July 22, 2019

The best golfer you probably forgot about

If I asked you “Who is #3 on the all-time PGA Tour money list?”, I feel pretty confident that you’d be wrong. Tiger Woods is #1 (hopefully that was pretty easy to guess), and Phil Mickelson is #2. Are you trying to think of one of the past greats like Arnold Palmer? Nope. Jack Nicklaus? Try again.

Maybe it’s a young stud who’s been playing in the era of hugely inflated purses, like Dustin Johnson, Jordan Speith, or Justin Thomas? Wiff, airball, and *doink*. The guy you should be thinking of played right in the heart of Tiger Wood’s peak years, and in fact outplayed the Big Cat to get a few of his wins.

If you, somehow, came up with the name Vijay Singh then CONGRATULATIONS!! I don’t have anything to give you, other than my respect, which doesn’t actually get you anything. Maybe the TGS overlords can come up with something suitable for such an insignificant piece of trivia knowledge. “The Big Fijian” has won over $70 million in his career, in only on-course earnings. If you include endorsements, it’s well in excess of $100 million. He hasn’t had much impact on Tour for the last decade, but there was a brief period in the mid-2000’s where he was an unstoppable force on par with Tiger’s best years.

Born in 1963 on the island paradise of Fiji, he grew up playing cricket, football and rugby. His father was a golf instructor, along with being an airline technician, and taught Vijay the game. In a 2004 interview, talking about using coconuts as practice balls, Vijay recalls his father saying “Little Vijay, golf balls don’t fall off trees. So I found some that did!”

I’m not going to dive into all of Singh’s career, because I don’t have that much room, and you all don’t have that kind of attention span, so here’s a highlight reel. He turned pro in 1982, came to the PGA Tour in 1993 (including winning his first pro event). He won a handful more events in the mid-90’s, but broke through in 1998 by winning his first major, at the PGA Championship, and also the 2000 Masters.

Levi Larson | The Tailgate Society Vijay Singh receives the green jacket from 1999 champion Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain after winning the US Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, USA. \ Mandatory Credit: David Cannon /Allsport

What I want to talk about with you folks, though, is the run he went on from September 2003 through July 2005. That stretch, including the entire calendar year of 2004, is among the most dominant years the PGA Tour has ever seen. Since the emergence of Tiger Woods, only two people have won 8 times or more on the PGA Tour in a single season. Tiger won 8 tournaments in 1999 and 2006, and 9 times in 2000. Vijay won 9 in 2004, including his 3rd and final major at the PGA Championship.

Levi Larson | The Tailgate Society Vijay Singh holds the Wannamaker Trophy after the final round at Whistling Straits, site of the 86th PGA Championship in Haven, Wisconsin August 15, 2004 (Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Here’s how Vijay’s wins broke out in that 22-month stretch (tournament end date given):
2003: September 15th and October 26th
2004: February 8th, April 26th, May 3rd, August 1st and 15th, September 6th, 12th, and 26th, and October 31st.
2005: January 16th, April 24th, May 8th, and July 31st.
Most people can’t even win 3 tournaments in a year. To win 3 in a single month is just nuts.
To put that in a little bit of perspective, there are 17 active golfers who have 9 or more wins in their entire career. Vijay eclipsed that mark before you had to switch calendars. He played in 29 events, and made 28 weekend cuts. He led the Tour in money earnings ($10.9 million), he led in scoring average (68.84), he was the PGA Player of the Year, and he became the #1 ranked player in the world in September 2004.

Tiger Woods had spent the previous 4 years as the #1 golfer in the world, and he seemed as untouchable as any athlete ever had been in any sport. Vijay spent 2003 getting ready, by winning 4 times and finishing in the top-10 fourteen more times, but 2004 was where he finally took over, and with good reason. He didn’t hang on very long, though, as Tiger took back over in March 2005. Vijay hung tough through 2005-2007, collecting another 7 wins in those three years, and 6 more top-10’s in majors. 2008 saw a sort of final hurrah for Singh, as he won 3 more tournaments and found himself sitting inside the top 10 getting into the FedEx Cup playoffs.

After victories in the Bridgestone Invitational, and the first playoff event The Barclay’s, Singh was launched into 1st place in the FedEx Cup. He followed that up by spanking the Deutsche Bank Championship field by 5 strokes, including a blistering final round 63. The three wins so close to the end of the year had given him an insurmountable lead, and simply showing up for the final two events was enough. Vijay won the FedEx Cup Championship, and the $10 million cash prize that came with it.

Levi Larson | The Tailgate Society ATLANTA – SEPTEMBER 28: Vijay Singh of Fiji (R) is presented with the FedExCup after the final round of THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola, at East Lake Golf Club on September 28, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia. This is the final event of the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Knee surgery in 2009 put a damper on the early part of the year, and his game has suffered for a long time. The best “recent” finish he’s had in a major was a T16 at the 2009 PGA Championship. He plays on the Champions Tour these days, the senior version of the PGA Tour, and has 4 wins there including 3 in 2018. 2019 got off to a good start, going viral for his new fitness program (which looks more like something Brooks Koepka would do instead of a 56 year-old), and playing his way into the final group of the Honda Classic two weeks ago. Singh shot a final round even-par to finish 6th, but for a beautiful three days he brought everyone back to his mid-2000’s brilliance.

Levi Larson
Levi Larson 4 Articles
Staff Writer

Levi was born and raised in West Liberty, Iowa. An attender of Iowa State University, and also dabbler at Kirkwood Community College. He's an animal lover, except for cats, and beer fanatic. When Levi isn't watching Iowa State or the Green Bay Packers, you can probably find him either watching or (preferably) playing golf. He also spends a lot of time watching movies and playing video games, but adult life continues to get in the way of both.

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