GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Tadd Fujikawa hit the practice range yesterday after declaring himself a professional. He makes his pro debut in three weeks in Reno, Nev.
Fujikawa following his pro dream
Tadd Fujikawa needed six months to announce what he already felt in his heart -- he can play with the big boys.
The 16-year-old became the youngest golfer in more than 50 years to survive a cut on the PGA Tour en route to finishing in a tie for 20th at January's Sony Open in Hawaii. That weeklong experience convinced him he could tee it up with the game's best, but he needed proper guidance before embarking on this perilous journey.
He got some help from a family friend, who asked an attorney to see what it took to turn pro. Fujikawa needed someone to handle all the possible endorsement deals and requests to appear at various tournaments worldwide. He got that help from attorney Kevin Bell of Patton Boggs LLP, located in northern Virginia.
"When I met the Fujikawas it really was as a favor to help him (his friend)," Bell said yesterday prior to the news conference at Waialae Country Club. "I played defense with everything that came out of the Sony and to make sure he kept his amateur status.
"I understood his desire to want to compete against professional golfers. He also recognizes that this is a journey. He's got to develop his game to continue to compete week by week. We're in discussions with certain companies as well as companies interested in sponsoring Tadd. It's important to him to find the right companies that he can be a good representative for and that can represent him well."
Fujikawa makes his professional debut in three weeks at the Reno-Tahoe Open on the PGA Tour. The 5-foot-1 Honolulu resident plans to finish high school and would like to go to college, but his real dream is to go to the PGA Tour Q-school, earn his card and match wits with the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
"I just felt it was the right time," Fujikawa said when asked why he turned pro now. "It's something I've always dreamed of doing. My parents gave me the OK. That was the biggest stipulation here. (Playing well at the Sony) showed me I can compete with the best players in the world and I can handle myself in front of the cameras. But sometimes I get a little nervous."
The obvious comparisons with another local teenager who turned pro at age 15 will certainly follow Fujikawa around for a while. But he said yesterday that there is no real comparison between him and Michelle Wie.
Fujikawa made Wie yesterday's news at the Sony Open when he sank an eagle putt at the 36th hole that allowed him to play through to the weekend. But when asked about Wie, Fujikawa quickly dispelled any comparisons.
"You can't really compare yourself with anyone else," Fujikawa said. "You're two different people. You're playing two different stages. She's on the LPGA, I'm the PGA. It's just totally different."
Fujikawa will be a junior at Moanalua High School this fall. He plans to attend college and said money is not a main factor for his decision to turn pro.
"I'm not in it for the money at all," Fujikawa said, although his parents conceded it was difficult attending events on the mainland because of the cost. "I just want to play with the best players in the world."
As well as Fujikawa competed at the 2007 Sony, he burst on the national scene in 2006 when he became the youngest to qualify for the U.S. Open at Winged Foot at a qualifier on Kauai. He didn't make the cut, but he proved something to himself just by being there.
"I haven't really talked with anybody about this decision, just my golf friends, I guess," Fujikawa said. "They said it's pretty cool. Having that P (professional) after your name instead of the A (amateur). Like I said, I'm just going to go out there and have a lot of fun and do the best that I can."