Jumbo Ozaki doesn't like hot dogs, apple pie or malls. That's too bad, because if he were a little more into the swing of things on this side of the Pacific, Ozaki, who shot 287 and finished 29th in his 14th Masters last week, would be more to U.S. fans than a name that crops up every year during a few big tournaments. "If Jumbo enjoyed himself in America," Greg Norman has said, "there's no question that he'd do as well here as he's done in Japan."
What he's done in Japan is Nicklausian. Ozaki, who grew up on a farm in the town of Tokushima, took up golf while pitching in Japan's major leagues. Three years later he quit playing baseball and qualified for the Japanese Professional Golf Association Tour. He won his first event the following year, 1971, and his record now includes 87 JPGA tour victories, $17.8 million in earnings and eight money titles, the first in '73, the most recent in '94. Last year Ozaki, now 48, won seven of 19 JPGA starts and vaulted to ninth in the Sony rankings. He earned $2.15 million in prize money, more than anyone else on any tour in the world.
At 6'2" and 200 pounds, Ozaki, whose real name is Masashi, is a giant in Asia. His arrival on the Japanese tour in 1970 coincided with that of the first jumbo jet in his native land, and a writer dubbed him Jumbo. The legend was born.
Though Ozaki is not the only world-class Japanese player, his countrymen idolize him in Jordanesque proportions. When he shows up at a tournament, attendance and TV ratings soar. There are seven Jumbo's golf stores in Japan, and in December, Bridgestone introduced a limited-edition line of his J's irons. At $5,000 a pop the 4,000 sets sold out in three weeks.
A fitness freak who nevertheless smokes, Ozaki collects sports cars, vintage wines and big dogs. He's an accomplished guitarist who in the mid-'70s cut a popular album in Japan with his golfing brothers, Jet and Joe. Jumbo wears bright, handmade Italian ensembles with gold and silver thread woven into them. And he travels first-class only. At every tournament outside Japan, Jumbo rents a huge house and brings in cooks who specialize in Japanese cuisine. Sometimes he turns down courtesy cars in favor of rented Rolls-Royces—chauffeured, of course.
Ozaki's game is flashy too. He plays with abandon, hitting the ball a mile and aiming at nothing but the pin. Last week he had the fourth longest average driving distance at Augusta.
But Ozaki's legend is still largely trapped in Japan. Several Japanese reporters refer to him as uchi ben kei, which translates as "man who's strong in the house but can't do anything out of it." The truth is that the shy Ozaki has never felt comfortable away from Japan. His only overseas victory came at the 1972 New Zealand Open. His best finishes Stateside are a tie for fourth at the 1993 Memorial, a tie for sixth in the '89 U.S. Open and an eighth in the '73 Masters.
Ozaki is not about to broaden his horizons by moving to the U.S. While he desperately wants to win a major, he realizes time is running out. "Probably should have come over before," he said last week at Augusta. "But now I am old man. Too late."