"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 Bjorn 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," Bjorn 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