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Fiji Time: 2:18 PM on Tuesday 23 September

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Local addition

Zanzeer Singh
Thursday, August 14, 2014

FORMER world number one golfer Vijay Singh expects more local-based players to be given a chance to compete at the prestigious Fiji International in the next four years.

Singh expressed his surprise after learning that only one spot was awarded to the local-based golfers for the inaugural tournament which tees off at the Natadola Bay Championship Course this morning.

Korean-born Sam Lee, a Fiji resident, won the lone spot at the qualifying tournament which was held at Natadola last month.

Krishna Singh, who is Vijay's brother and plays on the Australia PGA Legends Tour, and Japan-based Dinesh Chand have been invited by PGA Tour Australasia and OneAsia as Fiji's top professionals to compete. The Fiji Government has committed a total prize purse of $1.8m for each tournament for five years.

Vijay, when questioned on the issue, said he was quite surprised with the qualification system.

He said in any other country, the locals would be eligible for five to ten spots.

"I was very surprised about that and I think that the local golfers should have been given at least five spots without qualifying," the three-time major champion said.

"It is a tournament in Fiji and in any other country they would give five to ten starts to the local golfers. So I think that they have to show that in the next four years."

Vijay played in a skins tournament at the Denarau Golf and Racquet Club in Nadi in 1995 and prior to that won the Lautoka Open Championship back to back in 1981 and 1982 as an amateur before turning professional.

PGA of Australia chief executive officer Brian Thorburn said Vijay's comments certainly had merits. He said because of the number of daylight hours available at this time of year, they had to limit the field to 120 players.

"We certainly made special efforts to ensure Fiji's top professionals were included in the inaugural tournament including Vijay, Dinesh, Krishna and Rika Batibasaga.

"For future years, the qualification system will be reviewed with the hope to make more positions available for Fijians at the Fiji International.

"We are committed to growing and improving the Fiji International and through the tournament growing the game of golf in the country.

"Hopefully in the future we will see many more world class professional golfers emerge from Fiji and follow in Vijay's footsteps."

Vijay, a World Golf Hall of Fame inductee, initially designed the Natadola course in 2005.

The 51-year-old said he was excited to play in the country after long time and the pressure would be on him to win.

"I played in a tournament last week and a tournament the previous week," Vijay said.

"So it is easy for me to switch over to golf mode. I'm excited to play here. I will try my best to win the tournament and that's the pressure I have to deal with.

"I hope the people will come out in numbers to watch me play. It's not too many years left for me to play at the level to win titles. I'm 51 years old and guess I have couple of years on the US PGA Tour."

Vijay will tee off from the 10th hole at 7.35am with Australians Brendon Jones and Paul Gow.


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