At the end of a second-floor hallway in a hotel hard by the highway in a little town called Tojocho in Japan sat a pile of displaced room furniture. The redecorating was the work of an American golfer, Brian Watts, and his fiancée, Debbye Zima. Upon checking into their $120-a-night corner room, they had found it so small that it could not accommodate both the furniture and their luggage. The luggage stayed.
Then there was that streetlight—the one right outside the window that lit up the room like Broadway, even with the blinds closed. As a remedy they had thrown a thick blanket over the blinds. Finally there was all that traffic that seemed to be whooshing by right next to the mattress. That explained the earplugs.
At least Watts knew he would have a clean pair of pants to wear the next day in the second round of the Phillip Morris Championship on the Japanese Professional Golf Association (JPGA) Tour. That had been a major concern earlier in the week when the hotel staff, which included no one who spoke English, conveyed with great difficulty that it had no cleaning services. "But Brian needs pants," Zima had exhorted. Now, that the hotel people understood. They sent the pants off to a cleaner.
Watts and Zima had included a sketch of a pair of pants with the creases running down the front. This was to ensure against a repeat of that time his pants came back creased on the sides—as is the habit of many Japanese cleaners—giving him the cartoonish look of having felt the underside of a steamroller.
The morning would include their usual in-room breakfast: American cold cereal they had brought with them. Watts would have two bowls—the first of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes and the second, so as not to have too much sugar jumping through his veins while he stood over a four-foot putt, of Corn Flakes. There would be a $50 taxi ride to the course, and maybe, as at other tournaments, he would have to pay to hit range balls and pony up for a greens fee, too. At the turn he would wolf down the peanut butter crackers he had carted from his home in Oklahoma City.
This, Watts often is reminded, is not the PGA Tour. His remembrances of the one year he scuffled on that yellow brick road include courtesy cars, polished golf shoes, unlimited pearly Titleists on the driving range, free food, free long-distance telephone service and, at the Houston Open, homemade chocolate chip cookies baked by volunteers.
Why then is Brian Watts, who is in a strange land 6,500 miles from home with furniture stacked outside his room and plugs stuffed firmly in his ears, resting so comfortably? Money. Gathered in massive amounts, it is the plushest of pillows.
Watts is a golfing mercenary, a 28-year-old PGA Tour reject who finds the Japanese money too available to pass up, no matter how maddening the language and the accommodations are. Have Titanium driver, will travel, is Watts's motto.
The competition, Watts admits, is inferior. The purses are not. Each of the 38 JPGA events offers between $600,000 and $2 million in prize money. Having won five times this year, Watts has seized $1.28 million of that loot, which makes him the second leading money-winner in Japan. With $1.88 million, Jumbo Ozaki is tops on that tour and in the world in '94. Welcome to the land of the rising sum. Only six players in the world have earned more money in official events than Watts has this year. This is the same player who four times failed to make it out of Q school, most recently two years ago. The one time he did make the Tour, in 1991, he finished 184th on the money list and lost his card.
"The money's so much easier to make here, it's not even funny," says Watts, who has pocketed $1.5 million in his two years on the JPGA. "You can make the cut with two mediocre days, usually with even par. With a decent weekend, you can finish in the top 10. You don't have that luxury in the U.S. You need four solid days. The quality of the field is so different. It's just not that deep."