Tadd Is Just What Golf Needs Now

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - January 28, 2009
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Tadd Fujikawa played with both confidence and joy at the Sony Open

Tadd Fujikawa’s performance in the 2009 Sony Open did more than just sell tickets to the annual event and remind spectators of his special talent on and around the greens.

It also served notice that 2006 wasn’t a fluke and that this 5-foot-1-inch stack of energy and personality has more to offer hosts and sponsors than just a heart-warming story of overcoming early post-birth challenges.

After carding a 62 on Saturday to finish the third round with a brief tie on top of the leader board, it was highly unlikely Tadd would finish his Sunday round in a similar position. He would have needed a final round 63 just to tie the guy with a Masters surname, Zach Johnson.

But that didn’t matter. Nor did the nice little $29,237.14 pay day, which obviously helps.

No, what mattered most was that Tadd proved his worth over four days, three of which he shot lower consecutive scores to turn a seven-stroke disadvantage after the first round into an opportunity to become the youngest winner on the PGA tour since Johnny McDermott at the 1911 U.S. Open.

Stand up and take notice. Tadd Fujikawa has arrived. Whether he can maintain it over several years is up to fickle whims of the game’s unforgiving deities.

In addition to the improvements in his game, Tadd’s confidence - perhaps more important to a golfer than his/her swing - has grown just as much. In his interview with Rich Lerner on the Golf Channel, Tadd was nothing like the wide-eyed amateur who was just happy for any opportunity. In its place was a confident professional who was not in the least bit surprised by his Saturday round, telling Lerner that, yes, he expects to be in contention. It was a noticeable turning point in his development, just as in the manner in which he handled the questions about his father’s drug addiction. He was confident, prepared and unrattled by the airing of family difficulties on national television.

Tadd’s new level of maturity also was noticeable in the way he carried himself around the course. The physical appearance of confidence is nothing that anyone can describe accurately. If faith in oneself was a homicide suspect, police sketch artists would have a miserable time coming up with an accurate representation to distribute among the squad, but we all recognize it even if we don’t really know what it looks like.

Tadd has it. That and changes to his swing are what propelled him into contention.

As Tadd develops and as his body changes with age, more adaptation to his game will follow naturally. But whatever changes he makes in the future, the one thing he must never let go of is the joy and openness with which he plays the game. It’s become the 18-year-old’s trademark.

For all of golf’s popularity and the myriad of stars who have crossed over the hurdles of formerly solid endorsement barriers and easy living-room recognition, the game is in desperate need of personalities who do more than connect with fans through fist pumps or goofy smiles. Not since Lee Trevino and Chi Chi Rodriguez has the tour had someone who really seems interested in those outside of the ropes. The continued growth of the sport needs someone who actually takes the time to interact with fans and to bring them further into the game.

While most pros go about their jobs with the surliness of an inhis-prime Nick Faldo or with the grim determination to wring every last ounce of joy from the sport they play, Tadd is not afraid to shake hands with fans, sign autographs on his way to the tee box or to even provide a hug for a friend awaiting in the crush of fans that followed him around the Waialae course. This, as much as his play, will be a big factor in any success. Tadd probably even able to play with a grimace on his face, and his goodwill with fans and sponsors will be priceless commodities when the invitations are sent out or when manufacturers go looking for likable athletes who don’t have a habit of making as ass out of themselves.

Look at it like this: Tadd could be a sober John Daly.

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