GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Tadd Fujikawa will make his pro debut tomorrow in the Reno-Tahoe Open and will be joined by two other golfers with ties to Hawaii -- Dean Wilson and Parker McLachlin. CLICK FOR LARGE
Tadd set to tee off
Fujikawa makes his pro debut tomorrow at the Reno-Tahoe Open
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RENO, Nev. » As his classmates at Moanalua High School settle in for the start of a new school year this week, Tadd Fujikawa will be in Nevada breaking in a new job description -- professional golfer.
The 16-year-old makes his pro debut tomorrow in the first round of the Reno-Tahoe Open at the Montreux Golf & Country Club. Fujikawa is scheduled to tee off at 10:50 a.m., Hawaii time tomorrow and will be among three Hawaii golfers in the field.
Dean Wilson tees off at 9:33 and Parker McLachlin is in the group just ahead of Fujikawa's.
This week's tournament will be Fujikawa's first appearance in a PGA Tour event since electrifying Waialae Country Club during the Sony Open in Hawaii last January, when he became the second youngest player to make a cut at a Tour event.
The 5-foot-1 Fujikawa announced last month that he would turn pro and make his debut at the Reno-Tahoe Open after accepting a sponsors exemption into the field.
"I want to make the cut, that's my main goal," Fujikawa said in an interview posted on PGATour.com.
Though he'll be playing for a paycheck for the first time, Fujikawa said this week's experience isn't about the money. Though he has an idea of what he do with the cash if he were to win the tournament.
"I wouldn't buy anything," he said. "I'd put it in a bank account. I'd probably buy a chocolate cake with a lot of candles to celebrate.
"I don't have my license yet so I wouldn't buy a car. Well, maybe I would for later."
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RENO, Nev. » As Tadd Fujikawa prepares for his professional debut at the Reno-Tahoe Open, the 16-year-old is more concerned about acting like a pro than cashing a check.
"I think it's more of a pride thing for me than the money," Fujikawa said yesterday after a practice round at Montreux Golf & Country Club on the edge of the Sierra Nevada.
The 5-foot-1 Moanalua High School student was introduced to golf fans last summer as the beaming teen who became the youngest golfer ever to play in the U.S. Open. He missed the cut at Winged Foot but brought the same fun-filled demeanor to the Sony Open in Hawaii in February, where he become the second youngest player to make the cut at a PGA Tour event.
Last month, he announced he'd received a sponsor's exemption and intended to turn pro at Reno, a tournament in its ninth year opposite the World Golf Championship, which attracts Tiger Woods and the other top golfers in the world to Ohio.
For a high school junior missing his first week of the new school year back home in Honolulu to make a run at a $3 million purse, he offers a remarkably mature take on what's most important in his life.
Tadd Fujikawa will make his professional debut this week. CLICK FOR LARGE
"I think it's more about me. I think that is more important than golf," Fujikawa said.
"I think giving back to the community and treating people the way you want to be treated -- giving back to junior golf -- I think is really important," he said.
"That is more important to me right now, to show I treat people very nicely. That's what my parents have taught me throughout my life ... I'd rather have (fans) see that than say, 'Oh, he's a really good player but his attitude stinks.' "
But doesn't the $540,000 winner's check interest him just a little bit?
"Not really," he said with a laugh. "Maybe for my parents or my family. For me, I just want to go out and have fun."
The Reno-Tahoe Open has served as a springboard for a number of young players who claimed their first PGA victories here -- Notah Begay III (1999), Chris Riley (2002), Vaughn Taylor (2004-05) and Will MacKenzie last year -- as well as tour veterans who ended dry spells, including Scott Verplank (2000), John Cook (2001) and Kirk Triplett (2003).
Taylor's consecutive wins at Reno helped propel him to last year's Ryder Cup team.
MacKenzie is only the second Reno winner to return the following year to try to defend his title because typically the victor moves up enough in the world golf rankings to secure a spot in the other weekend event.
It's all a dream for Fujikawa, who said the decision to turn pro was easier on him than his parents.
"Basically, I've always wanted to be able to compete against the best players in the world and hopefully beat them," he said.
"I think that is every golfer's dream, to be the best in the world. I felt that I could get further in my golf and achieve more and learn a lot quicker.
"For me, it was not a hard decision. For my parents, they obviously are going to think about the down side of everything just to be safe. ... We just felt it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it."
Fujikawa said he's discussed his decision with other players since he arrived in Reno last week to begin practicing for the tournament. One was Kevin Na, who also turned pro as a teenager.
"He basically said just to go out there and have fun. Don't take it too seriously," Fujikawa said. "It's really hard I think when you start playing for money. I'm not out there for the money. If it comes great. If it doesn't, that's all right."
He takes the same approach to his height.
"Maybe I will grow. If I stay short, that's OK," he said. "A lot of people say, 'Wow, you're a lot shorter than you look on TV. That's the main thing, as long as I look taller on TV."
Fujikawa said one of the hardest chores will be keeping up on his studies while trying to get in as many tournaments as he can in the coming months.
"Actually I think school starts on Wednesday," he said. "That's not too good. I'm going to be missing the first week, so I'm going to have to catch up. Some teachers are kind of mad."