50TH MID-PACIFIC OPEN
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Tadd Fujikawa made a long putt on the 17th hole of the Mid-Pacific Open yesterday.
Tadd’s got the touch
Fujikawa becomes the youngest winner of the Mid-Pacific Open
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The wait is over for Tadd Fujikawa.
A stalwart effort yesterday in the final round of the 50th Mid-Pacific Open earned the Moanalua junior his first victory as a professional golfer, nearly a year after the 17-year-old turned pro.
Tadd Fujikawa is the MPO's eighth different winner in 10 years:
2008: Tadd Fujikawa
2007: Darren Summers
2006: David Ishii
2005: John Lynch
2004: Regan Lee
2003: Regan Lee
2002: Regan Lee
2001: Larry Stubblefield
2000: Beau Yokomoto
1999: Greg Meyers
His 4-over 76 (10-under 278 overall) was good enough to outlast David Ishii by seven strokes on a day where rough winds, fast greens and brutal pin placements guaranteed a bevy of over-par scores. John Lynch and Darren Summers were another stroke back.
The teen is happy with the result and his overall play leading into two tournaments in Japan next month.
"I just want to keep on improving. This week I saw a lot of improvement in my game, especially my short game," Fujikawa said of his next career goal. "It's exciting to see it further and really grow."
Ishii took home second place with a clutch 45-foot birdie on 18 and edged Lynch and Summers by a stroke at 3-under 285.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Division winners Tadd Fujikawa, T.J. Kua, Shakil Ahmed and Steve Blancarte jumped in the pool yesterday after the Mid-Pacific Open.
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Some daily affirmation went a long way toward the long-awaited Tadd Fujikawa professional breakthrough.
The diminutive 17-year-old dynamo was resilient through rough conditions at Mid-Pacific Country Club yesterday to claim the 50th Mid-Pacific Open with a 4-over 76 --good enough to win by the seven-stroke margin he entered the day with over veteran David Ishii.
Fujikawa, a Moanalua junior, who turned professional last July, made his first pro cut on Friday and didn't waste any time in collecting a hefty $13,500 paycheck in his Sunday pro debut with a four-round total 278 (10 under).
"I've been waiting a long, long time," Fujikawa said. "Before, I think I was trying too hard. This week I let it happen."
He described the win as "more exciting than a relief."
It wasn't easy. He went without a birdie all day against strong Lanikai winds and devious pin placements, and bogeyed Nos. 6, 8 and 9 as things appeared to unravel going into the turn. His lead over Ishii and third-place John Lynch was down to only five.
It was time for some self-help for the 5-foot-2 prodigy.
"After 9 I gave myself a pep talk, in the clubhouse bathroom before we teed off (at 10)," Fujikawa said. "I just went in there to get some alone time, and really just talk to myself and tell myself to focus and play golf."
Whatever was discussed between Fujikawa and Fujikawa paid dividends. He refused to bogey a hole for all of the back nine, until a forgivable slip-up at 18 with a gallery of more than 100 awaiting his victory celebration and traditional toss into the club's pool. The run of mistake-free golf included an impressive 18-footer for par on No. 17, a ball tapped downhill and with the wind at his back that gained speed as it went and drew a "Whoa!" cry from the surprised viewers when it dropped through.
"He didn't really have any pressure, to be quite honest with you," said Lynch, who finished in a tie for third with Darren Summers at 2-under 288. "None of us really gave him pressure at all. He kind of got a little excited around 8, 9, and 10, but other than that, he had cruise-control all day long."
Ishii, 52, gave the crowd one last surprise when he birdied 18 from 45 feet out off the fringe. The ball hit the hole so hard, it had no business going in. The clutch shot earned him sole possession of second place over respective 2005 and 2007 champions Lynch and Summers. The three-time winner pocketed $9,500 and $1,000 more for being the top senior at the event.
"The last hole kind of redeemed all the bad stuff," said Ishii, referring to his six bogeys for the day that sapped him of any chance at a comeback run akin to his 2006 victory.
He tried to play the difficult No. 5 hole aggressively to gain some ground on Fujikawa, but it backfired and the veteran bogeyed back-to-back holes.
"You get a little aggressive -- it's either perfect or dead," Ishii explained of several holes that saw his ball come within inches of the cup and roll on to the far side. He contrasted that to the play of the new champion.
"Wherever it looked like he would stumble, he always recovered," Ishii said. "And he hit the ball well, he didn't hit any bad shots. He just played steady and he putted well."
While Fujikawa fell short of Ishii's gaudy record score, a source of mild disappointment for him, he still managed to become the tournament's youngest champion by a margin of three years. Charles Barenaba previously held it with his win in 1975 at age 20.
Fujikawa will take his newfound success on the road, with back-to-back tournaments over the next month in Japan -- the Chunichi Crown and Munsingwear Open KSB Cup -- starting May 1.
Punahou senior Stephanie Kono posted a 5-over 77 (304 total) as the first woman to complete four days at the event. She and schoolmate Anna Jang were the first female competitors at the MPO. Jang narrowly missed the cut Friday.
"I feel pretty good. I wish I had a T-shirt that says 'I survived the greens,' but I guess I don't," said the UCLA-bound Kono with a laugh. "I think I stayed patient. It's just hard to be so good on this golf course. Especially when you miss the small putts -- you've just gotta tell yourself, 'everybody's missing those,' and get back out there. I stayed calm and tried not to be too hard on myself."
T.J. Kua took top amateur honors by besting Bradley Shigezawa on a sudden-death playoff to break a 298-all tie.