors had. Even using the same ball over and over, to save money for the next trip, the next championship.
And somewhere, a wrong scorecard, which Vijay always maintained was a mistake by his marker. Most golfers in their lives make such mistakes. But uneducated Vijay Singh, unable to afford a lawyer, or argue eloquently for himself, was banned for a number of years.
Next dramatic scenes: he exiled himself, like Rama in the Ramayanas, to the jungles ofBorneo. He survives by giving lessons to the odd timber company employees. Or the rajah or two.
But more important for his future, he channels his anger and rage at his predicament, into vicious self-discipline and harsh practice. Hour after hour, long after you could not see the ball. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.
And eventually it pays off. He wins a tournament here and there inSouth East Asia. And then he breaks on to the world scene.
His rise in Europe and US
The next scenes would be the grand golf courses of Europe andUnited States. Surrounded by white golfers, business executives, and the wealthy.
Before Tiger Woods came along, Vijay Singh was the first black golfer to make it big in the white world of golf.
Many top clubs where tournaments were played did not accept blacks as members (or women either) – like Augusta Masters. The only blacks to be seen would be the caddies.
But now there was black towering black Vijay Singh, called the “Big Fijian”, playing regularly, and winning here and then, appearing on the world’s TV screens.
He would have faced racial discrimination quite regularly. When he left after wining the Augusta Masters, he is supposed to have said “kiss my ass”. What was the story behind that?
What great golf scenes one can write about Vijay’s battles with his competitors like Tiger Woods, in an unfriendly media environment.
Vijay, had never been to college, unsophisticated, not good at yarning with the media. Tiger Woods and Phil Michelson- college educated articulate, adept at handling the media, giving them many stories, and loved by them.
And somewhere, Vijay, coming off the 18th tee and losing by a stroke, was asked by the media what he thought of Annika Sorrenstam (the world’s number 1 woman player) playing on the men’s tour.
Without thinking, Vijay would say something unkind. And the cruel unkind media, latched on to the story, and crucified him. Vijay thereby probably lost the opportunity to become the Player of the Year for 2003. But he will be, for 2004. Bet your money.
Vijay slugging on
But Vijay weathered that storm. His legendary practice continued. He kept winning.
And then the grand scenes in the latest USPGAMasters tournament.
Vijay the David from littleFiji, takes on the goliaths of the world. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Jim Furyk from United States; Ernie Els and Retief Goosen from South Africa; Faldo from Britain; Sergio Garcia from Spain; Harrington from Ireland; Weir from Canada; Adam Scott from Australia.
And Vijay wins. TheFijiflag flies above the Star Spangled Banner, above the Union Jack, and all other flags. With his next victory, snatched in dramatic fashion in a play-off, he becomes the world Number 1.
Hollywood and Bollywood.
Of course a movie, made byHollywood or Bollywood, has to have a love interest. And in his real life, Vijay falls in love with someone else’s wife who marries him, and stands by him, through all his trials and tribulations.
Hollywood would, naturally, also throw in Tiger Woods’ Swedish blonde bombshell, or John Daly’s frequent passing fancies. Heaven forbid,Hollywoodmight even have Vijay and Annika settling their disagreements in some other kind of steamy match-play.
Bollywood might take even further liberties. Vijay Singh would be turned into a fair-looking golfer; with a Bollywood lovely as his caddy; prancing down the verdant fairways; dancing around the flag-stick after every hole that Vijay finishes; sliding down the deep sand bunkers; and of course, singing to the gallery and the skies.
But whether the movie is done by some serious producer,HollywoodorBollywood,Fijiwould get great advertisement, for the first and last parts of the movie
A movie good for Fiji
What a movie forFiji’s Audiuo Visual Commission to push- forFiji’s sake.
In March of this year, several very senior Fijicitizens (and two junior) recommended Vijay Singh for Fiji’s highest honour- Companion of the Order of Fiji.
A Vijay Singh movie might come full circle, with our President (himself a Westerner) giving Vijay that well-deserved award, for merit and achievement of the highest degree.
What a genuine glorious ending for the movie blockbuster- Vijay Singh.
And how great for multi-ethnicFiji.