Canny caddie saw me through says Singh

 

Caddying skills, which had been closely linked to success in the USPGA Championship in recent years, were again to the fore at Sahalee on Sunday, when Vijay Singh captured the title. "I couldn't have done it without my caddie Dave (Renwick)," said the Fijian. "He kept me calm throughout the final round."

It will be recalled that when John Daly became a surprise winner of the USPGA at Crooked Stick in 1991, he owed much to the guidance of Jeff "Squeeky" Medlen, who was effectively on secondment from his regular employer, Nick Price. And Medlen, who died of leukaemia last year, then resumed his partnership with Price to win the title in 1992 and again in 1994.

This time, the guiding force was Edinburgh-born Renwick who, as it happened, was on his second winning bag in this event. After helping Jose-Maria Olazabal to win the US Masters at Augusta in 1994, Renwick was with Steve Elkington on the occasion of the Australian's USPGA win at Riviera the following year.

Renwick's impact was never more forceful than on the 14th hole of Sunday's round. With growing alarm, he had watched his employer carve his second shot to the long 11th only to have the good fortune to see the ball bounce off a kindly tree and onto the green for an unlikely, two-putt birdie.

Singh then visited sand and rough at the next; was in another bunker at the 13th and proceeded to drive into trees at the 14th. As they walked to the ball, Renwick took it on himself to deliver a lecture.

"I had told Dave at the start of the round to talk about all sorts of things with me just to keep my mind occupied," recalled Singh afterwards. "So, we talked about horse racing and other things. But at the 14th he said to me `Hey, you can do better than this - and if you don't you're going to lose this'."

This exchange alone left Singh in no doubt about the value of Renwick's presence. "He was really good and I'm glad he was on my bag," said the newly-crowned champion. And by way of thanks, the caddie received more than £30,000 sterling - 10 per cent of the winning cheque.

Singh, who was introduced to golf by his father, an aeroplane technician, had come a long way from a decidedly bleak situation in Borneo 14 years ago, when he was consigned to the role of club professional while serving a ban for an alleged scoring misdemeanour at a tournament in Malaysia.

"I was out there in the jungle practising in 100-degree heat and never even thinking about going to America, let alone winning," he said.

"I just wanted to earn some money so I could go on tour again. But in the process, I learned a lot of things, including a much greater respect for the game. It's something you can't describe and I don't even want to think about it. I've come a long way since."

As the reigning Toyota World Matchplay champion, Singh was well supported in the pre-tournament betting by punters who clearly saw him as a player for the big occasion. Yet there was no clear pointer from his performances in the three earlier "majors" this season.

After finishing a decidedly modest 54th in the Players' Championship at Sawgrass in March, he missed the cut in the US Masters for a second time in four years. And he went on to be tied 25th in the US Open at the Olympic Club before sharing 19th place in the British Open at Royal Birkdale.

Nor was there a pointer in the USPGA Championships of recent years. Granted, he was tied fifth at Valhalla in 1996, when he actually led at one stage of the final round before being overtaken by Mark Brooks. And he was tied 13th behind Davis Love at Winged Foot last year. But prior to those two stagings, he missed the cut at Southern Hills in 1994 and at Riviera in 1995.

Still, he has been admirably consistent in regular tour events. For instance, he has missed only two cuts in 18 US tournaments so far this season and was second in the Honda Classic and the Western Open; tied fourth in the Doral-Ryder Open and tied eighth in the Buick Open, a week before Sahalee.

Sunday's cheque for $540,000 brought his US earnings for the season so far to $1,334,253 which leaves him fifth in the current money list.

It represents a remarkable achievement for a player who, after resuming his tournament career, went in search of success to some "crazy places". He won in Nigeria, Sweden, the Ivory Coast, Italy, Zimbabwe, Spain, Morocco, Malaysia, Germany and South Africa before joining the US Tour in 1993.

He also won that season to become America's Rookie of the Year. Meanwhile, he was widely acknowledged as unquestionably the hardest worker in the game.

With his first major trophy alongside him, Singh smiled and put his own twist on a familiar Gary Player phrase by adding: "The more you practise I guess the better you get." Still a member of the European tour as well as the American circuit, his next appearance in these islands is likely to be his defence of the World Matchplay at Wentworth in October.

Mark O'Meara, the 41-year-old US Masters and British Open champion, made an admirable attempt at matching Ben Hogan's unique 1953 feat of three major triumphs in a season. Three bogeys in a row from the sixth, killed off his hopes.

Interestingly, the leading European in 23rd place, was Per-Ulrik Johansson who will be attempting to win a third successive Smurfit European Open at The K Club, starting on Thursday. But another Straffan challenger, Colin Montgomerie, finished a very disappointing 44th, having been joint leader after 38 holes.

The big Scot chose to keep his own counsel after what could only be described as a miserable collapse.

Meanwhile, at 35, Singh is clearly at the peak of his powers. He has now amassed $5.3 million in tournament earnings in the US alone, adding to his £2.2 million in Europe. And in becoming the 10th player in the last 11 years to achieve a major breakthrough in the USPGA Championship, he did it against one of the strongest fields ever gathered.