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The Monday morning after this year's Masters, the phone rang in the Kennett Square, Pa., office of Dr. Joe Braly. "Hey, Joe," the caller said. "How about that—Jack Nicklaus and Ray Floyd socking the ball 300 yards with their new Bridgestone J's drivers? Say, Joe [cough, cough], do you happen to know who's doing the casting of those driver heads?"
Other, similar calls were made to Braly that week. They were from American golf equipment manufacturers hoping to save a little time and trouble. If the suddenly celebrated Bridgestone club heads were being cast in Korea or Taiwan, U.S. manufacturers could simply go straight to the casting company and very probably buy the same heads. There would have to be cosmetic changes, of course, niceties such as removing the name Bridgestone.
Braly, who is an equipment consultant to the PGA Tour and to several manufacturers, including the Japanese company Bridgestone, chuckled at the questions. "Nobody will ever learn from me," he said.
No matter. Within days of that first phone call to Braly, according to industry sources, the following scenario, or one very much like it, was played out.
Two American businessmen board a jet for Tokyo, one of them carrying a briefcase. Inside the briefcase is a heavy metal object wrapped in a tan sock.
After a brief layover in Tokyo, the two men fly on to Taipei, Taiwan. They clear customs and are met by a young Taiwanese man who escorts them to a luxury sedan of Japanese make.
The drive takes a few hours. The steep-banked, elevated road winds through small villages and past rice paddies, where peasants toil in water up to their knees. On the outskirts of Kaohsiung, 175 miles south of Taipei, the driver slows to negotiate the narrow streets clogged with people on bicycles.
Finally, the car reaches the Kaohsiung trade zone. The driver shows a pass to a guard, drives two or three blocks past warehouses and factories, and parks the car outside a nondescript building.
Inside, the Americans—one of them holding the briefcase—are ushered up a narrow staircase to a conference room. Here they are received by a middle-aged Taiwanese executive and his translator, who invite them to sit down and partake of tea or coffee. An engineer and his two assistants join the group.
They make small talk for 45 minutes. Then the executive stands, bows and shakes hands with the Americans, and leaves the room with the translator. The Americans are now alone with the engineer, who speaks English, and his assistants, who do not.