Young Fujikawa faces difficult challenge as pro golfer
Sixteen-year-old golfer Tadd Fujikawa has announced he will turn professional.
TADD Fujikawa stunned the sports world in January when he became the youngest golfer in 50 years to make a weekend cut on the PGA Tour, seven months after being the youngest since 1941 to qualify for the U.S. Open. His decision this week to turn professional
caused more surprise, coupled with skepticism. The undersized Moanalua High junior deserves avid local support while he takes on a huge challenge.
Followers of golf will recall the last child prodigy to jump onto the PGA Tour. Ty Tryon, called the next Tiger Woods, at 16 was the second-youngest player to make the cut on a tour event in March 2001, and he ended the year as the youngest to earn a PGA Tour card. Unable to retain his card, Tryon has slid into obscurity, now competing on the low-level Gateway Tour.
Dean Wilson and Parker McLachlin expressed surprise and concern about Fujikawa's decision in interviews on the Golf Channel. Wilson wondered how he would be able to rely on sponsor exemptions week after week, unable to qualify as a tour member until he turns 18.
"If he would have called me," McLachlin said, "I would have said to him, you've got your whole life ahead of you. There's things like college, you know, just growing up, that you don't want to miss." McLachlin, 28, played on UCLA's golf team while earning a degree in sociology. As a professional, Fujikawa now is ineligible to receive an athletic scholarship.
Fujikawa, 16, is not alone. In May, 16-year-old Gipper Finau and brother Tony, 17, of Salt Lake City, turned professional. Canadian Richard Lee, 16, runner-up in last year's U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, turned pro last month.
Before forfeiting her amateur status at age 16, Michelle Wie had been consistently on the leaderboard for several years in LPGA tournaments that had given her exemptions. Other teenagers, notably Paula Creamer (now 20) and Morgan Pressel, have been successful in recent years on the women's tour.
Fujikawa said he plans to go to college. Most male golf pros, from Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods, have gone to college and played on the collegiate circuit before joining the PGA tour. Teenagers who have taken the shortcut and found eventual success as pros have taken years to do so.
Wie's performance leading up to turning pro resulted in millions of dollars in endorsements. Fujikawa cannot expect such sudden riches and public adulation. However, his effervescence and inspirational life story -- rebounding from a premature birth to find success first as a national judo champion and then as a splendid golfer -- already have attracted a following that should gain him sponsor invitations to what has become the lower tier of PGA tournaments, absent the likes of attractions such as Woods and Phil Mickelson.