U.S. OPEN QUALIFYING
Local teen Fujikawa makes U.S. Open
Yes, a teenager from Hawaii will play in the U.S. Open next week.
He's 15-year-old Tadd Fujikawa, who just completed his freshman year at Moanalua High School.
Fujikawa won the Hawaii sectional qualifier on Kauai yesterday to capture its lone U.S. Open spot, after fellow Hawaii teen Michelle Wie faltered down the stretch at another sectional six time zones away.
"It really hasn't sunk in yet," Fujikawa said in a telephone interview from Kauai last night. "I honestly never thought about what it would be like to qualify. I just wanted to do my best, play a couple of good rounds and see if I have a chance."
Yesterday, his best -- a 3-under par 71-70--141 over 36 holes at the Poipu Bay Golf Course -- was just good enough.
He finished one stroke ahead of Kapalua pro David Havens and three strokes ahead of Kapalua pro Darren Summers, who will be first and second alternates. Ten golfers competed.
Fujikawa, who had six birdies and three bogeys on the day, credited his putting.
"There was no one turning point or spectacular hole. I made a lot of clutch 6-to-10 foot putts, though," Fujikawa said. "I felt good about my putting."
He birdied the par-4 No. 1 hole twice, hitting wedge shots to within 3 and 5 feet.
PGA veteran Dean Wilson, a Castle High School graduate, also qualified in a sectional yesterday, for his second U.S. Open (he tied for 30th in 2001). Wilson shot 69-69-138 at Brookside Golf and Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, yesterday.
The U.S. Open is June 15-18 at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
Fujikawa's coach, Kevin Ralbovsky, said he will try to arrange a practice round with Wilson for Fujikawa.
Fujikawa said he has traveled to the mainland, but never as far east as New York.
He will be playing in a 156-player field with the best golfers in the world. Not bad for a 5-foot-1, 135-pound youngster whose favorite sport was judo until a few years ago.
"He really didn't get serious about golf until he was 11, and he started taking lessons from Coach Kevin," said Tadd's mother, Lori.
Lori usually caddies for Tadd, but she deferred to Ralbovsky yesterday. Ralbovsky will be on the bag at Winged Foot.
"Oh no, definitely not," Lori Fujikawa said. "I'm just his caddie for the local events."
Tadd's father, Derrick, normally has a hard time getting away from work for his son's tournaments. But both parents, as well as other family members, will be in New York next week.
Because of his youth, Fujikawa will surely draw media attention in the days leading up to the tournament. He will be among the youngest in the history of the tournament to compete; records show that 14-year-old Tyrell Garth played in the event in 1941.
"We didn't really think of that yet," Lori Fujikawa said. "Hopefully he can represent Hawaii well. The people of Hawaii have supported him a lot already."
Despite his lack of size, Fujikawa averages around 285 yards off the tee.
"He should be able to keep up with most of the pros," Ralbovsky said.
Ralbovsky said composure is another strength of the OIA co-champion and state tournament third-place finisher.
"Tadd is very calm and patient by nature," the coach said. "He doesn't get rattled and over-emotional after a bad shot."
Ralbovsky won't leave for the mainland until next Tuesday night, because another of his top students, Stephanie Kono, is playing in the women's U.S. Open qualifier at Ko Olina.
"I've been to a couple of U.S. Opens, but this will be the first time for me inside the ropes," Ralbovsky said. "It's an exciting time."
Fujikawa has gradually developed as a fixture and a force in local tournaments since he was 11, but playing in a PGA major is obviously quite a step for him.
"I don't know exactly how it will be, but I'll be ready," he said. "I don't really have a favorite player, but of course it will be pretty cool to be in the same tournament as Tiger Woods."