PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA – Should Vijay Singh ever decide to head off into the sunset, it’s fair to assume he will do it with a golf club in one hand and a bag of practice balls in the other.
And if Singh has his way, he’ll be carrying the spoils of what he hopes will be a courtroom victory against the PGA Tour in a lawsuit that has dragged on for four years, making several lawyers even richer without, to this point, resolving the contentiousness.
Though Tom Kite might argue the point because he is 13 years Singh’s senior, Singh may have hit more golf balls than any person ever, a distinction that must satisfy Singh immensely, not to mention what it must have done for his trainer and his chiropractor.
There is no reason to stop banging balls now, not since the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass has redone its practice facility. It’s so good that it includes a replica of the famous 17th hole island green.
“It’s pretty good. It’s probably the best it’s ever been,” Singh said.
That may sound like lukewarm praise. From Singh, it’s an aria of admiration.
The benefit of Singh’s obsession was evident Friday in the pre-summer warmth that enveloped the Stadium Course, where the 54-year-old moved into serious contention at the Players Championship with a second-round 68 that looked as easy as the natural rhythm of his seemingly ageless golf swing.
Were it not for a couple of missed chances on the last two greens late in the afternoon, Singh would be closer than three strokes off the lead shared by Louis Oosthuizen and Kyle Stanley. Nevertheless, less than three weeks after winning his first PGA Tour Champions event, teaming with Carlos Franco at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf, Singh is on the scent again.
Though Singh quickly shot down a question about his ongoing lawsuit against the PGA Tour – “I don’t want to talk about that,” he said before the reporter had finished his question – the notion of new commissioner Jay Monahan presenting the Tour’s most prestigious trophy to a man the organization has been at legal war with for years is titillating.
The lawsuit – it stems from Singh’s suspension for using deer-antler spray when it was a banned substance and is built around his contention that he was treated differently than other players – follows Singh like the dust cloud followed Pigpen in the Peanuts cartoon strip. He has been as dogged in challenging the Tour as the Tour has been in trying to get the issue behind it.
Eventually, a decision or an agreement will be reached and perhaps there can be a thaw. It hasn’t stopped Singh, who lives in the area, from showing up regularly at the Stadium Course, occasionally popping in for salad and smoothies at an on-site lunch spot favored by Tour employees.
What the lawsuit can’t do is dull the brilliance that took Singh – already in the World Golf Hall of Fame – to the top of the world ranking in 2004. He provided a reminder of it Thursday and Friday, handling an increasingly fiery course that went from firm to hard as the wind blew the scent of distant wildfires across the layout.
Though it may never have crossed his mind, it’s unfortunate that Singh became suspicious of the media through his career, closing himself off. With a backstory that goes from Fiji to Borneo to being a nightclub bouncer in Scotland, Singh probably has more stories than he has PGA Tour wins – 34. He has kept them to himself and those closest to him and let his game say about him what he hasn’t.
Singh is not the machine he once was. He had missed seven cuts in a row on the PGA Tour and suggested he had no memory of it.
“I don’t try to remember what I did in the past, I came here feeling good about my game and I just thought that I was ready to play. I was ready to play well, too,” Singh said.
By his own estimation, Singh hits about half as many balls as he once did but he spends extra time on and around the practice green now. A few weeks ago, he went from a cross-handed claw to a conventional claw grip (that’s what desperate putters do) and, for the most part, it has worked.
The Tour stats say Singh ranks 201st in strokes gained putting. That makes the notion of him remaining in contention seem silly until you realize Sergio García ranks 190th and he won The Masters.
“It was sad I three-putted the last hole, but that’s a strong part of my game right now. If I keep putting like that, I’m going to be right there on Sunday,” Singh said.
Wouldn’t that be something.
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