While playing through back problems and not competing on the weekend in six consecutive starts this spring, three-time major winner Vijay Singh fell out of the top 50 in the world for the first time since 1992. That means his streak of playing in 63 consecutive major championships, the longest current run, is in jeopardy.
The day before the opening round of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, Singh was holding out hope for a rare U.S. Open special exemption and said he might not compete in June 7 sectional qualifying. A proud, self-made golfer who has won 22 of his 34 PGA Tour victories since turning 40 seven years ago, Singh told me, “I hope they give me an exemption. Maybe I should get one (like Tom Watson). I may not go to qualifying.” Then he smiled and said, “I’m done qualifying.”
Two days later, Singh learned he would not get an exemption into the Open at Pebble Beach, where he won the annual February Tour stop in 2004. He left Colonial after a T-33 finish undecided if he would compete in the sectional.
If anyone is deserving of exemption, it’s Singh, who is finally healthy. The Hall of Famer finished in the top 5 of Tour earnings 11 consecutive seasons until last season, when he underwent two surgeries to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. He had two top-11 finishes in a row to start the Florida swing in March but then muscle spasms in his lower back ruined his spring.
Singh started the year No. 26 in the world ranking and probably would’ve stayed in the top 50 and qualified for the Open had he not tried to play through his back misery. His is a case that slipped through the cracks.
The U.S. Golf Association, however, is understandably stingy with exemptions. It extends one about every four years, said Mike Davis, senior director of rules and competitions. And normally it is something of a ceremonial invite to a player near the end of his career.
“He just didn’t make it,” Davis said. “If we give him one, what about the guys 51-58 in the world ranking. (Singh was 59th in the world at the time of the cutoff May 24.) Dozens of guys haven’t made it in the past because of injuries.”
I don’t agree with the USGA committee’s decision. Singh is a rare case: An active Hall of Famer beset by extenuating circumstances, i.e. injury. Exemptions are best served not for nostalgia but for players who might have a chance to contend.
That said, here’s hoping Singh sets his pride aside and shows up for sectional qualifying. Two wrongs don’t make a right.