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Tadd deserves exemption now for next year


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POSTED: Monday, January 19, 2009

Maybe it's not normal policy. But do it anyway—change the rules if you must, Sony Open boss-people.

Give Tadd Fujikawa an exemption for next year's tournament, right now.

Not that he can't find his way to the first tee on his own merits—he did it the hard way this year, clawing through a Monday qualifier. And who's to say he can't come out of Q-school this year with a PGA Tour card in hand? (Tadd's mom, Lori, says the plan is "strictly golf" for him after graduation from Moanalua High School this spring; imagine how good this kid will be when it's not a part-time job anymore.)

But let's just get this done now. Tadd at Waialae in 2010, no uncertainty.

And then you can start selling tickets. Strike while his irons are hot.

Maybe you're a little gun-shy about exemptions for teenagers because of, well, you know why. But this is a different case. Tadd's a pro, and he made the cut—for the second time in three years. The other players respect him.

And this guy draws better than Picasso.

Tadd didn't follow up yesterday with another monster round to win the $972,000 first-place check, but he's the biggest single reason Hawaii charities will get at least that much when the accounting's done.

Tony Guerrero, honcho of Friends of Hawaii Charities, was overjoyed yesterday. He said attendance records were set for Saturday (12,900) and yesterday (18,000).

"It's going to be around for a while," Guerrero said, speaking of the tourney (the PGA's contract here ends next year).

And it's looking like Sony will, too. Serious negotiations are well under way for continued sponsorship.

No offense to Zach Johnson, the gritty, consistent and classy winner, a past Masters champion, no less.

But more of this mob came to see the little guy who barely made the cut, then shot up the leaderboard on Saturday.

Watching the watchers was even more interesting than usual, as the gallery sizes for the final three pairs did not reflect the scoreboard.

On the front nine, Fujikawa drew the biggest, with hordes of local fans, Shigeki Maruyama a big crowd of people from Japan, and Johnson and David Toms a smaller group of folks mostly from the mainland.

After the turn, with Fujikawa and Maruyama faltering, Johnson began to attract some of their crowds. But most of Tadd's stayed to bring him home.

Overheard on the 18th fairway, as he walked to the green among the rousing cheers:

"These Hawaii people, they really support their own."

True. Just ask Jasmine Trias, she knows.

It's something of which to be proud—and something for this tournament to use to its advantage, right now.

This was by far the most significant 32nd-place finish in the tournament's history, even bigger than when Tadd was 20th as an amateur two years ago. Making the cut the first time's great and all, but the second time validates.

If his putter hadn't cooled off and he finished top 10, he'd be in for next year.

But there were a few thousand reasons yesterday, lining the 18th fairway, why an exemption for Tadd Fujikawa should be a no-brainer.