Behold the lunch spread in the players' dining room at the TPC at The Woodlands, the venue of last week's Houston Open. That's what Shingo Katayama was doing the day before the opening round. Having removed the cowboy hat he favors on the course, Katayama, a charismatic 29-year-old from Tokyo, made his way through the buffet line, jerry-building a kind of chicken cheeseburger before stopping dead in his tracks. In front of him was a Hindenburg-sized, multimeat, multicheese sandwich so vast and complex that it seemed to paralyze him.
"It's a submarine!" a cheerful, frosted-blonde waitress said in a dense Texas twang. Smiling politely, Katayama helped himself to a wedge of the sub and then took a seat. For the next 45 minutes, through his manager and interpreter, Jun Kingyo, Katayama spoke of, among other things, how he came to choose his signature hat and the special challenges faced by many of the PGA Tour's international players. "I don't go to Japanese restaurants over here," he said. "The food tastes strange to me." Katayama estimates that he spent "probably 50 nights" in his Tokyo house with his wife, Michiyo, last year. (Little wonder they are childless.) "The first week after you leave home, you feel homesick, kind of depressed," he said, "but after a week, you get used to it."
Katayama's countryman Toshi Izawa never got used to being away from home. A luminous talent who won $519,180 in only five Tour appearances last year—he lost in a playoff at the Nissan Open and tied for fourth at the Masters—Izawa is nowhere to be found on the Tour this season. Why? "The language barrier and bad food," says Katayama.
One man's bad food, of course, is another's gourmet repast. (Dig in, John Daly!) With its courtesy cars, gratis equipment and lavish buffets, the Tour, for most of its members, is the realization of a lifelong dream. But, like a freakishly large sandwich—or like some of the big-haired, heavily made-up, surgically augmented women lining the ropes for autographs at The Woodlands—the Tour can also be alienating and strange. Seated in the clubhouse in close proximity to Katayama were several American pros, none of whom greeted him when he entered the room or bid him goodbye as he placed his napkin over his untouched section of submarine sandwich and left.
Some outsiders are able to assimilate. Vijay Singh of Fiji, who lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., shot a tournament-record 22-under-par 266 to win the Houston Open by six strokes over Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland and by a shot over Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal of Spain. Singh's victory held significantly more cachet this spring than in the past. It has been a rough year for Houston, given Enron and Andrea Yates, but a good one for its tournament. By switching its slot from two weeks after the Masters to 11 days before the first major of the season, Houston attracted more of the game's top international players than usual. With so many golfers from overseas in one place, SI asked them about the pitfalls of language barriers and homesickness, about measuring out one's life in hotel rooms, about ingesting alien food and about retiring for bed just as your wife and kids are waking up on the other side of the world.
Take a guy like Miguel Angel Jimenez, one of seven brothers from Malaga, on Spain's Mediterranean coast. Where Jim�nez is from, men don't just stay close to home; if they're unmarried they often live at home, with their parents, as does the 36-year-old bachelor Olaz�bal (who returned to the Houston Open for the first time in 12 years "to prepare for the Masters," he said).
"It's hard," says Jimenez, who came in 61st. "You don't know that many people, and you're on the road four, five weeks at a stretch." The 38-year-old Jim�nez and his wife, Montserrat, have two sons: Miguel, 6, and Victor, 3. "Miguel's birthday is in May, so I miss it most years," Jim�nez says ruefully, "but you're a golfer; this is what you do. Ever since I was young, I wanted to be a professional golfer. That means travel and sacrifice. The best players are here. I want to play with the best."
As a kind of touchstone, Jim�nez travels with a month's supply of his favorite cigars, which dangle as if surgically attached to his lips during his many hours on the driving range and the putting green. ( Jim�nez only occasionally smokes while competing.) Australia's Rod Pampling, likewise, never comes to the U.S. without a healthy store of Vegemite. "It's beautiful stuff," he says of the malevolent-looking, salty yeast spread that only Australians fail to find vile. "The hard thing about living over here is knowing where to go to eat," says Pampling, "and the servings are so large. You order dinner here, and it's enough to feed an entire family."
The American tradition of large portions dates back to the flipping of Fred Flintstone's car under the weight of a rack of mastodon ribs. Another time-honored U.S. custom is the occasionally uncharitable treatment of foreigners. The international player who has had the roughest go of it in America, the Scotsman whom beer-addled Yanks have delighted in calling Mrs. Doubtfire, was received like the prodigal son in Houston. After all, Colin Montgomerie graduated in 1987 from Houston Baptist, which he attended on a golf scholarship. "Not all Yanks are jerks, Colin," a fan shouted to Monty as he made his way into the clubhouse following a Wednesday practice round. "We love you here in Houston, Colin," yelled another.
Those sentiments weren't shared by the reporters who waited an hour on the range later that afternoon for the chance to lob questions at Montgomerie. "After I putt," he told them before hustling off to the practice green. After an hour there, Montgomerie bolted from the green to the clubhouse without so much as a backward glance.