Tadd Fujikawa: The ultimate underdog
January 11, 2017
By Ben Everill , PGATOUR.COM
Fujikawa makes eagle at the 2007 Sony Open
At the 2007 Sony Open in Hawaii, 16-year-old Tadd Fujikawa makes eagle at the par-5 18th and becomes the youngest player in 50 years to make the cut in a PGA TOUR event.
HONOLULU – The love of the underdog runs deep in sports. We all enjoy cheering for the little guy.
Say hello – again – to Tadd Fujikawa at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
A decade ago, he became an overnight teenage sensation. Just days removed from his 16th birthday, he shocked the golf world by finishing 20th at Waialae.
He’s back this week hoping to springboard his flagging career.
He had to play two qualifiers just to get into the field, clinching his spot with a bullet-like hybrid from 210 yards on the fourth playoff hole of Monday’s qualifier. The ball settled within tap-in range, giving Fujikawa the final spot in the tournament. That came after advancing through Sunday’s pre-qualifying round.
It is not the path to his hometown event he would prefer to tread. He’s struggled since turning pro at age 16. He’s played 39 events offering world-ranking points, missing 30 cuts and never finished in the top 10.
He earned just $667 in prize money on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada in 2016 and lost his card.
“I thought of quitting numerous times. It has been a struggle at times,” Fujikawa said as he was helped by equipment reps on a PGA TOUR range for the first time since 2012.
“Two to three years ago, it was pretty rough for me. I was not in a good place. But it is nice to know I got through it. I still struggle, everyone does, but just having the assurance that I can get through it.”16-year old Tadd Fujikawa of Honolulu looks on the 18th green during the 2nd round of the Sony Open on January 12, 2007 at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Fujikawa is tenacious. He was a junior national judo champion before turning his attention to golf. He still stands just 5-foot-1, and was fortunate to survive after being born three months premature.
The infectious smile we saw all those years ago was starting to wane, though. He’s made the cut in just four of 12 TOUR starts as a pro. Two of those made cuts came at the Sony Open (T32 in 2009; T19 in 2012).
Fujikawa credits his family for his survival in the game. His mother and others “believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”
Wisely, he also saved his money as best he could when it came, allowing him to maintain his pro aspirations.
And now he hopes a more relaxed attitude could be the catalyst to finally turning things around.
“You have to think of this as an opportunity. If you put too much pressure on yourself, it usually goes the wrong way and I think that’s where I was for so long,” he explained.
“So I am trying to change my mindset a little bit with no expectations and try to embrace being out here. My game is getting better. Making it here helps to prove that to myself.
“I want to have fun, enjoy myself, relax and just play golf. That’s really all I can do.”
Tadd Fujikawa: Round 3 highlights
With PGA TOUR winners getting younger and younger, are we going to see more stories like Fujikawa’s – teenagers going pro with dreams of jumping directly into the big time?
Jordan Spieth contended in his hometown event in Dallas as a 16-year-old on TOUR and quite obviously had the game, but the two-time major winner said turning pro so early would not have been right for him.
“I wouldn't have entertained it,” said Spieth, who ultimately turned pro when he was 19. “I was a junior in high school. I was looking forward to going to (the University of) Texas.”
Ryan Ruffels struggled on the PGA TOUR last season as a 17-year-old, but is now playing better on PGA TOUR Latinoamerica. It is indeed very tough to reach the top in an accelerated fashion.
But in major sports leagues around the globe, where massive college systems do not exist, athletes are often playing with the big boys in their teens.
And Spieth can see the trend becoming more common in golf in the future, although he warned it would never be easy.
“I think that that's probably likely. I think we probably will start to see that, just given the game is growing younger and younger,” Spieth said. “If people feel that they are that prepared and they turn professional, then more power to them and certainly wish them the best.
“It's a tough road. You have to get very fortunate at the right time. But there are ways to do it. I wouldn't advise the idea to anybody that's a friend for sure, just because it requires a lot.”
Does Fujikawa regret taking the tough road all those years ago?
“You can’t live with regrets,” he replied. “I have not been as successful as what I would’ve liked or imagined but the things I have gone through, the things I’ve experienced, the people I’ve met, how I’ve grown as a person, you can’t take that away from me, that’s the way I think about it.
“I’m thankful for the journey. I still have a lot of time to find myself, keep improving and keep working at it.”
His journey continues Thursday off the 10th tee at Waialae at 8:30 a.m. local time, when he’ll play alongside Bryson DeChambeau and Ollie Schniederjans.
Expect plenty of fans cheering him on.Tadd Fujikawa hopes a more relaxed attitude could be the catalyst to finally turning things around. (Stan Badz/Getty Images)