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The Rediff Interview/Vijay Singh
November 16, 2004
Two years ago when world No. 1 golfer Vijay Singh came to India to negotiate a deal to participate in the BILT Sikns 2004 tournament, he asked Gautam Thapar, vice-chairman and managing director of Ballarpur Industries Limited that sponsored last week's tournament in Gurgaon, whether he would get an enhanced fee if became number one golfer in the world. Thapar told him that no matter what happens, the deal would remain the same.
Since then, the Fijian-born six feet two inch golfer, who ended Tiger Woods's five-year reign as world number one two months ago, has made rapid strides, winning nine PGA titles this season and, in the process, becoming the first player in Tour history to earn more than $10 million in a single season.
In an exclusive interview with Associate Editor Onkar Singh, at the DLF Golf Club in Gurgaon on Sunday, the 41-year-old reflected on the Indian golf scene and his ascend to the pinnacle.
How does it feel to be number one?
Obviously, it feels good to be the number one golfer of the world. It is decidedly one of the biggest achievements of my career. It has been my focus to reach the top slot and I managed to do it.
How difficult will it be to remain at the top?
You cannot stay on top forever. First, it was my dream to become number one, and now that I am on the top, staying there would be far more difficult and challenging than to get to the top slot.
Tiger Woods was number one for five years. Let us see how long I stay there. Staying on top is the hardest possible task. Staying on top in any profession is difficult, particularly in golf, where there is so much competition.
Who are the players who could dislodge you from the top slot?
All golfers are vying to become number one in the world and amongst the top anyone can dislodge me on any given day. Todd Hamiliton, Justine Rose and Daniel Chopra, who took part in the BILT Skins 2004 tournament at DLF golf course, are capable of beating me.
Nothing should be taken for granted. All those who are in the PGA circuit are running for titles. Next year, when the golf tournaments begin, we are all going to be on the same level. So anyone can have a go at the number one spot.
What are the areas you had to work hard upon to become the world number one golfer?
A number of factors work automatically when you start winning. When you are on a winning streak your confidence goes up and you find that whatever you do clicks. You are more focussed. You got to make sure that you achieve what you aim for. Your ambition also counts.
I enter a tournament to win. This helps me to do well on the professional golf circuit. I won my first two events with a belly putter and then I changed it to a conventional one. It's not easy when you change your game. But my head has been pretty focused throughout the year.
There was a stage when you saw Tiger Woods and said to yourself that you too would become the world number one. That was two years ago. Now that you have become the number one player how do you feel when you see him?
[Laughs]. I don't know how do I feel, but I would answer your question nevertheless. Tiger Woods was the number one golfer for five years and so long as he was there nobody could match him. But it had to happen one day or the other. It could have been anyone, but in this case it happened to be me.
When we are on the golf course we do not think about beating Tiger Woods, but about winning tournaments and making as much money as we can. I had always dreamt of being the number one player and I strived hard to reach this spot. I had to knock him out to take the place he held for so long.
As I said earlier, I would have to work hard to stay at the top. Everyone who plays professional golf is going to take a pot shot at the top slot. Tiger Woods is not number one or two. I don't think he is number three either. Those who are playing professional golf are good golfers and capable of winning big tournaments, edging out even the favourites. The best thing is to remain focussed and play the best golf.
Now that you have achieved your dream what is your next goal?
I would like to remain on top as long as possible; that is my goal. There are guys who are coming from behind and want to win the number one position. Let us see how long I am going to remain on top.
What is your mantra for winning?
That is a secret [laughs]. One of the biggest things that works is never thinking about the wrong I have done. When I look back I always think about the good shots that I played during a particular game; how many more birdies should I score to bounce back in the game if I am lagging behind on the first day of the tournament. I make one birdie after every three or four holes on an average.
What is wrong Indian golf? Why aren't our players doing well on the international circuit?
It is sad that not enough players are coming out of India at the moment. You need at least four players doing well for the country every year. We need to back the talented players with funds. In the last four or five years I have not heard of even one or two names of up and coming golfers being added to the Indian golfers' list on the professional circuit. It is unfortunate that Ashok Kumar cannot go and play on the international circuit for lack of sponsorship. In the United States, every kid coming out of college has his career path chalked out. There is tremendous pressure on Indian golfers to go out and do well on the international circuit and make a living out of the game.
How does it feel to be in India?
It always feels good to be here [India], because my forefathers had migrated from India to Fiji a long time back. I like to be in Delhi and that is why I keep coming back. Hopefully, I should be back here next year at the same time to take part in the BILT Skins 2005 tournament.
Your assessment of the DLF golf course…
It is one of the best courses that I have played on in the Asian circuit. Its greens are good and playing is easy.