SKEPTICS ASK: Is Jumbo honestly that good? Answer: Yes.
Cynics ask: Is Jumbo that good honestly? Answer: Depends on whom you ask.
Greg Norman, for one, thinks Japanese officials need to crack down on Ozaki. Four years ago, in a tournament at Japan's Tomei Country Club, Norman accused Jumbo of improving his lie in the rough by pressing down the grass behind his ball with a club head. The local rules committee did nothing. Last year in the Crowns tournament at Nagoya Country Club, Norman claimed he again saw Ozaki use his driver to improve a bad lie before switching to another club for the shot.
"Norman was very angry" says a Japanese journalist who witnessed the event. But again, no official action was taken, and Norman's accusations got delicate treatment in the national press. "In Japan cheating is not tolerated, but as a whole Japanese sportsmen have a more shallow knowledge of the rules," says Kazuhiko Muto, an editor at the Hochi Shimbun and one of the few Japanese writers to report the allegations. His explanation for the JPGA's inaction? "There is a saying in Japan: 'You place a lid over a smelling pot.' "
Norman's charges aside, suspicion of Ozaki is rampant among golf's moral majority, the professional tour caddies. "I've got a friend who says when Jumbo marks his ball it looks like he's playing Chinese checkers," said Jerry Higginbotham, Mark O'Meara's caddie, during a swing through Japan. "I'm going to be watching him like a hawk." Other caddies swear that Ozaki, a nonconformist, plays with a nonconforming golf ball—that is, a ball that flies long when Jumbo hits it and curves right or left at his command.
Ozaki's defenders scoff at the equipment claim. "I think it's sour grapes to say he's playing with illegal stuff," says Teravainen. "I'm longer than Jumbo, and nobody's ever accused me of playing a doctored ball. But I'm not winning a hundred tournaments, either."
Even O'Meara's caddie has a different take on the cheating allegations now that he has watched Ozaki play several tournament rounds. "If he's pulled anything, I've missed it," says Higginbotham, watching Ozaki hit balls on the range after another low-scoring round. "And I'm amazed at how good he is. He can really play."
Back at the hotel, you study the biggest koi in the pool, the fat gold one, and you decide he might be a match for an eel or even a barracuda.
Jumbo's response to criticism is the sound of one hand clapping. He rarely acknowledges it. He communicates by press conference. Requests for private interviews are usually deflected to Bridgestone, to his own company, Jumbo Ozaki Enterprises, or to World One Company, Ltd., the new equipment company that recently signed him to a multimillion-dollar endorsement deal. Those companies, after a dignified delay of several days—or weeks—usually report that Jumbo is unavailable.
Persistence is a form of flattery, however, and after two months of haggling, Ozaki agrees to a rare, one-on-one interview. Ozaki insists that the interview be conducted away from his house, that it not involve his wife, who runs Jumbo Ozaki Enterprises for him, and that an interpreter be provided. "Jumbo understands English, but he speaks it with hesitation," says a Japanese golf writer who has visited his house. "He does not do something in public if he is not perfect."