'Rookie' Singh primed to make his mark in the United States

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With experience playing all over the world, Jeev Milkha Singh has seen just about every type of golf course imaginable.
March 10, 2010
Stan Awtrey, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

He qualifies as a "rookie" on the PGA TOUR this year, but in truth, that modifier isn't completely appropriate when referring to Jeev Milkha Singh.

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It would be much more apt to consider him a first-year, full-time TOUR pro, for the 38-year-old Singh has played -- and won -- all over the world, and he has the potential to do likewise in the United States.

His path to the PGA TOUR has been a gradual one as Singh made his mark in the game on various other continents. He became the first native of India to earn his playing privileges on the European Tour in 1997. He was 16th in the Order of Merit in 2006 and a career-high 12th in 2008.

Granted, Singh dropped to 34th last year, partially because he spent more time competing in the United States. He won enough money in 15 events in America in 2009 that he was able to qualify for membership on the PGA TOUR, which he decided to accept.

"I've played everywhere and I thought I would give it a go," Singh said.

Singh has won everywhere, too. He has 15 international victories, with wins coming on the Japan Tour, the Asian Tour and the European Tour. In fact, he won on all three circuits in 2008, when he had eight top-10s on the European Tour.

Now he's on the PGA TOUR, where he has exempt status for the rest of the year. This week he'll be competing at the Puerto Rico Open presented by Banco Popular since his No. 60 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking wasn't quite good enough to get him in the World Golf Championships-CA Championships. Too bad; he had a season-best fourth-place at Doral a year ago, where he shared the first-round lead.

Singh waited until the Accenture Match Play Championship to make his debut as a TOUR member, preferring to be home when his wife Kudrat gave birth to their first child, a boy. He said they were planning to wait six months before moving the entire family to the United States and that they would probably relocate in New York, where Singh's sister is a physician.

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Singh's results have been mixed this year. He reached the round of 16 in the Accenture Match Play Championship, beating Padraig Harrington and Matt Kuchar before losing to eventual winner Ian Poulter. He missed the cut the following week in Phoenix, though, and tied for 35th at last week's Honda Classic.

His confidence level, boosted from his international success, is high, though. He believes the PGA TOUR and European Tour are roughly equal in terms of ability and that the main difference lies in the type of courses played in America and the style of play it takes to be competitive here.

"In Europe the greens are softer and in the U.S. we play greens that are firm and hard, so you can't be too aggressive," Singh said. "Here it's more about management. In Europe you have some rough and the pins aren't as tucked away."

Singh was hardly tucked away in India when he was boy. His father was an Olympic sprinter and may still be the most famous sports figure in the country. His mother was captain of the county's volleyball team. But Singh gravitated toward golf and won his first tournament when he was 13.

In 1990 he was playing in a series of junior tournaments sponsored by Doug Sanders and inquired about the chances of earning a college scholarship in America. It wasn't long before Sanders -- who was competing in a tournament at Fairway Oaks in Abilene, Texas -- called one night and asked if Singh still wanted to come to the United States. Singh jumped at the chance. So, without benefit of an official visit, he was soon on his way to America to play at Abilene Christian.

Singh admits there was some culture shock involved. West Texas -- Abilene is about 150 miles west of Dallas -- is not exactly like India. There definitely were some unhappy moments in the beginning.

"That first year I was very homesick, but had some great teammates and a great coach," Singh said. "We still stay in touch."

Singh was an All-American for the Wildcats in 1992 and 1993. He was medalist at the 1993 NCAA Division II championships, which Abilene Christian won. Afterwards he approached Coach Vince Jarrett and asked if he should turn professional. Jarrett gave his blessing and Singh began traveling the globe.

Now he hopes to find success in the United States.

"I've won on most of the tours in the world," he said. "I would like to win here, too. That would be perfect."

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