"People were scared, but it's getting better. Things are getting back to normal." That was Japan tour pro Dinesh Chand's answer last week when asked if tourists were still avoiding his South Pacific island nation of Fiji because of last year's armed uprising by ethnic Fijians. Chand, Vijay Singh's World Cup teammate, added, "I'm not involved in politics."
Chand's reluctance to weigh in on controversial matters was shared by most of the 48 pros at the World Cup. The Argentine team of Angel Cabrera and Eduardo Romero talked about birdies and bogeys, but not about their country's imminent default on $128 billion in debt, which has led to the shuttering of shops in Buenos Aires. Filipinos Rodrigo Cuello and Danny Zarate hit balls on the Taiheiyo Club range, confident that no one there would grill them about the Islamic separatist movement in Mindanao. Carlos Franco and his older brother Angel smiled and winked a lot, trying to forget that their native Paraguay is still reeling from the assassination of vice president Luis Maria Argana in March 1999, a failed coup in May 2000 and an elected government so ineffective that in a poll last year 80% of Paraguayans said their lives were better under former dictator Alfredo Stroessner.
Nevertheless, you can't have a World Cup without inviting the world. Of the 24 nations represented at Gotemba City, several, including host country Japan, were mired in deep recession; many were plagued by political violence; and a handful, including the U.S., were at war in the Middle East. Tony Johnstone and Mark McNulty played for a country, Zimbabwe, that has experienced runaway inflation and urban riots, not to mention the deaths associated with the seizure of white-owned farms by landless blacks. "It's appalling," says McNulty. "Just when you think it can't get worse, it gets worse."
Whatever their political views, the players didn't hesitate to ask about the safety and well-being of their friends. Denmark's Thomas Bj�rn was the focus of concern because he and his wife, Pernilla, winter in Dubai, a resort town in the United Arab Emirates. "Anytime you go to the Middle East, people get alarmed," Bj�rn says. "It's a shame because Dubai is safe. A lot of Americans have gone home and there aren't many tourists, but I don't see any reason not to carry on."
The players also expressed solicitude toward the U.S. team. "They see pictures from New York, they read about anthrax and, naturally, they're concerned," said ABC golf commentator Ian Baker-Finch, who played in the '85 World Cup for Australia and lives in North Palm Beach, Fla.
McNulty, who looks to 16th-century mystic Nostradamus for insight into modern affairs, could only shake his head and sign life's scorecard. "As the world gets smaller," he said, "the problems seem bigger."