The Vijay Singh Cheating Incident Explained

Vijay Singh was once accused of cheating

Vijay Singh has had a long and very successful career as a pro golfer, including three major championships and a 2004 season in which he won nine times on the PGA Tour.

But there's also something in Singh's career that he'd like to forget, and that he'd prefer everyone else forget, too. Allegations of cheating at a tournament on the precursor to the Asian Tour in 1985.

Actually, we don't even have to refer to the incident as being mere "allegations," since tournament officials concluded that Singh did, in fact, cheat, and the regional governing organization banned him from the tour (today's Asian Tour was not officially founded until 1995).

(Related: The Colin Montgomerie cheating allegation explained)

Here's what happened.

Vijay Singh was 22 years old when he showed up at the 1985 Indonesian Open in Jakarta. Like most young pros in their first years as a tour player, Vijay was having his ups and downs — mostly downs. He badly needed a good showing.

But as the second round came to a close, Vijay was in danger of missing the cut. In fact, he was one stroke short of the cutline. Whether Singh specifically knew that he was one stroke short is something we don't know.

What we do know is this: Somewhere between the time he holed his last putt of the second round and the time he signed his scorecard, Singh "improved" his scorecard. He "lost" a stroke — he lowered his score by one stroke, enough to make the cut.

It should be noted that Singh has always maintained that what happened was "a misunderstanding," that he did not knowingly, intentionally cheat. (What could a "misunderstanding" in this situation be? Could be that, for example, Singh believed he was correcting his score, not tampering with it — that he saw, for example, a "5" on one hole and thought, "wait, I got a '4' on that hole." Vijay has never stated that argument, however — he understandably doesn't like to talk about it.)

But the jig was up pretty quick. An on-site official with the Indonesian Golf Association ruled that Singh had improved his score. And Vijay was disqualified.

In a subsequent ruling, Singh was indefinitely suspended by the Southeast Asian Golf Federation. (Singh was also banned, around the same time, by the Australian PGA for some shady financial shenanigans — unpaid loans and such.)

How strong was the evidence against Singh at the 1985 Indonesian Open? Well, strong enough to get him banned!

In 1996, Sports Illustrated writer John Garrity investigated the incident for the magazine. That article is hidden behind a paywall in the SI Vault, but Garrity summarized his findings again in a 2000 article in SI about Singh:

"I interviewed the Indonesian Golf Association official who ruled that Singh had improved his score in Jakarta by a stroke—just enough to make the cut—before signing his card. I reviewed the incident with Asian tour players of the time, including the Canadian pro who played with Singh that day. "It was not a misunderstanding," said an American player who was there. 'All of us who were around are very upset that Vijay denies this.' "

After the ban, Vijay spent two years as a club pro in Borneo, then went back out on the pro circuit, playing satellite tours in Europe and Africa. Three years after the cheating incident, he had played his way onto the European Tour, and his career was off and running.

Singh once said in a long-ago Masters press conference, "That part of my life is disappointing and heartbreaking, and I just want to leave it alone."

But he eventually even returned to the Asian Tour, winning in 1995 (and later adding four more Asian Tour titles).

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Photo credit: "Vijay Singh" by Tour Pro Golf Clubs is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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