Foreign Policy For the homesick international pros in Houston, happiness was Vegemite, friendly fans and a rousing game of Uno

April 07, 2002

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 Jose Maria
Olazabal 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 Jimenez 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 Olazabal (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 Jimenez and his wife, Montserrat, have
two sons: Miguel, 6, and Victor, 3. "Miguel's birthday is in
May, so I miss it most years," Jimenez 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, Jimenez 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. (Jimenez 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.

For the most part, Montgomerie's galleries have borne him little
ill will this year. Aside from a brief dust-up with a spectator
at the Accenture Match Play Championship at La Costa in February
and a couple of rude comments made by an elderly fan at the
Players Championship two weeks ago, Montgomerie, 56th in
Houston, has been treated with civility. Should the heckling
resume, however, Australia's Steve Elkington suggests that Monty
adopt a remedy from the Paul Hogan School of Conflict
Resolution: "Colin needs to punch someone in the mouth. Then the
next guy who yells something will know he's got a good chance of
getting his teeth knocked in."

The fact that Elkington slept in his own bed every night in
Houston--his adopted hometown--wasn't much help to him on the
course. He shot 74-70 and missed the cut. Like Elkington, fellow
Aussie Robert Allenby is among the growing number of
international pros to buy houses in the U.S. Asked what his
first piece of advice would be to an overseas player who'd just
earned his Tour card, Allenby unhesitatingly replied, "Find
somewhere to base yourself, move in and make the place as homey
as possible. If you feel unsettled, your golf's going to be
unsettled."

Though he now lives in Windermere, Fla., Allenby rents a house
at Tour stops "roughly 10 times a year" to reduce the amount of
time he's apart from his wife, Sandy, and their two young
children. A more common practice among foreign players on the
Tour is banding together with several peers in a rented house or
apartment. "This week I'm in a house with Thomas Bjorn [a Dane]
and Adam Scott [an Aussie]," said Clarke. "It's more fun than
staying in a hotel."

Speaking of fun, would the guys be taking advantage of Houston's
cultural opportunities? Would they consider a trip to, say, the
Johnson Space Center or the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the
Houston Museum of Natural Science? "I don't get out," says an
unsmiling Olazabal, who's single. "I go from the hotel to the
course."

"It's a little bit sad," says Esteban Toledo of Mexico. "We
travel all over the world, but we don't see the world."

Speak for yourself, Esteban. A handful of intrepid souls planned
a spicy outing for the Tuesday night of tournament week. "The
word is," said one U.S. pro, "some of the guys are going to
Treasures"--a strip joint. Opting not to take in the ballet in
the buff was Katayama, who had a more compelling evening
planned. After dinner at a nearby seafood restaurant, Katayama
and his retinue played Uno, a rummy-like card game Katayama
learned on the Japanese tour from Joe Ozaki, the younger brother
of Jumbo. "Joe used to take Shingo's money," said Kingyo. "Now
Shingo takes mine."

Katayama failed to play Uno the night before a round earlier this
season, and "the next day he didn't do well," said Kingyo, so now
they play nightly. After sinking a birdie putt on the 1st hole
last Thursday, en route to a 68 (he would wind up in 34th place),
Katayama caught Kingyo's eye and said, "That was Uno."

Later in the round, an attractive blonde named Elizabeth waited
for Katayama at one of the ropes, hoping for his autograph.
"Really, I just like his hat," she said. Chimed in her friend, "I
think it's more than that."

The women were told the genesis of Katayama's cowboy hat: After
seeing a life-sized cardboard cutout of himself in a pro shop in
Japan two years ago, Katayama thought, I kind of have a big face.
I need a hat that makes it look smaller.

"The hat works," said Elizabeth. "He looks great in it." With
that, the women were off in pursuit of Katayama, who, despite
his lack of English, seems in some ways very much at home in the
U.S.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARREN CARROLL LID LIFTER Best known in the U.S. for his hats and a fourth-place tie in the 2001 PGA, Katayama used Houston as a Masters prep. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARREN CARROLL HOMEBODY Clarke, who came in second, shared a house in Houston with Bjorn and Scott. COLOR PHOTO: HUY NGUYEN FARAWAY FATHER Jimenez is almost always on the road in May, which means missing the birthday of his son, now six.

Allenby's advice for players from abroad: "Find somewhere to
base yourself, move in and make the place as homey as possible."

If Monty would punch someone, says Elkington, "the next guy will
know he's got a chance of getting his teeth knocked in."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)