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Picture Perfect
John Garrity
December 08, 1997
Playing on the lucrative Japan tour looks like the best gig in golf, but appearances can be deceiving
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December 08, 1997

Picture Perfect

Playing on the lucrative Japan tour looks like the best gig in golf, but appearances can be deceiving

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Finally, there are the doubts raised by the flight of the ball itself. Japan tour players compete on kikuyu-grass fairways, which prop up the ball on an inviting pillow of turf. The good lies, the generally mild winds of Japan and the soft greens practically compel the Japanese to play a long-flying two-piece ball and strike it with a sweeping rather than a descending blow. Unfortunately, that swing-and-ball combination doesn't work as well in Scotland's gales, and Japanese players struggle with tight lies on America's bent-grass fairways. Tommy Nakajima, who won 56 JPGA events, tried to add a "Western swing" to his arsenal and wound up with no game at all. He hasn't won a tournament in either hemisphere since 1995.

In my head I keep replaying the words of the kan-reki, Sugihara. His longest and most thoughtful answer had come when I asked him about Japan's young players. "As I'm getting older, I'm more like a father," he said, "but I'm still a competitor, so I try not to argue with them like father and son."

Argue about what? I asked.

"I have complaints," he said. "I feel that they must be more professional. They must respect the gallery and the sponsors. They must respect the golf course. They should not be dropping cigarettes everywhere." I smiled at that. In two weeks I had not seen so much as a candy wrapper in a fairway.

My interpreter interjected that Sugihara's criticism wasn't meant for just the young players. "Jumbo's attitude is, 'If I'm not here, there's no tournament.' Sugihara-san doesn't like that sort of thing."

Nodding, the old man said, "All things have a history—Japan, golf, everything. But the young players don't know the back story. They don't win with gratitude." His eyes locked on mine. "Please write this in your story. I want the Japanese golfer to know why he can have this way of life."

I promised that I would. Then I thanked him and walked toward the clubhouse, passing the 1st tee and that peculiar ashtray. Smoke still rose from it, as from a recently doused tiki torch. Only this time I saw it in a very different light—as a symbol of respect and order.

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