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Sport - Golf Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

First the game, now the image

By Glenn Sheeley

ATLANTA, NOV. 1. When the Tour Championship and his historic season are behind him next week, Vijay Singh will remain in Atlanta briefly, enjoying another reward from his PGA Tour domination.

The undisputed player of the year; the first player to top $10 million in a season; and the winner of nine PGA Tour events this season also could be relaxing his image in the process. Singh will be filming his own 2005 commercial for Foot-Joy, along with the company's resident funny man, `Sign Boy,' aka, Matt Greisser.

Appropriately, the commercial will take place on a local practice range, a testament to Singh's well-chronicled work routine.

"It's very light-hearted," Singh's agent, Clarke Jones of IMG, "and Sign Boy's the perfect guy to bring out that little side of Vijay in his office, if you will."

There is not, however, a desperate plan to push Singh toward Hollywood game shows and sitcoms. The people who manage the world's No. 1 player are content to have his on-course performance shape his image. Despite the recent purchase of IMG by Singh's good friend and occasional pro-am partner, Ted Forstmann, the Fijian clearly would rather hear accolades from his peers on the practice range than from the suits on Madison Avenue.

"We definitely have a strategy that less is more," Jones said. "The man's got plenty of money in the bank. He doesn't need to have 12 different sponsors. You know what he likes to do. He loves to play golf, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that."

New credibility

That said, since officially overtaking Tiger Woods in the rankings, a new credibility seems to have deepened the quality of Singh's image. At 41, suddenly he stands taller in his sport. People all around him feel it, even those same fans formerly used to following Woods.

As Singh smacked a perfect drive during the recent Funai Classic at Disney World, a man behind the ropes yelled as the ball headed skyward, then split the fairway, "That's why he's No. 1." After the round, one of his Singh's amateur partners, Peter Foss of Charlotte, savoured what he easily considered a lifetime moment.

"He was wonderful," Foss said of Singh, who always has been charming in pro-am role, his media mood notwithstanding. "He was just a real gentleman."

While Clarke maintains that "Vijay's not going to change, whether he's No. 1 in the world or No. 90," he seems to have mellowed in the wake of his new status.

All Singh did, of course, in his first tournament as No. 1 last month was promptly beat everyone at the 84 Lumber Classic for his eighth victory of the season.

Of the year, Singh said, "I just don't want to see it end. Put it this way: This is my high, and I'd like to ride it."

Evolving facets

Other facets of Singh's golf also are evolving. He will play another skins game in India the weekend after the Tour Championship with Todd Hamilton and Justin Rose. He's designing another course in Fiji, beginning in February, with his father, Mohan.

But the best thing that happened this year hardly anyone saw. On the range and in the locker room, Singh was overwhelmed by congratulations from his fellow tour players after securing the No. 1 ranking.

"I always thought I was going to be No. 1. . . . Or that I was No. 1," Singh said. "But then when I actually achieved it, I got a lot of response from my peers. Everywhere I went, they just looked up at me and congratulated me, and that was something that was really special, and that really got to me, especially in the middle of the season."

Where does Singh go from here? As he has mapped his career already, 2005 will start with his victory bag again empty.

Even Singh's wife, Ardena, asked him recently what his goals were for next year. Singh was temporarily dumb-founded.

"Out of the blue I said, `You've never asked me that question before,''' Singh said.

But it also made him think. Singh can't realistically believe that a run allowing for 13 victories in the past two seasons can last forever. Or that Woods can stay silent for much longer.

"It's going to be a big disappointment if I don't win a tournament next year," Singh said.

"How am I going to take that? Those are the things that I've got to sit back and worry about. Not worry about, but think about how I'm going to approach it. This is a season that isn't going to come that many times."

But as conditioned as Singh is, in truth, he spends less time on the range these days and more in the workout room, the story could add a few more chapters.

"If Jay Haas can do it when he's 50," Singh said, "why can't I do it at 55?"

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