Fujikawa, Anderson build starter-tour friendship

Tadd Fujikawa smiles at the first tee box during the final round of the 2009 Sony Open.

Tadd Fujikawa smiles at the first tee box during the final round of the 2009 Sony Open.

EUSTIS, Fla. – In this arena, they both can compete. Players like Stuart Anderson, a titanium-denting, 6-foot-4 Canadian dynamo. And players like Tadd Fujikawa, a chatty, 5-foot-1 Hawaiian grinder, a player for whom little has come easy. 

On Thursday they played to a draw, 68-68, but their second-round scores revealed little. Still in the lead was Anderson, at 14-under 130, and a title here in the Hooters Tour’s season opener would change his outlook. Because no matter how hard he tries, no matter how many air miles he accrues, no matter how many of his buddies graduate to the PGA Tour, he always seems to stay in the same position.

• • • 

Anderson can’t wait for 8:30 p.m. Friday. That’s when he will board a plane destined for Victoria, British Columbia, where his wife, Crystol, and two daughters will wait with open arms. It’s been six weeks since Anderson, 33, began this Florida swing, trying to jump-start a make-or-break 2011 season. 

He stays in touch with friends and family through calls and e-mails and how seemingly everyone connects these days: through social media. He posts on his web site (www.stuartandersongolf.com) and has thumbed more than 400 messages on his personal Twitter page (@stuandersongolf). It’s a unique way to upload pictures, or solicit advice, or just vent after a bad day. “My 3-year-old daughter, Coral, she has a mad face,” Anderson said, a smile creasing his face. “So we say, ‘Show us your mad face, Coral,’ and she’ll squint her eyes and look mad.” Anderson missed seeing his daughter’s mad face last weekend. So he posted this tweet on Feb. 12, with the picture attached: “This is how I have felt like on the golf course lately.” 

Those feelings have changed, of course, the healing power of a first-round 62. Sure, a victory Friday at Black Bear Golf Club would make the 3,200-mile flight a bit more enjoyable, but it also would provide assurance. After a weeklong break in Victoria (about three hours north of Seattle), he’ll be back on the East Coast, back in Orlando, ready to dive into the early portion of the Hooters Tour schedule, a stretch that will run from March until late May. “It’s not one of the longest stints I’ve been away,”  Anderson said, “but as Coral is growing up, it’s hard to miss every day when she’s learning new things. But I still have a job to do.” 

So Anderson will carry on, through trips to Tallahassee, Fla., and Conover, N.C., and Kodak, Tenn. When a week opens up, he’ll fly his wife and kids down to Florida, to Disney World, perhaps. Until then, though, it’s hard for Anderson to flip on the TV and see his contemporaries vying for thousands and millions of dollars on Tour. Guys like Chris Baryla and Graham DaLaet, like Steve Marino and D.A. Points. “It’s there for the taking,” said Anderson, who twice has represented Canada in the World Cup. “I’ve seen the best, and I know they’re great players, but hell, I can compete, too.”

The main difference, Anderson says, is that those guys advanced through Q-School; he still stalls at second stage. He’ll play about nine Hooters Tour events this spring, hopefully making a dent on the money list, then play the summer schedule on the Canadian Tour. “Basically I live on the road and get to go home every once in a while,” he said, smiling. “I’m 33, I still feel young, and I still feel like I’ve got a few good years ahead of me.” 

Age has never been a concern for Fujikawa. He’s 20 now, by the way, five years removed from his spotlight-stealing performance at the 2006 U.S. Open, where the beaming teen became the youngest player (15) to compete in this country’s national championship. He is determined to get back to the PGA Tour, yes, but this time his own way. 

Despite winning last year’s eGolf Tour Championship at 19, Fujikawa will play the Hooters circuit full time this season because, he says, “I want more of a tournament atmosphere.” Here, players can’t use rangefinders. Most weeks they don’t use carts. Typically they play events on one course, not two. It’s just easier to get into a routine. 

Most players out here don’t have caddies, either, but Fujikawa does. His looper’s name is Ryan Perez, a longtime friend from Hawaii, where as teens they attended the same golf academy. During the second round Perez wore a black-and-white trucker hat, white Oakley shades and black high-top Nikes hidden beneath golf slacks. He kept Fujikawa loose and upbeat, and they breezed their way to a 68. “He’s kind of like a brother,” Fujikawa said of Perez. “I enjoy myself with him.” Also tagging along was his mother, Lori, and their 3-year-old malchi, Waialae, who watched from inside a travel bag. (Tadd’s father, Derrick, was released from prison last fall after pleading guilty to two counts of drug trafficking.) 

On Thursday they were treated to quite a show. Despite his diminutive size (he was born three months premature), Fujikawa is a pre-eminent ballstriker who many believe still has the game to compete at a Tour level. Count Anderson among his supporters. “There’s Mighty Mite,” he cracked after Fujikawa pounded a 300-yard drive down the ninth fairway. “He just powers through it.” 

“Size for size, he hits it probably farther than anyone,” Lori said, before pausing. “Though not many people are 5-foot-1.” 

On the 580-yard 14th, Fujikawa went driver-driver – the latter poke from the left rough, which sailed over a tree and funneled into a collection area short of the green. “He loves that shot,” Perez said. “High launch, no spin. He hits it all the time.” 

Fujikawa birdied two of the last three holes to keep pace with Anderson, and afterward was pleased with a round that wasn’t as sloppy as his previous 18 holes. (In Round 1, he made five bogeys – and still shot 3 under.)

“I just want to put myself in contention every week,” Fujikawa said, “because if I put myself there enough, (winning) will happen sooner or later.” 

Of that, Anderson has no doubt. And this is a big step for him, too. He’s two strokes ahead, with 18 holes left, and he’s 36 hours from seeing his family again. A victory would come with a hefty first-place check, and his entry fees would be paid for the rest of the season, and with that comes a little peace of mind, finally. And who knows? Maybe that cross-country flight to Disney World wouldn’t have to be a one-time thing. Maybe he’s finally moving forward. 

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