Chances are good that the winner of a Japanese golf tournament will be named Ozaki. That was the case last year when Joe, Jet and Jumbo combined to win 12 of the 40 events on the Japan tour.
The Ozaki brothers won more than $2 million in 1988, or about 11 percent of the Japan Professional Golf Association total purse of $18.1 million.
And the “Jumbo Corps” is also coaching about 40 young golfers, including the next generation of the Ozaki golf dynasty--Jumbo’s eldest son, Tomoharu, 17.
“I have taught Jet and Joe,” said Jumbo, whose proper name is Masashi Ozaki. “Now I want to train and cultivate good international-level golfers who would further uplift Japan’s standard in the sport.”
Jumbo, tall and boyish-looking at 42, won six titles last season, including three straight, and earned $993,350 to top the money list for the sixth time in his 19-year career.
Following several off years that dropped him as low as 28th on the money list, Jumbo came back and placed second in 1986, next to Tsuneyuki “Tommy” Nakajima, and again finished a close second in 1987, this time to David Ishii of the United States.
Jumbo has won 57 tournaments, a record in JPGA’s 63-year history, followed by Isao Aoki’s 50. On the all-time JPGA money list, Jumbo is second, with $5.17 million, to Aoki’s $5.69 million.
Joe, 32, the youngest of the Ozaki brothers, won four tournaments last season, including the Japan Series of Golf, and earned $665,000 to place second on the money list. Joe, whose real name is Naomichi, turned professional in 1977, two years after middle brother Tateo, better known as Jet.
It also was a bonanza year for Jet, 35. Despite a back injury, he won two events, including the prestigious, Japan PGA Championship, and $394,000, good for seventh in the money ranking. He placed third in 1984 and 1985.
This year, the JPGA offers $19.3 million in 41 tournaments, and another $7.1 million for senior and junior golfers in 42 tournaments. The men’s tour begins with the Shizuoka Open in central Japan on March 16.
“I hope we brothers will be able to perform even better this year,” Jumbo said during a break while playing volleyball and dodgeball in fitness training with about 20 fellow pros and young students in the garden of his spacious residence on the southeastern outskirts of Tokyo.
Asked how he cured his slump, Jumbo said he learned a lot from Jack Nicklaus by watching him play, viewing his video and reading his books. “I respect him as much as I admire him,” he added.
Two of the six titles he won last year included the Nikkei Cup and the Maruman Open in which he negotiated narrow courses that normally trouble the long-ball hitter. He also showed an outstanding putter and his wedge shots all went in the middle.
Jumbo, a former professional baseball pitcher, passed the pro golf test at his first attempt in October 1969, some 16 months after he quit baseball.
“For several months during my first baseball off-season, I played golf for the first time. I liked it so much that I decided to become a golfer,” he recalled.
In his second year on the pro tour, Jumbo, then 24, won the 1971 JPGA Championship and four other tourneys, starting a four-year reign atop the money list.
“Japan’s boom today in the sport owes much to Jumbo and several other promising professionals, including Aoki, who has won the Hawaiian Open and the World Match Play in Britain, and Ayako Okamoto, winner of the British Women’s Open in 1984 and winner of the U.S. LPGA money rankings in 1987,” said Takenobu Watanabe, a director of the Japan Golf Association.
Even though playing a round costs at least $100 and as much as $250, nearly 15 million people, or more than 12 percent of the population, play the sport. Japan is second only to the United States in the number of golfers, Watanabe said.
Jumbo said he and his supporters pay into an annual fund of $160,000 to finance off-season group training. “The training is free of charge for all the young pros and prospective pros,” he said.
The Jumbo Corps will be expanded to the Jumbo Ozaki Golf School within five years, eventually enrolling about 50 students and having its own commercial 18-hole course, Jumbo said.
This year, Jumbo will compete in a number of major tournaments abroad, including the Masters in April.
“I know how stiff the competion will be at the Masters, but I might have a good chance if I could play at the Augusta National (Golf Course) as well as I did in some tournaments last year,” he said.
Last year, Jumbo declined an invitation from the Masters committee. In a typical Japanese gesture of self-condemnation, he withdrew because of bad publicity after he played golf with leaders of a yakuza, or gangster, organization in Tokyo.
After starting the 1988 season in disgrace, Jumbo did more than mend his tarnished image, and was rewarded in December with an invitation to the 1989 Masters.