Why Tadd Is Going Pro At Just 16

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - July 18, 2007
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Every parent has goals for their children that begin with the hope for health and expand into dreams of professional, personal and financial glory. But when the dream changes from the superficial to the most crucial - life itself - things change drastically.

Born three months premature and given perhaps a 50 percent chance of survival, Tadd Fujikawa experienced challenges far greater than anything a golf course can throw at him.

It is in this spirit that makes it hard to be anything but thrilled by his announcement to turn pro.

Though the decision caught some by surprise, it was anything but rash. It was a choice six months in the making - from its origin that involved a simple conversation about protecting Tadd’s amateur status.

“We got as many people involved in this as we could, and a lot of people who are close to Tadd,” says his mother Lori. “It was not an easy decision.”

It wasn’t easy for Mom and Dad, but 16-year-olds, no matter their level of maturity, are not often burdened by such minor details as school, money, stress, competition and the trappings of fame.

“For me it was an easy decision. For my parents, it was a little harder,” joked Tadd.

For all of his talent, Tadd has a lot of work to do to someday get anywhere near his ultimate goal of becoming the world’s best. He hits his irons well, and is best friends with golf’s most temperamental partner, his putter.

That’s the upside.

The downside is that while he strikes the ball well - averaging 287 off the tee at the Sony Open and 296 on the final day - he is only average when compared to his new competition. His conditioning also needs to improve and he’ll now be competing against grown men who have 20 years experience on him. He’s going to struggle, miss cuts and take some shots for coming out so early and giving up his chance to improve himself and his game in college.

None of that will bother him. Underneath that Madison Avenue smile and playful demeanor lurks a fierce competitor who uses his own shortcomings (no pun intended) and the unflattering opinion of others to help motivate him to accomplish greater things. It is the same drive that turned an undersized only child into a four-time national judo champion. Care to wager that he won’t be successful facing yet another challenge?

Agent David Bell says that while Tadd’s determination is impressive, it is how he has handled the pressure of success that makes the 16-year-old stand out.

“What I’ve been amazed with is how this has not gone to his head or to his parents’,” he says. “I mean, it’s just an overwhelming process for them and the decision making process was not easy.”

A surprising revelation for those jaded from covering celebrities and used to the egos and attitude of success, but for those who have gotten to know the family, it’s business as usual. At the Turtle Bay Championship in January while chatting with mom Lori as Tadd busied himself with autographs and pictures, the joking question arose about the handling of fame. Her answer was pure Fujikawa, and the reason why you have to like his chances.

“We’re just a local family,” she said at the time. “We don’t know how to live any way else.”

With so much family support, why turn professional now? It’s really just a matter of dollars and sense.

Unlike many of his talented counterparts who come from families of some affluence, Tadd is the product of an average working family that had reached a point where they could no longer financially support the ever-increasing cost of his development. Most likely they could have continued the status quo and have Tadd play a few tournaments a year while biding his time until he enrolls in college. But to continue progressing he had two choices: Leave Hawaii or turn professional. They chose the latter, and who can blame them?

Comparisons to Michelle Wie are both inevitable and wrong. Both are individuals with different goals and beliefs on how to get there. Who’s right and who’s wrong will be determined in time. But one thing is certain: Tadd has something that Michelle did not - Michelle to copy from.

The family’s plan to go at things slowly was no doubt based partly on the struggles they have seen Michelle go through and on their own philosophy on how to get things done. While Bell is talking to Callaway and other manufacturers about having the affable Moanalua High School student represent their products, the only definite at this time is to play in the Reno-Tahoe Open, an event they had committed to for some time.

While the announcement of turning pro was a proud moment for Tadd’s numerous fans, we must realize that we lost a bit of Tadd with the decision. Now a professional, he will not have the flexibility that we have grown accustomed to over the years. His practice schedule cannot be interrupted, he’ll be off island taking care of business interests and playing tournaments, and he will no longer have unlimited time to mingle with fans or grant every interview.

Learning to say no has been difficult for the people person golfer and it’s about to get worse.

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