McCabe: Fujikawa still has plenty of charm
HONOLULU – Time has slipped away, but his charm remains as fresh as when you were introduced to him. That is the beauty of Tadd Fujikawa.
He was a 15-year-old qualifier to the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot when he first appeared in the national spotlight. Just days after turning 16, he made the cut at the Sony Open here in front of hometown fans. Fujikawa’s story was of the feel-good variety, a young man born three months premature who, at 1 pound, 15 ounces, was given by doctors a 50-50 chance of survival.
So when he tied for 20th as an amateur at Waialae Country Club in 2006, Fujikawa cemented his folklore status. He turned pro later that summer, and while the rough ride in the cruel, cold world of play-for-pay has helped mature Fujikawa, it hasn’t put a dent in his personality; he remains an inspiration and optimistic that he can continue to handle each challenge that comes his way, as he has done every day of his life.
“I’ve learned to always stay positive and always be yourself. Don’t change because someone wants you to,” Fujikawa said. “If you (remain true) and have a good attitude about things, you can make it.”
That fact that he was speaking those words on the putting green at Waialae was a positive sign, and indeed, his spot in this year’s Sony Open is perhaps the first break he has received in a long time. His mother, Lori, called the Tuesday morning phone call “a miracle, like his life,” because just one day after having missed by one shot to get into a playoff at the Monday qualifier, Fujikawa was told that he had a sponsor exemption into this tournament in his hometown.
“They made the right choice to give him a spot in the field,” said Tommy Biershenk, who was paired with Fujikawa in Friday’s second round when each shot 4-under 66. “The people love him.”
They especially loved the way in which Fujikawa closed out his round with fireworks, a 32-foot eagle at his 18th hole, the par-5 ninth. At the time it pushed him into a share of 11th, just five behind the clubhouse leader, Matt Every.
Fujikawa knows Biershenk from the eGolf Professional Tour and said “He’s like a father to me.”
That made Biershenk, 38, laugh. “It makes me feel old,” he said. “but I’m very comfortable with him. I’m pulling for him as much as his mother.”
Now how that last-minute invite came about certainly is a stroke of good fortune for Fujikawa, something he hasn’t had a lot of in recent years. Two players to whom sponsor exemptions originally had been extended, Billy Hurley and Shane Bertsch, didn’t need them because their “number” eventually got them into the field.
That afforded tournament officials the ability to use those two sponsor exemptions on other players. They understandably went to two Hawaii-born players, Fujikawa and Parker McLachlin. The good fortune came into play on the timing of it all, however. In most weeks, tournament officials can only transfer a sponsor exemption if they have it by noon Monday; but with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions finishing on Monday, this week’s deadline was extended to noon Tuesday and thus did both Fujikawa and McLachlin receive good breaks.
Fujikawa knew some of the details to the regulations and the maneuvering that took place, but not all of them. Yet he smiled and said he didn’t ask questions. “I’m just very happy to be here, very appreciative that they asked me,” he said.
Clearly, others are happy, too, because while it was SRO on the Waialae CC range and putting green during the pro-am Wednesday, a steady line of people came up to shake Fujikawa’s hand and wish him well. Like most young players, he needs it, because this game is difficult, and at the pro level it can eat you up.
To that point, Fujikawa gives enormous credit to his mother and the Sea Island, Ga., folks with whom he has surrounded himself – instructor Todd Anderson, fitness specialist Randy Myers and putting coach Mike Shannon.
“That’s what you need in this game, a good support group," Fujikawa said. "That’s why I moved (to Sea Island, Ga.). I need that, especially when you’re playing bad. When you’re playing good, everything’s easy.
“But once you start struggling a little bit, you see a lot of people drifting off and not keeping in touch.”
Since turning pro, Fujikawa has moved to Sea Island and tried to polish all aspects of his game. It hasn’t paid off in graduation from the annual PGA Tour Q-School, and when that happens to a young man without any history of status, the only options are of the mini-tour flavor. Fujikawa has bounced from the eGolf Professional Tour to the Hooters Tour, and this year he will return to the eGolf circuit, which plays primarily in the Carolinas.
When he ventures away from the eGolf Tour, it will be to focus on Monday qualifiers, but for the Nationwide Tour, not the PGA Tour, Fujikawa said. He will keep things simple and his travel as easy as possible. There still are some pain issues with a left thumb that was surgically repaired last year and cut into his competitive play, but for the most part, he’s set to go.
And, yes, his sense of humor and the peace of mind that defines him will be with him. Take the “belly” putter he employs, for instance. When a reporter cautiously tried to ask about it, Fujikawa saw the humor in it and smiled. When you stand 5 feet, 1 inch, a “belly” putter isn’t going to be the 45 inches that a Webb Simpson or a Keegan Bradley will use.
“It’s 35 1/8 inches,” Fujikawa said, with a laugh.
Now there are players on Tour who put in play regular putters that are 33-35 inches, so clearly we’re talking about a different set of dimensions when Fujikawa is involved. He has used the long putter for three seasons now, but before that his regular putter was just 30 inches. He still practices from time to time with the shorter one, but he’s committed to the belly putter.
“You either feel it, or you don’t,” Fujikawa said.
As he moved around the putting green Wednesday, Fujikawa felt at home. Not just because he’s from Honolulu, but because he had a chance to renew acquaintances with some of the PGA Tour guys who have been nice to him and welcomed him to the pro golf world.
It’s moments like this, Fujikawa said, that convince him that he made the right decision to turn pro at 16.
“Playing in college is great, but nothing can replace playing out here,” he said. “When I turned pro, my dream was to get on the PGA Tour. But whether it happened quickly or not, I wasn’t going to give up.
“Sooner or later, I feel like I’m going to make it. It’s just a question of when.”