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Celebrity Snooker Fans – Vijay Singh


Once the crowds had drifted away and Vijay Singh’s heartbeat had returned to normal after his dramatic win in the USPGA Championship, it would have amazed no one if the Fijian had reached for a cue for a relaxing game of snooker.


Singh’s interest in the sport is well known, but it is a surprise to learn that that his enthusiasm for snooker is not purely recreational. Singh has spent many hours on the green baize, convinced that his putting stroke could benefit as a result.


Perhaps it is not so surprising after all. Singh is conclusive proof that practice makes perfect. One of the hardest workers in golf, perhaps in any sport, he is legendary for his marathon sessions on the practice range. Week in, week out on the PGA Tour, Singh can be seen sending ball after ball rising into the dusk, long after his fellow professionals have retired for a slice of apple pie.


“Snooker and golf are very similar games,” said the 41-year-old. “The ball is stationary until you hit it, so it’s not like football or basketball where you are playing from instinct a lot of the time. It’s very important to have good touch. When I play snooker or pool, I get used to the feeling of rolling a ball into a hole at the right speed. I’m sure that’s helped me hole a few more putts.”


It may seem unorthodox, but who is to argue with a man who has emerged as one of the leading contenders to take over Tiger Woods World No 1 ranking In fact, in 2003 Singh became the first player to earn more money than Woods on the PGA Tour since 1998. Four victories and 14 further top-ten finishes from 27 starts banked him a cool $7.6million.


And now his latest achievement – his play-off victory at Whistling Straits over Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco – has earned him his third major championship.


Success for the man whose first name means ‘victory’ in Hindi has not come easily. His road to the top was cluttered with more obstacles than the 17th at St Andrews. Growing up in Fiji, he first played golf on a nine-hole course at Nadi Airport on the island of Viti Levu, where his father was an aeroplane technician. Modelling his languid, powerful swing on that of Tom Weiskopf, he soon reached a scratch handicap and eventually qualified for the European Tour in 1988, promptly winning six tournaments in two years.


In 1993, he moved base to the USA and was voted PGA Tour rookie of the year after victory in the Buick Open. He has since gone from strength to strength, improving with age thanks to relentless practice. He won his first major, the PGA Championship, in 1998 at Sahalee, and another great moment came in 2000 when he held off Ernie Els and David Duval on the home stretch at Augusta to capture the Masters.


Despite the success of the last ten years, Singh has fond memories of the time he spent on the European Tour. Living in the USA – he now resides in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida,with son Qass, wife Ardena and six German shepherds – has one particular draw back. “They don’t show snooker on television here.” he said. “When I was based in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I used to love watching snooker on TV whenever it was on and I became very familiar with the players who were on top back then.


“My favourites were Jimmy White and Steve Davis but I also liked watching Alex Higgins, Dennis Taylor, Cliff Thorburn, Terry Griffiths and Willie Thorne. Then Stephen Hendry came along and blew them all way – it was amazing how he took the game to a new level.


“I also lived in Malaysia for a while, I had a table in my house and I practised a lot and I got to a decent standard. I could regularly make breaks in the 30s and one time I made a 65, though that was really a one-off. These days I don’t have much time to play because I am so dedicated to golf. Snooker is not so big in the States, so I have lost touch with the game a little bit. The tables are too big and the pockets are too small. I know a few of the Brits are keen snooker players, like Darren Clarke and Sam Torrance, but the Americans don’t play at all.


“Nine-ball pool is very popular here and I’m going to get a table in my house. Whenever I’m in the UK, if there’s a table in the hotel I love to have a game, or if the snooker’s on television I watch it. I’ve never been to a tournament but I would like to do so one day.


“The other similarity between snooker and golf is the importance of mental strength. You are out there on your own and there are a lot of mind games involved. If you have the choice of taking on a long red or playing safety, you need the strength of mind to trust in the shot you choose. It’s the same in golf – you might have a long iron to the green or an easier lay-up. You have to commit yourself 100 per cent to the shot and then fully believe that you are going to make it.”