Priceless exposure for Fujikawa
By Ferd Lewis
The best birthday presents Tadd Fujikawa has given himself these last few years have been Sonys.
Not PlayStations, either.
But performances in the Sony Open in Hawai'i.
His 16th birthday in 2007 was followed by a 27th-place finish that opened the way for a pro career. The 32nd spot a week after his 18th birthday last year helped land a handful of sponsor's exemptions, including a return to the tournament that opens today at Waialae Country Club.
So, to gaze out over the 7,068-yard course at this morning's 8:40 tee time is, for Fujikawa, to see acres of opportunity in the new year.
Beyond the money offered this week — and he banked $29,237 for last year's performance — is the visibility the tournament can provide. No small consideration when you are young, ambitious, 5 feet 2, and without a PGA Tour card.
Had Fujikawa made it through his first shot at qualifying school, securing exemptions wouldn't be the overriding goal they have become. But with an eGolf Tour in the Carolinas upcoming next month, Sony can be his launching pad to more time at PGA Tour stops.
As the first full-field PGA Tour event of the year, playing well in the Sony can put him on the minds of tournament directors across the land in ways that mere e-mails and beseeching phone calls from his agent would not. The best advertisement he can have for a spot in their tournaments is a place on the leaderboard at Waialae amid a background of a cheering gallery on the Golf Channel this week.
"Especially this time of the year I think it is very important for Tadd to do well here because it does flow forward as far as exemptions," said his agent, Kevin Bell. "Each tournament is looking for something of interest with their exemptions. Some take care of local players and some look for someone who is in the news."
Last year, after leading the Sony Open for a couple of hours, Fujikawa offered the latter. For the sight of the teenager with the trademark ear-to-ear grin knocking down birdies can make for a pretty compelling draw that extends beyond hardcore golf followers.
"I think the field here is strong this week and it is going to be tough," Fujikawa said. "But I think, if I can do well here, hopefully, I can get into the maximum six or seven events of the (PGA) Tour."
For Fujikawa, home is where the hope — and future — is this week.