Why is he a lesser golfer when he leaves Japan? His detractors say it's because he can't stretch the rules outside Asia. Others point out that Ozaki has never made a concerted assault on the majors. A more intriguing theory—and one that mirrors a common complaint of many Japanese women about their husbands—is offered by Ayako Okamoto, the Japanese pro who won 17 tournaments on the LPGA tour. Ozaki and the other men can't win abroad, she says, because they are victims of the "doting mother syndrome" prevalent in Japan. That is, they are so spoiled they can't function on their own. Or as she puts it, "They can't make it without their Cup Noodles." Ozaki has his own nonexplanation: "When I get in that atmosphere, I don't get the urge to win as strongly."
It is interesting, then, to hear that he still dreams of winning the Masters, which will welcome him next week for the 17th time. "The Masters, to me, is the ultimate in sports, showing golf in its best form," he says. "To win the Masters would be the glory of my career."
But can he win it? He has finished no better than 23rd in this decade. He missed the cut in '94 and '96. Suddenly energized, he leans forward in his armchair at the Taiheyo Club. He waves his cigarette, making smoke trails. "Five years from now I will still have the power and the length and the physical skills to win it. I don't think anybody else, at the same age, would have that energy."
But with Woods now in the picture—"Tiger is young," he interrupts, "and purposeful and has that enthusiasm to win. But to win at a ripe age, that's something I feel is very difficult to achieve. There's only one condition for that. You have to win like a young player. It doesn't mean anything if you just win with technical skills. You have to win like a young player."
The interpreter catches your eye. "It is difficult to translate. Ozaki-san asks if you understand what it means, 'To win like a young man.' " You assure her and Ozaki-san that you understand perfectly.
In truth, he has probably offered you a $10,000 bonsai, and you have taken it for a $30 Kmart ficus.
"What did Ozaki have to say?" someone asks you later.
"Oh, a little of this and a little of that."
You go to the garden pool one last time to study the swarming koi. The fat gold one is missing. Sleeping maybe, or lurking in the shadows near the stone lantern, or gone? You wonder how a certain fish might fare in deeper waters.