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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, July 12, 2007

Hawaii golf phenom going pro at age 16

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer


Tadd Fujikawa announced today that he is going pro.

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Tadd Fujikawa made his announcement at the Waialae Country Club.

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Hawai'i's remarkable golf saga will take another rare turn this morning when 16-year-old Tadd Fujikawa announces he is forfeiting his amateur status to pursue a professional career.

Fujikawa did something few thought possible in January, upstaging Michelle Wie and becoming the second-youngest in PGA Tour history to make a cut. Fujikawa rose as high as fourth at the Sony Open in Hawai'i before finishing 20th, with a huge smile and before a charmed audience of new best friends.

The Moanalua High School student's life has not been the same since. The family was flooded with offers from sources as varied as tournament sponsors and Oprah Winfrey. He accepted some exemptions for pro events and turned down many more, along with appearance fees and endorsement opportunities.

Beginning today, as a pro, those are all options.

"We feel it's the right time to do it," Fujikawa said. "It's what I really want to do in my life. This is my dream. I just feel if I do it now I can get further and learn a lot quicker than if I play college golf. ... I've always wanted to be a professional and be the best in the world. That is every golfer's dream.

"My parents aren't sure this is the right decision, but I've told them I really want to do this. I'd give everything up for it. I'm going to do the best I can. ... Right now, they just have to trust me."

The family has retained Kevin Bell, an intellectual property law specialist at the Virginia law firm of Patton Boggs, to serve as attorney and agent. Bell has "also developed a practice in the area of sports law and negotiations, with a current focus on professional golf," according to the firm's Web site.

Bell, recommended by a family friend, has been advising the Fujikawas about their options to protect Tadd's amateur status. Now, it will be quite different.


Fujikawa is expected to make his announcement today at Waialae Country Club, where he caught the imagination of millions in January. It is just down the road from where Wie made her professional announcement two years ago. She was then 15 and a Punahou junior.

Wie's accomplishments, and recent tribulations, have been well-documented. The public's fascination with her — positive and negative — has transformed her into a celebrity and multimillionaire. She announced multiyear endorsement deals worth an estimated $10 million annually with Nike and Sony when she turned pro. In Golf Digest's most recent (February 2007) survey of golfers' on-course and off-course earnings, she came in sixth — after Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Arnold Palmer, Vijay Singh and Greg Norman — with more than $20 million in earnings in 2006.

Fujikawa's announcement will be dramatically different. There will be no satellite teleconferences or hotel room packed with media and corporate executives. Bell said "discussions are ongoing" for endorsement deals, but nothing has been finalized.

Fujikawa's next tournament will still be the Reno-Tahoe Open next month, according to his mother, Lori, who is also talking with other PGA Tour sponsors. The Fujikawas expect to make a decision soon on offers to return to Japan, where Fujikawa missed the cut at his Japan pro tour debut in April.

The family turned down an offer to play an event on the Nationwide Tour — a level below the PGATour — because of a schedule conflict and is hopeful more will come now. Other tours are also an option.


Fujikawa turns 18 in January 2009 and is scheduled to graduate from Moanalua a few months later. He can't attempt to qualify for the PGA Tour until next fall because of its age requirement.

As a pro, Fujikawa can accept appearance money from foreign events (the PGA Tour does not allow it), prize money at pro events and sign endorsement deals. He cannot play high school or college golf, or the major amateur championships.

He can pursue his "passion," according to his mother, who said the cost of travel and instruction, and the family's desire to stay in Hawai'i played a large part in the decision. She works in the office of an auto body shop, and takes Tadd to practice every day. Husband Derrick is a project manager for a contractor.

"This was a long, thought-out process, not an overnight decision," Lori Fujikawa said. "Financially, it's really been tough on us and the family. ... I feel it would be hard for us to provide Tadd the instruction he needs to play at this level. The timing is where he has the opportunity to pursue and fulfill his dreams. He has always been a fighter."


Fujikawa still works with Pearl Country Club pro Beau Yokomoto, but has recently added swing, putting and fitness coaches in Georgia. His 5-foot-1 frame didn't hamper him at Sony, where he averaged 287 yards off the tee and was first in the critical greens-in-regulation statistic, but the family knows he needs more to compete consistently against the best in the world.

"It's hard for us to provide him an opportunity to get better," Lori Fujikawa said. "We've made the decision that we want to base ourselves in Hawai'i. We like Hawai'i, we like the people of Hawai'i and the aloha. The only other way to do it was to move off this island. That's something we really didn't want to do. Financially, now, hopefully we can provide him good instruction.

"Tadd has been advised by his coaches that the best thing he can do is to practice and act and play golf like a pro."

Fujikawa's fighting spirit was evident from the beginning. He was born three months premature and given a 50 percent chance of survival. Six months and five operations later he had not only survived, but eventually thrived, winning national judo championships before taking up golf at age 8.

He has shown a precocious flair for the dramatic ever since, winning adult championships since he was in eighth grade and working enthusiastically to refine his game.

"To him, anything is possible," said Garret Hayashi, Fujikawa's caddie at Sony and when he won this year's Hawai'i Pearl Open with an approach shot to a foot on the final hole. "It's fearless golf. ... That's just Tadd."

He makes this decision with the same fearlessness.

"My whole life I always knew I wanted to play on tour and become a professional," Fujikawa said. "I really wasn't sure when I could compete on that level. After Sony, I proved to myself I can play against the best pros on tour. I can compete against them. With a little more work on my game and consistency, I can play at that level."

Reach Ann Miller at 525-8043 or amiller@honoluluadvertiser.com

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O'ahu Junior Golf Association Player of the Year (11-12)


Wins Hickam Mamala Bay Amateur and Hawai'i State Junior Championship

O'ahu Interscholastic Association individual co-champion


O'ahu Interscholastic Association individual co-champion


In June, at age 15, becomes youngest to play in U.S. Open in its 106-year history, earning spot at a Kaua'i sectional qualifier


In December, shoots 67 to earn qualifying berth for Sony Open in Hawai'i, beating 11 amateurs and 46 pros


In January, at 16, becomes youngest in 50 years to make a PGA Tour cut at Sony Open in Hawai'i


A month after Sony, birdies final hole to become youngest Hawai'i Pearl Open champion