Teravainen has played the best golf of his career over the past two years, and Veronica, a former flight attendant and a student of Chinese folk medicine, has played a significant role in his revival. Two years ago, when Teravainen was in the midst of his streak of missed cuts, he called and asked me if I knew Wally Uihlein, the Titleist chairman. "I'm looking for a job," he said.
I was shocked because the only thing Teravainen had ever wanted to do—despite his economics degree and his analytic mind—was play tournament golf. Moreover, and Teravainen knows this, he is ill-suited to working for anybody but himself. He is independently owned and operated. But a man has to make a living. "I can't play tournament golf anymore," he said.
He and Uihlein talked about a job at the 1995 British Open. At about the same time, Veronica encouraged Peter to wear special Chinese medicinal bandages, soaked in various herbal extracts, while he played. Immediately, Peter's aching legs and feet—worn down by years of waiting for standby flights with a suitcase in each hand and a golf bag over his right shoulder (Teravainen is known to be the ultimate bargain traveler)—felt youthful and alive again. Several weeks later he won in Czechoslovakia. Aside from the bandages, his therapy these days includes walking on rounded rocks (or golf balls when rounded rocks are unavailable) to massage his feet and wearing a necklace of magnets to cure him of other bodily pains. Now he's way ahead of broke. He earned $220,000 for winning the Japan Open last September and another $148,000 when he won again on the Japanese tour in April, at the Descente Classic Munsingwear Cup in Ibaragi, Japan. Along the way he has gained respect from his touring brethren, too. Awhile back, Colin Montgomerie asked Teravainen what he was thinking about down the stretch when he was trying to win for the first time on the European tour, in Czechoslovakia.
"I told him, 'I tried to pretend that it was Friday, and I was playing to make the cut,' " Teravainen recalls. " 'Make a birdie coming in, you make the cut. Don't, no big deal, you've missed plenty of cuts.' He looked disappointed. It wasn't relevant to him, but he still listened to me."
Teravainen plans to give up the European tour and play in Japan full time. He has his reasons. First, because of his Japan Open victory, he has a 10-year exemption on the Japanese tour. Second, Japan is about four hours by plane from Singapore, while Europe is a half day. But the most significant reason, Teravainen says, is that for the first time in his professional life he is being treated with respect. He has a lucrative contract with Japan-based Dunlop, and the company has assigned a manager to help him get around the country. He writes stories for Japanese golf magazines, not about his game but about his life. (One magazine ran a picture of Teravainen eating noodles with chopsticks.) In Japan, Teravainen says, "I'm sort of a star."
In the U.S., he's not a star, but he has his followers. On Friday, Teravainen found a two-page single-spaced letter in his locker from a retired foreign service officer, Richard G. Johnson, Yale '44, inviting Teravainen to call if he needed a native's counsel. "If you are still saving as well as accumulating money, I'll provide you with a few restaurant tips where the quality exceeds the cost," Johnson wrote.
"Beautiful," Teravainen said after reading the letter. "A man who understands."
Often, in America, Teravainen feels lost. Singapore is his true home, and he plies his profession wherever shot-making is valued more than putting, and that's everywhere in the world except the U.S. Living and working overseas for the past decade and a half has changed the way he speaks. He'll ask, "Do you have a draw sheet for tomorrow?" (Instead of, "You got tomorrow's tee times?") He'll say, "Tonight, I want a proper meal." Playing at Congressional, there were moments of culture shock for Peter, and for Veronica, too. Peter was amazed at how much noise Open spectators made. Veronica was amazed at how much trash they left behind. "This is a golf tournament," she said, "but it looks like a rock concert."
Still, they savored the experience. Teravainen, with his brother Chuck silently on the bag, shot rounds of 71, 73, 74 and 75 for 52nd place, earning $7,138. For Peter's benefit, that's the equivalent of 820,825 yen, or 4,362 pounds sterling. The longer the course, the tighter the fairways, the higher the rough, the better for Teravainen. "The way Congressional is set up, this is what it's like every week in Japan, except in Japan the fairways are narrower," Teravainen said. He was grinning maniacally now, and you could see his teeth in back of his curling lips. His eyes, behind his glasses, were squinting, and the skin across his face was taut. By ancestry, Teravainen is Finnish on his father's side (he's a retired gym teacher) and English on his mother's (she's a nurse). But to me, in some indeterminate way, Teravainen has always looked more Asian than anything else. "The USGA would love to do what the Japanese tour does [narrow the fairways even more], except the players here would scream," he said. "In Japan the players don't scream. They respect authority."
He was on the veranda at Congressional, stretched out, taking in the sights and the smells like a traveler abroad. "I feel good," he said. He was playing in the U.S. Open, and he was going to make a check. He threw back his shoulders and stuck out his chest and, in his chair, did an odd little dance. "I feel good, and I feel young!"