In the land where rugby football is far and away the dominant sport, it is remarkable that Fiji’s best known sportsman is not a rugby player, but a practioner of what is definitely a minority sport in his native land: golf.

Vijay Singh rose from humble beginnings. He was born on 22nd February 1963 in the sugar milling town of Lautoka in western Vitilevu, a descendant of grimits, Indians who had been brought to Fiji by the British colonial government to work on sugar-cane plantations, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The name he was given, Vijay, means ‘victory’ in Hindi, perhaps a portent of things to come.

His father, Mohan Singh, worked at the Lautoka sugar mill, but later took up employment as an engineer at Nadi Airport, Fiji’s international airport which had been established by the Unites States armed forces as part of their line of defense in the Pacific during the Second World War. Mohan was an avid golfer, and became captain of Nadi Airport Golf Club.

Vijay’s interest in golf began when his father asked him to caddy for him at the age of ten, a job known in Fiji English as ‘carry boy’. By dint of the incredible talent and work ethic that has remained with him to this day, he soon graduated to player, and 1980, while still only 17 years old, he won the Fiji Amateur Open. The next year he won the Nadi Open. His appetite for international golf was whetted when he represented Fiji in the 1980 World Amateur Golf Teams Championship in Pinehurst, North Caroline, and USA – the first time Fiji had featured in an international golf tournament.

By 1982 he had made so much progress that he turned professional and started out playing in Australia, moving on from there to Malaysia to compete on the South East Asian tour, where he won the Malaysian PGA championship in 1984. There followed difficult time, when he worked in Borneo as a club professional, keeping the wolf from the door by doing menial tasks such as giving lessons, mowing the greens, and working as a shop assistant.

Then began the long, hard slog – the Safari tour in Africa (he won the Nigerian Open in 1988 and 1989), the European circuit, the Uk tour, the Australia New Zealand circuit, all the while honing his skills with constant practice, His rise to international stardom was not meteoric, but the gradual result of constant hard work and dedication.

In 1993, he joined the PGA tour, and was acclaimed rookie of the year after coming fourth. 1994 was a difficult year for him as he battled back problems, but he made a comeback in 1995, winning the Phoenix Open, the Buick Classic, and the Passport Open. He again hit a poor patch in 1996, but bounced back in 1997, winning again the Buick Open, and also the South African Open, the Memorial Tournament in Columbus Ohio, and the World Match play in England. In 1998 he reached another milestone in his career by winning the first major, the United States PGA Golf Championship, followed by the Sprint International in the same week. In 2003 and again in 2004 he was the biggest money winner in professional golf, and 2005 he became the youngest golfer ever to be elected to the World Golf hall of Fame during his lifetime.

At 6’2” (1.88metres) tall, Vijay is a true gentle giant, famous for his long drives, deft putting, and absolute dedication to the game, as witnessed by the time he spends on the practice range. While he enjoys success, he is not an extrovert, and is indeed a very private person, even shy. Noted also for his clean living and respectful manner, he is married with one son, and remains a Fiji citizen, being proud to carry the flag of Fiji wherever he plays. This unofficial role as ambassador of Fiji led to a popular move to grant him a diplomatic passport in 2004. He has achieved the almost impossible task of bringing together the different communities in Fiji – while many indigenous Fijians believe that the term “Fijian” should only refer to them, and not to the other communities now living in Fiji, everyone is perfectly happy when the overseas press refer to Vijay as a “Fijian golfer”.

The demands of his career mean that Vijay now lives in the United States and spends most of his time away from Fiji. However, he has by no means forgotten the land of his birth. In 2005 he returned to his homeland to supervise the beginning of construction of a gold course he himself designed situated close to his birthplace, at Natadola in the province of Nadroga in southwestern Vitilevu.

And his thoughts of having his own special stamp issue? Vijay says that “Of all the honors I have received in my life, this is one of the most special, and I hope that, in turn, it will inspire the young people of Fiji and remind them that if they work hard enough, they can accomplish anything they desire.”

 

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Golfer Vijay Singh

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